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A Moveable Feast: The Joyful work of Matthew Carden

Matthew Carden’s prestigious, playful and warm-hearted photography is widely collected and internationally renowned.

A widely respected pioneer of miniature and food photography, he combines these skills with a passion for pop culture icons and paraphernalia. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, his subjects are drawn from a huge personal archive of images and objects from TV, films, magazines, figurines, toys and many other sources.

His work is a curious and original blend of these talents, subjects and inspirations. Visually and conceptually, the currents of Pop Art that flow so strongly through American Culture have a profound influence on the style and principles within the work. This can be seen in the bold colours, graphic style and use of lo-fi materials as subjects for his artworks.

Telling a Story

The iconoclastic characters appear like scenes from films and books, and one of Carden’s many strengths lies is his fantastic ability to tell a story. In the work ‘Nantucket South Pacific Whale’, we watch whilst the elusive whale breaches in the distance. We all know the narrative of Moby Dick, but Carden adds his characteristic playful take on the tale. The swirling sea is a delicious surface of whipped icing on a cake, but the colour matches the scene perfectly, and he has lit the panorama with expert precision to achieve a great sense of depth and atmosphere.

Matthew Carden - Spaghetti Western 2

He loves to create visual puns and witty new takes on old themes. The artwork ‘Spaghetti Western 2’ for example, shows two plastic toy cowboys facing off against each another in a shoot, situated in a desert made of spaghetti. Carden manages to capture the sense of fun, drama and enjoyment that comes from these moments that we have all played and watched throughout our lives. His work is human and down to earth, yet encapsulates very profound moments that we can all share: watching a film together, playing sport in the sun or lounging in warm weather by the pool. His objects and figures come to life and fill each artwork with possibility and narrative. ‘Spaghetti Western 2’ is tense and full of drama. The materials that he uses are subtly matched to the messages that he is trying to put across. The plastic of the cowboys and their theatrical pose is a nod towards the low budget, predictable and highly entertaining blueprint that all the films of this genre follow. Plastic, bold and loud, the form of the work matches the content perfectly.

Good Enough to Eat

In another photograph, ‘Honey Mead’, he combines a group of toy swimmers lounging around and swimming in a pool made of honey. The scene radiates warmth, relaxation and enjoyment. In many ways it could be a Pop Art Hollywood version of The Bathers at Asnières by French Artist Georges Seurat. With our eyes we can taste the honey, and the wispy clouds and welcoming blue sky only further the lovely atmosphere of a summers afternoon. His careful lighting and tactful use of food as an aspect of each artwork creates a feast for the senses, photographs that quite literally, look good enough to eat.

Matthew Carden - Honey Mead

This is a feature that runs through all of Carden’s work. He has a fantastic ability to capture the tastes, qualities and characteristics of each type of food within his photographs.

Form and Scale

Carden also has a great eye for form and composition. Notice in ‘Mushroom Forest’ how the baldheads of the group of monks are perfectly mirrored by the rounded earthy caps of the mushrooms behind them. Even the drab colours of their robes match the odd, mythical forest that they walk through. The scene looks like a fairy tale and the languid, bulbous forms of the mushrooms create a highly surreal feel. The artist uses a mismatch of scale to great effect, and the out of focus background implies distance and intrigue.

Using his miniature figures, toy cars and closely shot food, Carden often disrupts traditional ideas of scale and perception in his work. This allows for new perspectives to be drawn, and innovative worlds to be created. Great artworks make you look at the world with new eyes, from an original and exciting angle, and these respected photographs certainly succeed in this aim. Another advantage of Carden’s style is that it allows him to create worlds without rules. In ‘Walnut Tennis’ his characters serve with huge walnuts, hitting them back and forth in a humourous and dynamic way. His manipulation of scale allows him to rid himself of the confines of gravity and the laws of physics in the interests of artistic freedom and expression.

Colour and Texture

Bold colours and a vivid array of textures permeate Caden’s photographs. The rich amber of honey or the organic rustic green of fresh peas furthers the expressive and fun nature of the scenes. He matches and contrasts textures: shiny plastics, glazed cherries and egg yolks are juxtaposed to help tell the exciting stories that these fascinating artworks tell.

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