Matthew Picton: Urban Narratives @ Sumarria Lunn

Sumarria Lunn presents the solo show of Matthew Picton ‘Urban Narratives’, a collection of three-dimensional wall mounted sculptures, a visual commentary on the history and culture of London, Dublin, Venice and Hollywood.

Picton’s first four works depict different areas of London (Clerkenwell, Bloomsbury, Southwark and Waterloo) between 1940 and 1944. This is a ‘reconstruction’ of London’s cityscape during World War II with precise details on the destruction caused in particular streets and buildings, this is demonstrated via relevant burnt sections on the actual sculptures. Picton’s London is built of paper with printed text that correlates to the city’s cultural history and social life. Abstracts from Rosie Alison’s ‘The Very Thought of You’ and text from novels of Christopher Fowler, Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen have been thoroughly employed. In a similar fashion, Dublin consists of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. Venice is assembled with cut-paper excerpts of Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’, while the walls facing Grand Canal and the external perimeter of the city are complimented with musical scores of Benjamin Britten’s homonymous opera narrating an obsessive love story taking place during a cholera outbreak in the city. His Hollywood sculpture, is constructed with covers of fictional films and documentaries, such as ‘Killer Quake’ and ‘Earthquake’, referencing to the two main characteristics of the city, the local film industry and the omnipresent fear of earthquake.

Picton clearly has a keen interest in cartography and this is demonstrated through the detailed cityscapes that have been created after studious research and investigation on historical records and maps. The attachment of historical and cultural references to his work provide not only an architectural and topographical study, but also a historical, social and cultural commentary reflecting each city’s evolving individuality and idiosyncrasy. The exploration of Picton’s cityscapes demonstrates the notion of urban development challenged by natural phenomena, acts of God or acts of Man, which inevitably become part of the history of a certain locus. Each sculpture almost represents a piece of archaeological interest as they showcase a city plan of a bygone era enhanced with immense historical moments that have desecrated or altered each city’s substance.

Matthew Picton talked to REVma -/+ about his exhibition:

REVma -/+: “Urban Narratives” entail the re-construction of cities focusing on certain elements of their past life commingled with other unique characteristics. How did this idea come to life?
M.P.: These works came about in a process of evolution. A few years earlier I was creating sculptures of urban infrastructure, networks of lines formed of the cut away road, rivers, canals, railways subway lines, etc. During the process of creating these, an imagination of the history of the city I would be working on would form. Later I reversed the form of these sculptures, creating sculpture from the spaces between the lines, the interior, inhabited spaces. Once using paper it became possible to introduce a variety of media on to the surface of the sculptures, enabling the idea of the city to grow exponentially.

REVma -/+: Your work involves cities that have experienced immense historical moments, mainly associated with devastation. What are the criteria for deciding which city to engage and why do you emphasise on specific chronological events with additional cultural references?
M.P.: I feel like most cities could provide a good topic but clearly some have a greater wealth of history and culture accumulated within them. Some cities exist in the imagination more powerfully than others. I like to engage in specific events that cities have undergone as these are frequently the moments of pivotal change. Moments that tend to spawn the greatest reflection culturally in the arts. The additional cultural references provide width to the events, ways of seeing and imagining them, a sort of prismatic lens through which the events of history can be viewed and examined.

REVma -/+: Your sculptures depict a meticulous urban landscape, which undoubtedly encompasses a painstaking creation process. What were the challenges in producing this specific visual language and have you ever considered employing a different medium to achieve an equally stimulating result?
M.P.: Some of the challenges have been those of time obviously…becoming quick enough and skilled enough in order to take on a work with more than 1000 handmade pieces and actually finish it! The other challenges involve the assimilation and dissection of large amounts of material in order to keep the work sharply focused. I am always considering other mediums, experimenting to see what else can be possible. For the moment paper seems to offer the greatest flexibility.