Artist Profile: Matthew Cox

Matthew Cox

David Rodrigue Photograph

People are the center of attention in Matthew Cox’s best-known paintings, which would probably come as a surprise to the real-life individuals who helped inspire their likenesses.

Cox doesn’t use models, and his paintings typically do not depict specific people. Rather, the deeply detailed, lifelike faces and forms that dominate his canvases spring from a vast repertoire of characters that he continuously compiles, rearranges and recharges simply by looking around at strangers on the street, in restaurant dining rooms and even on airplanes. They aren’t specifically ugly, but they are more likely to be the ones lingering near the rear of the pack than the celebrated beautiful people.

“It’s not so much sticking up for the underdog but more my interest in the gentleness of the uninflated ego,” says Cox.

They can appear plain, homely and weathered, often vulnerable and always very human, and Cox puts them in scenes and situations that can feel at once familiar and fantastical. Their enigmatic grimaces, innocent-looking smiles and hopeful eyes seem to tell incomplete stories, like illustrations of obscure literary scenes.

“When I come up with an idea for a painting and it makes me laugh, I follow it through,” he says. “Some artists try hard for the profound, but that’s not what this is about. I want people to be entertained.”

Originally from Texas, Cox traveled extensively from a young age with his parents, whom he describes as taking the family on a spiritual journey. Part of his childhood was spent in accordance with Mennonite values of simple living, for instance, which today he credits for his meticulous approach to painting, a painstaking process using many layers and robust detail.

In New Orleans, his first big break came in the spring of 2001 when he was included in the annual No Dead Artists group exhibition at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery. A solo show followed that same year at the gallery.  His work is now included in collections at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
For his most recent work, Cox kept the photographic equivalent of a journal as particular canvases progressed, and he will display these photos alongside paintings at his next shows to demonstrate his labor-intensive technique.

His latest show, “A Moment on the Lips,” opens at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans this month. For more examples of his work, go to www.jonathanferraragallery.com.

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