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NYC-based Painter Matt Mignanelli :: Stories Unfold

Matt Mignanelli, an artist based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is largely inspired by the industrial neighborhood he works in, citing cinder blocks, roll down gates, and corrugated metal buildings as a few of his muses. “A lot of my works are based on industrial facades and architectural elements,” Matt explains. “The patterning that naturally occurs in New York has been a constant source of inspiration to me.”

In Matt’s earlier works, these elements were visible as brick walls and candy-colored shapes. But in more recent years, Matt has pared down his work, producing precise and dimensional paintings in an all-black palette. “I just love how raw and exposed the painting is when working in monochrome; there is nothing to hide behind, nothing to distract you,” he says. “I found a certain serenity in the black, a calmness in the void, a power.”

These are the type of works that will be on view at his upcoming exhibition at Richard Heller Gallery, which opens on November 22 in Los Angeles. The exhibition will also include white monochromes, and is the first time the white works have been exhibited. “There was a certain power that the works had paired together that really bridged the two bodies of work for me,” Matt explains in the following interview with The Hundreds. “I feel like I have achieved a continuity and cohesion with this exhibition that is even more successful than exhibitions past.”

ZIO: How did you develop your aesthetic?
MATT MIGNANELLI: The aesthetic of my current work has been a very gradual evolution over the years. I’ve always painted with a hard edge, and the works were always based in precision, but the subject matter and feel of the works have changed quite a bit. The works have increasingly become more abstract. While they are sometimes ambiguous, it’s important for me that they always maintain a foothold in reality.

While I was working with color, there were always areas of monochrome in the works. I was really drawn to those and wanted to explore that further. I stripped away certain aspects of the paintings as I was searching for purity. I just love how raw and exposed the painting is when working in monochrome; there is nothing to hide behind, nothing to distract you. It allowed me to push myself to create the best works without distraction. I found a certain serenity in the black, a calmness in the void, a power. As the works have evolved I have found a similar feeling with the whites, there’s more airiness and an ethereal nature to them.

You said in another interview that all your work is architecturally influenced. How big of an influence does New York City have on your work?
Architecture and environment play a huge role in informing my work. A lot of my works are based on industrial facades and architectural elements, the patterning that naturally occurs in New York has been a constant source of inspiration to me, and there is a certain energy here that my work really feeds off. My studio is located in Bushwick, which is a really industrial section of Brooklyn. There is a vibrancy and work ethic in the neighborhood, filled with industry. The industrial landscape consists of cinder block, diamond plate steel, roll down gates, corrugated metal buildings painted in basics: black, white, chrome, brick red and grey. I just love the utilitarian nature of it all. It really informs and shapes my work.

Can you tell me about your upcoming exhibition, what is the significance of the title Stories Unfold? How is it similar to and what differs from previous exhibitions?
The title Stories Unfold felt really fitting and truthful to where I am at this stage in my life and development as an artist right now. I have been working in black monochromes for a couple of years now, and just started making the white monochromes in January. This exhibition will be the first time the white works have been exhibited which I’m excited about. This exhibition will really present three bodies of work; black monochromes, white monochromes, and black / white diptychs. There was a certain power that the works had paired together that really bridged the two bodies of work for me. I feel like I have achieved a continuity and cohesion with this exhibition that is even more successful than exhibitions past. The title Stories Unfold is very transitory, and seemingly very fitting as the works continue to evolve.

Your paintings look very labor intensive. How long does it take you to make one piece?
The works are labor intensive as they’re painted entirely freehand with multiple coats. I try not to keep track of the hours, but for larger works it’s somewhere around 150+ hours.

How does your work develop? And how do you get your work to appear to have so much dimension, and at the same time, be so smooth?
The work develops initially from drawings. I’m always making drawings, trying things out on paper. The paintings are all matte acrylic and high-gloss enamel on canvas. The dimension comes from the arrangement of shapes, and the high-gloss surface that is built up. I strive for perfection in my paintings, but it’s always been extremely important for the handmade to come through with brushstrokes and small imperfections. In the new works I’ve begun to let go a little and allow some drips to come through in the paint, instead of constantly controlling the whole surface. I think it’s added a nice touch of humanity to them.

You said that your work is about how light interacts with architecture and structure. Is your work still about this or has the meaning evolved?
The interaction of light and structure is the groundwork on which the works are formed, but the works are very much about immersing the viewer in an experience. I aim to create these enigmatic environments that have elements of familiarity, which allows for a further engagement with the viewer allowing them to have their own unique experience. I want to just provide a jumping off point.

Working with the reflective surface of enamel, and an absorbing matte surface, the works visually change depending on time of day and light source, forcing the viewer to move around a work. This interactive viewing experience has really fascinated me.

What do you think is the key to success as an artist?
A lifetime of hard work, persistence, and constant exploration.