Matthew Brennan IV is the Boston based artist behind Two Thangs. While Two Thangs has been active since June of 2015, Matt has 20 years of experience as a working artist and designer. Two Thangs was relocated from Seattle, where it started, to Boston in July of 2018.
Statement of Intent:
It’s been at least a century since the content of painting has had real significance. Once photography was introduced, painting adapted to become more about paint and materials than what image was being painted as a necessary adaptation for relevance. This has contributed to a basic tenant that for painting to be considered significant in contemporary art it must be obtuse to the general public and that’s a burden that’s been mostly placed on the content. The greatest way to pique interest is to make something mysterious or difficult to understand but that doesn’t mean it’s the only path. One obvious way to make something interesting is the above mentioned obtuseness of the subject, however, if content has simply become a secondary vehicle to make people that may not have art backgrounds ask “Why was this created?”, is that the only use left to it? Is art a 40 sided Rubik’s cube? I’d argue that other paths to complexity and interaction other than opaque content and there are other uses for the subject that aren’t being utilized.
I make commissioned paintings where anyone can give me two pieces of pop culture and I work with them to combine them into original paintings. Since content has been de-emphasized, I give up control of it in order for it to serve the purpose of drawing people into interaction with my paintings. This is crowdsourced art that not only adapts to the commissioning party but shows who they are in a way that portraiture hasn’t. It distills their identity down to a series of choices; what are they interested in, where have they been in life, what do they want to be reminded of, and how do they see the purpose of art. Some are fun, some are serious, some are symbolic, some are memories but all talk in depth about the people who commissioned them. I don’t choose the content and I inject myself into what’s created only if that’s how the commissioning party sees a painting. Some people know what they want down to the last detail and others have only a general idea. This instruction or lack of instruction is as much of a part of how they view art as to the ideas they chose to start with. I give them all leeway to tell me or not tell me what to do and comply accordingly. I only offer general guidelines to steer it away from portraiture and offer input on the visual elements of the painting. It’s not just the things they choose, but why they choose them and how they communicate that that sets the subject and tone.
Pop Art prides itself on the taking of popular mass culture visuals and presenting them in a fine art language but it has historically leaned its content heavily toward the mundane in an effort to distinguish itself from the actual pop culture that inspires it. It is another level of obtuseness that more modern Pop Artists like Jeff Koons have done away with. Instead of using pop culture as an inspiration to be elevated, it can it just be appreciated. I ask, why can’t art be composed of images that draw any person into an interaction and still be significant? This is pop art that doesn’t take the style of pop culture and elevate it, but uses pop culture as a vehicle for accessibility. I’d argue that if you show a random assortment of people a painting, a majority of them will focus on the subject of the painting and not the process. Appreciation of process is something that’s learned through immersement and if you’re immediately put off by art, you will never have a chance to grow into it.
I keep the costs of the original paintings low by re-selling the images afterwards. This allows the cost of the painting to be attainable by most people, but still enough that people spend significant time thinking about their choices. It also moves painting away from being an investment and back toward being attainable. The re-selling of the images also forms a web of interest between people mapping out intersecting lines of identity. In a world of sub-sub-genres of culture, every combination of two ideas has someone out there that responds to it in the same way as the person who thought of it. Sometimes it’s many people. Due to the presentation and reproduction, this art exists not only in galleries but in streets and assemblies, so it seeks out the different people that connect with the connection of images.
Once content has been taken care of, I get to enjoy the act of crafting images out of the visual elements I find interesting. I use paint in some of the same ways that drawing traditionally covers. I work in layers upon layers of graphic marks and I make use of techniques like cross hatching, stippling, patterning and line work but with brush and color instead of black and white which forces the marks to adapt in different ways. In drawing, there is only the binary of off and on. The surface is either marked or clear and I treat the paint in the same manner trying to differentiate areas less by tone and value and more by planes of bright color which are crisply defined from each other. I look at the brush marks in themselves as flat layers that sit on top of the canvas and then build upon them layer after layer to create these images. It’s graphic in the way that Alex Katz was playing with flat plains of color, but the mark making is more along the lines of the abstract expressionists.The closer you inspect them, the more they deteriorate into a purely visual experience and the content fades away. What was a painting of Bushwick Bill and hot dogs vanishes as you focus in and transforms into Franz Kline like strokes, flat planes of color and rhythms of design chaos and tranquility. This is the staying power that gives my paintings the ability to be looked at for long periods of time and still find new elements to appreciate.
The paintings are not the art that I create; they are very much the craft that I enjoy. However, the collection of paintings created under Two Thangs is the art that I make. It is a singular body of work that as a whole talks about everyone that has ever interacted with it. As it grows and people take the idea of “two pieces of pop culture” and shift it to what it means to them, so does the scope. From people, to places, to music, to songs, to philosophies, to symbols and metaphors, it’s an ever evolving cultural language of personal significance.