Matthew Sepielli: Cathedral

Cathedral (video installation view)

Tiger Strikes Asteroid

Showing February  3 through 26

By Jacob Feige

For any artist, a new body of work brings fresh possibilities and hazards. Will it open unforeseen territories of exploration? Will it leave an artist estranged from her/his own practice, wondering why drastic changes were necessary in the first place? These questions are foremost in my mind as I consider Cathedral, Mattew Sepielli’s exhibition of painting and video at Tiger Strikes Asteroid.

Sepielli’s main body of work over the past few years consists of paintings on canvas, carpets, and books, each with dozens of layers of paint cracking and blistering to an amazing textural effect. The works are abstract, even irregularly geometric, yet they seem to have more in common with Albert Pinkham Rider, the late 19th century American master of the pocked and fissured landscape painting, than they do with Paul Klee or contemporaries like Amy Sillman. The edges of Sepielli’s paintings are irregular gobs of paint clinging to a rectangle, and it is along these edges that viewers can unravel the history of each work’s making.

When I enter the gallery, I momentarily see the exhibition as entirely empty, save for a dim table lamp. On second inspection, there are ten square canvases installed close to the ceiling, each nearly identical to the next and almost perfectly matched to the gallery walls in white tone. These ten paintings are made from plaster thickly applied to linen canvas, with simplified forms representing a church window and the sun carved into their surfaces. In each painting, the circle representing the sun shifts slightly within the window, suggesting the slow, silent passing of a single day. Seen at different times of day (or night), the painting installation takes on the tones and reflections of the light streaming through the gallery windows. I visited in the afternoon and evening, and a somber, sparse mood prevailed at both hours.

Sepielli often embodies a sense time by compressing effort intensely into tactile layers. In Cathedral he unravels and empties the experience of time, effectively suggesting just how long a day can be. In his craggy, layered paintings, I search for phantom forms in topographical surfaces; in the Cathedral paintings I’m overwhelmed with slow, boring purity. Boredom is what allows me to experience the slow pace of a full day in a matter of minutes through this work. Without it, I wouldn’t look out of the gallery windows and glance at the shifting light cast through them onto the gallery walls and onto the paintings themselves. Depending on one’s disposition, this boredom can have deep, even spiritual resonance, or it can be an experience of nothingness.

Accompanying the painting installation is a video loop installed in the gallery closet. “Lost lost lost found found found,” reads text in the video, which holds still above shifting shadows and lights that might be headlights through trees on a rural highway. If the ten paintings are clear, sober light, this video is shadow—all mystery and no clarity. The dialectic of light and shadow is obvious, yet like Christian morality itself, it leaves me wondering if light is found and shadow is lost. The project, happily, remains agnostic, treating light and shadow not as virtue and sin, clarity and ignorance, but as complementary points of entry into an investigation of time and space as ambiguous, stark experience.


Jacob Feige is an artist and teacher. His work has recently been shown at Chambers FA, Beijing, Movement, UK, and Jolie Laide, Philadelphia.