THOM BENNETT PHOTOGRAPH
Artist Bernard Mattox’s multi-layered, symbol-rich paintings are profoundly autobiographical. Unlike painters who document external objects or scenes – working from the outside in – Mattox works from the inside out, mining the memories, dreams, impressions and imagery that have informed his personal experience. “I call it the archaeology of solitude,” says Mattox, a native son who studied anthropology at Tulane before immersing himself in the art of ceramics and later painting. “I try to avoid the literal as much as possible. I go into the studio and dig [the subject matter] up.”
Raised in New Orleans and Covington, Mattox obtained his BFA from University of Southwestern Louisiana, his MFA from Tulane University and taught ceramics at both Tulane and Xavier Universities. In 1990, he moved back to the Northshore, where he spent six fondly remembered years of his youth. “I had my Huckleberry Finn years here,” says the artist, whose current home is surrounded by forest and inhabited by a quintet of friendly pets. Upstairs, the woodsy, light-filled living quarters serve as gallery space for his work. The area below the raised house has been partially enclosed as Mattox’s studio for painting and teaching.
Despite his degrees, Mattox says he never took a formal painting class. As a result, he describes himself as a largely self-taught painter who’s discovered his materials and his language (which includes everyday objects, images from nature, furniture, animals, primitive human forms, religious symbols from his Catholic upbringing and more) through trial and error and commitment to his art. He works daily and recommends the same for anyone who wants to unearth the artist within.
His paintings range from about 2-by-2 feet to 8-by-4 feet. Some are incredibly colorful with a densely compressed body of hieroglyphic-like symbols; others have quieter white backgrounds and a graphic, less figural vocabulary. His sculptures have a totem quality, layers of forms balanced one on top another, some precariously, like the strata of life experience from which they’re drawn. His current works, including one in the Southern Hotel in Covington, combine both media; paintings with shelves and cubbies displaying three dimensional objects. “The new work is still in the archeology period, but I’m happy it’s changing and evolving,” says Mattox.
find his work
Mattox’s work is available through Carol Robinson Gallery in New Orleans, Hooks-Epstein Galleries in Houston and Santa Fe Modern in Santa Fe (where 16 works are exhibited thru May). Works by Mattox are in both the NOMA and Ogden Collections.