The term mise-en-scène is often used in discussion and criticism of cinema. The term literally translates from French as ‘setting the stage’, though it has a nuanced meaning when used in the context of film. In such it includes stage design, arrangement of the actors, props, and lighting. It is a descriptor for how space is organised, and how the mood of a scene is conveyed through what is on screen.
In Matthew Carter’s paintings, mise-en-scène plays an important role. His images are composed cinematically, their contents considered and arranged as if by an auteur. This is evident both in the way that the image elements themselves are organised, and in the treatment of light. In Carter’s paintings, lighting is a central element of composition. On one level his images are everyday street scenes, though on another they are timeless studies of light, mood, and the urban environment.
New Wave brings together a body of the artist’s most recent paintings. The title of the exhibition is drawn from one of the works, which depicts a group of figures crossing a street. One of the figures in the painting appears to be waving at the viewer. This references an earlier work of Carter’s, titled The Wave, in which a figure captured in paint also appeared to be waving at the viewer. Beyond this, the exhibition title also references French New Wave cinema, which Carter admires. This inventive style of cinematic modernism includes the work of well-known filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Goddard.
Carter’s work could almost be read as studies of the cinematic potential of Auckland city. He has a remarkable flair for creating mood through dramatic lighting and sharp composition, and for making everyday scenes into brilliant, captivating images. In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the artist has a background in film editing.
Some of Carter’s works recall the sparse street scene paintings of mid-century American artist Edward Hopper in their cinematic look and feel, and the isolation of the figures. Unlike Hopper, however, these street scenes are from contemporary Auckland. They present familiar urban environments, yet the stark visual sensibility presents them in a completely different, almost otherworldly light. This is true of the works Mo’s Bar, corner of Federal and Wolf Street, and Khyber Pass Car Park, which both feature dramatically lit downtown scenes that are almost devoid of any human presence; these works have an uncanny feel to them.
It is a feature of some representational painting that the paintwork can become rigidly analytical. That is not the case in these works. While creating highly convincing depictions of urban environments, Carter has retained a rich and explorative approach to painting. In viewing these paintings, one gets the sense that the artist has engaged with the process of painting them in an open and inventive way.
New Wave demonstrates that Carter is continuing to develop his specific language of image and medium. His earlier paintings presented composite views of the city, with contorted vantage points and tiny solitary figures with long shadows making their way through. This new work explores the city and its inhabitants from a ground level perspective. The viewer is met with figures and environments as they might see them while walking through the city. As a body of work, New Wave is a strong and skilled statement from an artist of growing stature. Dr Julian Mckinnon © 2023
The city has long been regarded with ambivalent and conflicting attitudes. There have been contradictory philosophies some of which view the city as a place of social malaise which can be dangourous and threatening while some see it as vibrant and lively; a malleable place for each individual within it. These contrasting perceptions make the urban environment an exciting subject for visual exploration. Continual flux as well as abrupt change are characteristics of the urban environment and these aspects are part of what I seek to explore in my painting.
My painting attempts to engage with the spatio-psychology of the city and the ambivalence that is felt about it. Places like multi-storey car parks with their brutalist architecture are often viewed as nasty places to get out of quickly. But they can also have a poetry about them which once recognised can become a discovery of the new. Networks, cyberspace, architecture and urban planning seem to be constantly changing and disrupting the city’s spaces and this distruption has provided a catalyst for my work.
Exegesis [external link to written component for Master of Art & Design]
Paintings are held in:
The Arts House Trust in New Zealand,
The Wallace Trust collection,
The Citadel Capital collection,
and private collections in Europe, USA and Australasia
‘Big Difference in a Small World – Early Childhood Educators’
Peggy Leong Pek Kay
Published by The Lien Foundation
Article in The Department of English Language and Literature Journal 2012
College of Humanities and Social Science
Buddhist Tzu Chi University, Taiwan
Sliced Soup – online curated collection
From the Studio of… – Saatchi Art Magazine