Matthew P. Shelton

It almost hits the southern gothic mystic and scrapes across its fabric. Mike Deer, New Orleans, April, 2012

I am interested in the power of a book to convert the raw material of the past into a particular historical narrative through images, text and narrative. Three of these works--LEONIDAS, An Illustrated History of Southerners at War, and RIGHTEOUS WOUND--explore the remnants of a book titled EMBATTLED CONFEDERATES: An Illustrated History of Southerners at War (1964), which I found in a used bookstore in uptown New Orleans. Perhaps as a challenge to its narrative power, I glued the book shut and ignored it for several months. Later, thinking I would make it a part of a sculptural work, I drilled a hole into it. This action distended the covers of the book, and produced a half-inch hole that emitted flakes of paper resembling ashes. In that moment, I was transfixed by its materiality, and continued to drill, compelled by a desire to break the book, and in so doing, disrupt its narrative, to remove its ability to compose the past. What was left was a tattered spine--which quickly got taped together, resembling a bouquet of dying flowers--and a pile of scraps like a mound of dead leaves on the floor of my studio. Torn from the pages that previously gave them context and meaning, well-known pictures had become dislocated and unrecognizable. The punctured paper took the form of ragged silhouettes, and ghost-like eyeholes and mouths. The purpose of the photographs is to dramatize the fragmented quality of the paper scraps and privilege their fragile, ruined materiality. They attempt to both romanticize and critique the southern gothic tradition of memorialization. Thus, this series addresses memory as a creative process, and questions the value—as well the values—of history. The final work, LAST CAVALIERS, is open-ended. It suggests a new text, drawing parallels across southern archetypes, but through the juxtaposition of contemporary inkjet printing and broken marble. There's a peculiar complexion to the South now. I'm not sure if it exists—or if that matters.

Matthew P. Shelton was born and raised in Danbury, NC. He received his high school diploma from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2000, a BFA in Drawing and Sculpture from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, in 2004, and an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012. He lived in New Orleans from 2006-2010, where he was involved with fair housing activism, volunteered with Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans in 2007 and taught art a small Episcopal school from 2008-2010. He is now gallery coordinator at 1708 Gallery in Richmond and will be teaching a course on art and social justice at VCU in the fall.

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