Ecotone: the Boundary Land of Matthew Kolodziej

Matthew Kolodziej’s short, stitch-like lines and broad overlapping strokes seem to trace the
shapes they revisit, probing and pressing to detect the swell of underlying bones, or the
remains of buried foundations. Overtly rough and hand-made, his paintings are expressive
of the quirks and imperfections of human response. Yet they’re also packed with reference
to scientific imaging and indexing, as if Kolodziej’s purpose is not so much to feel, as to know
-- to diagnose. In that way his work is markedly contemporary, with a quasi-scientific look to
its mechanical twitchiness of line and map-like visual pacing. Yet his works can also read as
sketchy accounts of metaphysical perspectives, ambitious to align macro and microcosmic
systems. Their milieu is often a matter of art history and the classical vistas of renaissance
painting, as much as the twenty-first century building sites that Kolodziej often examines.
One recent canvas shows the ribs of a billboard. Looking a little like a shipwreck, the
scaffolding is balanced against slantwise supporting struts, propping up one of America’s
original and enduring big screens – like Fitzgerald’s description of a billboard that advertises
spectacles, overlooking the Gatsby narrative like the eyes of God; only in this case, Kolodziej
considers the anonymous back of such signage. Here, as elsewhere in his deliberately non-
specific imagery, he abstracts the figurative from his account of the crumbling foundations
and exposed sinews of human places, eliding pictorial familiarity. We don’t know where the
painter is standing, to what city or abandoned arena he has taken us. In the larger
canvases, the skyline is shoved to the top of the canvas like a hat, snugly bordering the
picture plane. It tilts all the way to the edge, like a view cut off by a multistory building. The
perspective is disorienting and oddly intimate, like a sudden embrace. Everywhere crumbling
lines, motes and beams crowd forward, noted in dense patches as if in a physical survey.
Kolodziej’s geographies and paint-drizzles, twisting toward meaning much in the way of make
believe handwriting, are not exactly tools of depiction. They’re more like souvenirs of real
places, neurological reactions to place or continuations of substance in a different form, like
shadows or physical traces, or boxes packed with specimens. Robert Smithson divided up
ideas of sculpture and performance into site and off-site chapters, into action and
documentation, but Kolodziej does the thing that painters have always done – he carries the
world in his fingertips.
Looking for common ground with other disciplines, Kolodziej refers to “ecotones” somewhat
apologetically, as if he’s been talking to too many geographers or biologists. But the word
might well be enlightening, considered in relation to his paintings. In ecological studies an
ecotone is a boundary area, a place between more stable “biomes” marking a transition
between species. It’s a place characterized by unexpected concentrations, by sudden gaps
in vegetation or among populations, by surprises and unexpected combinations. An ecotone
is where history begins to end, where the nature of knowledge changes along with what can
be known. Among the territories he explores, Kolodziej paints in the space between the
abstraction of gesture and the reassurance of touch, between observation and dissolution.