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Work Samples

George Custer (Thor at Ragnarok)

A figure painted with a mix of realism and abstract painting that resembles George Custer and the Norse diety Thor
George Custer (Thor at Ragnarok), Oil on polypropylene, 12” x 9”

African Safari

Theodore Roosevelt, Art, Painting, Hunting, History
African Safari, Oil on canvas, 52" x 78"

Johnson v. Burns

Jack Johnson, art, boxing, painting, racism, history
Johnson v. Burns, 46" x 30", Watercolor on polypropylene

02 The American Way 2.jpg

A dark image of a shadowed national-guard-like figure with superhero linework overlaid
Oil on canvas, 20” x 16”

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About Matthew

Baltimore City

Matthew Freel's picture
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, I grew up drawing superheroes and playing football. I went to an art-focused high school knowing drawing was a passion, and continued on to Washington University in St Louis where I fell in love with painting. Collaboration and teaching with diverse groups became an important aspect of my life and artwork. Studying art history and philosophy returned me to the secular mythology of American superheroes, historical figures and events — this has become a winding, career-... more

White Sheets (2020)

Our country's racist past and present has laid bare the character of our country, as if it was not plain to see underneath the cowl of America. These paintings start with subjects exemplifying the contradictions of greatness and terror which often occur simultaneously in America - Cowboys, football, comic books, the KKK to name a few. Our imperialist history is portrayed through political and sport figures like Teddy Roosevelt, George Custer, Jack Johnson and Colin Kaepernick. The tactile paint is meant to viscerally engage in the inspiring, terrifying nature of the violence that affects us through history and "these difficult times". My view of the American character is muddy in these waters...gritty, beautiful, horrific. As simultaneous heroes and villains, these figures intertwine with the American mythology of superheroes, Greco- Roman and Norse dieties. The emerging expression of heroism can be awe-inspiring in strength and brutal in violence. My attraction to this power belies domination and subjugation cloaked in patriotism, and patriots as flawed heroes. The subject matter is as much of visual interest to me as it is representative of the soul of our nation. 

American Olympus

  Comic books are America’s secular mythology. Across a diverse cross-section of our culture, more people are familiar with Superman’s origin story or the members of the Avengers than the Odyssey or the Stations of the Cross. And yet there is so much these reflect (or directly steal from) older and other cultures of mythology and history-turned-to-myth. I aim to create sincere and compelling images exploring how these mythological stories overlap, confirm and contradict our past and present narratives of America.

 The superhero paintings and drawings begin with the form and metaphor of powerful figures. The concepts of freedom, cultural dominance, masculinity & conflict are reflected in these depictions of flawed heroes. I want the painting or drawing medium to garner a direct emotional response; a vibration between striking imagery and a gripping, visceral surface. 

 

American Olympus II

The continuation of "American Olympus" - paintings and drawings inspired by mythology, history and superheroes. My fascination with these subjects lies in both their dynamic form and their cultural significance as a common mythology for Americans. Since superhero origins are rich with connections to past cultures and the mythologizing of history, it was natural to find them intertwined with historical persons & deities. For example, Black Lightning (one of the first black Superheroes) merges with Muhammad Ali, a superhero and courageous pioneer in the superhuman sport of boxing. Andrew Jackson, in other works, is represented as Ares, a diety of war in Greek mythology. Whether Jackson is a hero or a monster (he opposed the abolition of slavery and was responsible for a policy of Native American removal from their lands) is partly dependent on how you view American history & war, and Ares by extension. 

The works operate with various levels of ambiguity – some drawings appear quite straightforward in their realism, while in other works the act of painting blurs the identity or action of figures partially or entirely as abstraction and painterly surface become equal subjects to depicted persons and events. Many of these works were presented at the solo exhibition “American Olympus” at Project 1628 in Bolton Hill. 

White City

The White City (1893 Chicago World’s Fair) buildings are a rich formal and allegorical embodiment of America’s incendiary relationship with race. Created to evoke shimmering white marble, the facades were actually fashioned out of cheap and temporary white stucco. The structures meant to symbolize America’s ascension to a level of world power were essentially houses of cards. These paintings and drawings re-imagine the White City and American themes at the turn of the 20th-century. Political and social leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill are central figures. These men reshaped America - espousing masculine (Caucasian) dominance, military might, and a dominant relationship with nature. I paint their triumphs and failures as simultaneous parts of complex, real men - neither complete sinners nor purified saints. This series is rooted in the tradition of history painting but seeks to excavate and emotionally attach to history and its present manifestations.

Invisible Champion: Jack Johnson

I began Invisible Champion: Jack Johnson as a series of work exploring a figure who embodied attributes and contradictions exemplative of America - strength and courage in the face of intense, almost unimaginable persecution; a violent and misogynistic personal life; 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). In the work, Johnsons’ opponents (The Great White Hope) as well as the title (a nod to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man) show a few of the varied references that the work contains outside of Johnson himself. I sought to explore the beauty and physicality of the boxing ring,  concepts of race and heroism, and the parallel fight and dance of art-making, all intertwined with the courage and failures of Jack Johnson.

Artist's Book - Invisible Champion: Jack Johnson

An artist's book of drawings, paintings and words compiled from sketchbooks, literature and collaged works of art centered on my investigations of Jack Johnson. Imagery varies from historical photography to re-imaginations of events and situations from Johnson's life, career and the American atmosphere surrounding his championship. 

(America)n Football

Sports, similar to art, can both reflect and progress (or regress) the society in which they exist. American football, especially in today's America, provides an apt metaphor for brutality, racism and entertainment wrapped in the flag and a mythology of violent glory. 

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Matthew's Curated Collection

This artist has not yet created a curated collection.