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About Matthew

Baltimore City

Matthew Freel's picture
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, I drew superheroes before studying painting. I split my time between two very different environments - Fort Hayes School for the Arts and a traditional high school where I played Division I football, among other extracurriculars. Though my very limited athletic talent peaked in high school, I strive to carry the intensity of that team environment. More importantly, incorporating a variety of perspectives - literal, historic, personal - is essential to my studio... more

American Olympus

This work was exhibited at Project 1628 at 1628 Bolton. St. in May-June of 2018.

These paintings and drawings portray powerful figures from the popular mythology of comic books. The images of flawed heroes are blurred with references to history and classical mythology. The figures share aspects of both noble and misguided strength in their conquest. Formally, abstraction and realism are simultaneously present as gestural marks and focused areas of representation. I seek an emotional response with this work; my goal is a vibration between imagery and the medium as a gripping, vibrant surface.
In concept, I am interested in how we search for meaning in mythological beings of all sorts; how these comic book heroes tell stories that overlap Greek mythology, American history, comic books or the Bible. I believe the examination of the truth and virtue of these figures has a vital voice within our contemporary society. Our culture embraces superheroes but we continue to resist examining these icons for deeper meaning and insight. They are a uniquely American art form whose characters have acquired great cultural significance. Artistically, there is a direct lineage from the muscular figures of Michelangelo to these pop heroes. From their mythological melting pot I like to draw (and paint) parallels within my work to contemporary and historical figures and similar narratives from different cultures. The figures are flawed as our country is, though they are inspiring in their ambition.

American Olympus Sketchbook

These works accompanied the 'finished' pieces also presented at Project 1628 in May 2018.

The pieces are not unfinished sketches (most are indeed finished); but they are also not complete works (they lack a certain tying down or resolution of concept). They act as phrases; I believe they directly express a certain thought or idea, though they do not form a complete sentence. Still, the works get at whatever they attempt to express in a way that is accurate, precise and interesting. Some have lead to or been born from larger and/or more developed pieces, others exist as singular works.

Manifest Destiny

A group of paintings and drawings reimagining the form and metaphor of late-20th century American figures and events - Theodore Roosevelt (the Warrior-Preacher naturalist); Buffalo Bill (Western hero and Indian-slayer); and The 'White City' (the World's Fair Columbian exposition in Chicago in 1893). The historical figures and events share virtuous and contemptible ideas and actions - the figures are not entirely heroic or evil, but some combination of the two. This grey area of morality is what interests me. How do these figures that were exalted in the past (and some still in the present) reflect our own simultaneous combination of good and bad desires and actions? We are fascinated, repulsed and magnetically drawn to these figures who exert power for war and peace, personal gain and common good.

Manifest Destiny Sketchbook

As I search for what these figures represent, I often start by drawing them in an attempt to extract an expression of form and concept. These sketches serve as the record of this search. Some are relatively straightforward examinations of form. Some veer towards the abstract or fantastic in an attempt to get at a larger truth or mythology that has become truth. Some turn towards a formal study of material on the framework of image.

Theodore Roosevelt & the White City Sketchbook

"The White City" was the title of the Columbian Exposition in 1893 of the 400th anniversary celebration of Europeans discovering the Americas. It was a glimmering, temporarily-built city of white plaster (meant to look like marble) that was neo-classical in architecture; meant to celebrate America's ascension on the world stage at the end of the 19th century. I chose this subject as a symbol of an American city - grand and powerful, posturing as an extension of ancient Rome while frail in its exterior of white. The city and its sideshow carnival of "otherness" serve as various metaphors for race, power, and the history of our country.

Within my studies of the White City and the powerful figures of Presidents and leaders, Theodore Roosevelt struck me as a particularly fascinating character. His great leadership as President included important military victories and a proprietary stewardship of our natural landscape, yet he was also an Imperialist among other less admirable traits. These are my sketches and mixed media ideations of the man.

Invisible Champion: Jack Johnson

I created this series of work as an exploration of a figure who embodied attributes and contradictions exemplative of America - strength and courage in the face of unimaginable persecution; brashness, ego, and a desire for celebrity; and the ability above all to do amazing things. Our collective memory forgets his greatness as the first African-American champion. He was the Heavyweight Champion of the World in a day when that title equated to the world's strongest and toughest man. For this man to be black was a cataclysmic paradigm shift for American society (and the white race worldwide). I sought through this work to explore - not only the beauty of the boxing ring and its heroic figures, but also the parallel fight and dance of making art, all intertwined within the imagery of the courage and failures of Jack Johnson. These are my explorations.

Artist's Book: Invisible Champion: Jack Johnson

A book of drawings and mixed media work of my exploration of Jack Johnson, his time and environment, and the action and intensity of the boxing ring.

History of the United States

This series was a confrontation of images of race and our shared history of violence that stems from racism. I did not seek a specific message, commentary, or realization; I sought to excavate and emotionally attach to history and its present consequences with a series rooted in the tradition of history painting.

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Matthew's Curated Collection

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