Christmas morning


Christmas in July, oil on panel, 6" x 6"

Christmas in July, oil on panel, 6″ x 6″


A new Matthew Cornell show is opening at Arcadia just in time for me to visit this weekend, or early next week, while I’m in the city. His astonishing, small paintings look better and better. He somehow captures the light of less-illuminated things during a photographer’s beloved Golden Hour, just as or after the sun sets or rises. He somehow manages to evoke details and variations of color in the shadows, illuminated faintly by the sky itself, while creating a focal point with a small area of orange or yellow artificial light, usually from the window of a house. How he gets the amazing level of verisimilitude at the tiny scale of these paintings is a mystery, unless, as it seems Durer must have done, he uses brushes with a single hair. He can have as many as three light sources–the sky, the interior light glowing from windows and a streetlight or the sun itself shining somewhere beyond the frame of his picture, throwing another angle of illumination onto a house or strip of grass. What distinguishes his work, though, is the intense, complex feeling the images evoke–stillness, peace, satisfaction, beauty, yet also loneliness and isolation. In this show, as described in an excellent video he has produced, he returns to houses where he has lived and paints them, using photographs he takes at the site. He pushes the color just slightly so that a pair of yellow no-passing lines in a road look orange and his greens seem slightly more lush than they would in any photograph I’d be able to take. A neutral shadow becomes faintly purple next to the amber incandescence of a porch bulb. The ultimate effect is something both convincingly real and yet magical: Christmas in July. Actually, for me, it’s like Christmas morning every time I look at one of his paintings for the first time.

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