I first encountered Quintessa Matranga work at Freddy, Joshua Abelow’s upstate gallery. Her small furious paintings of toilets lining the refurbished barn called to mind the dirty cartoons of my childhood like Ren and Stimpy and Rugrats, where part of the joke was the speed and imperfection of the line. While their subject matter and language were simple, one could observe Matranga’s desire to push the ordinary into another dimension—maybe even the sublime.
Curiosity piqued, I visited Matranga on her home turf, a Brooklyn studio connected to her apartment. She was at work on a new series, her Winter paintings. In part inspired by New York’s prolonged cold front, the images teased out all kinds of seasonal cliches from swirling cups of Starbucks to gingerbread houses. Now on view at The Loon gallery in Toronto, her new paintings served as an entrypoint for a conversation around her her intuitive practice.
When you paint different characters like in your Winter series, you are painting from memory rather than images. How do you think this ultimately affects your subject matter? I use drawings to work out ideas quickly sometimes, I might also reference photos but I mostly use my personal experiences and extrapolate from there. There’s a painting in this series about driving through a blizzard in a rental car looking for a Mennonite AirBnB in Pennsylvania. There’s also a painting called “Ciao!” The female character in it was originally based off of the character Lady Mary from Downton Abbey but then turned into a character from a movie called “Mrs. Santa Claus” from 1996. My father would always get merchandise from new shows and movies around that time and that’s how we first saw “Mrs. Santa Claus.” I think the movie never became successful but I watched it every year. I just want to feel connected to whatever I’m making so if I reference something specific that happened to me or something I thought was funny it will be more meaningful to me, and that ultimately feels productive.
What first attracted you to painting as a medium? While I was growing up my father worked as a journalist for TV and music magazines. He would always bring a sketchbook with him to his interviews and record all the impressions he had before and after the interviews in his book. He made really amazing drawings this way. I remember he would draw people from a bird’s eye view so you would just see the tops of people’s heads, their noses and their feet. One day he brought home sketch books for me and my sister and told us to make drawings of things that made an impression on us. As a writer, my father used drawing as a way of capturing more than could be understood through language or photographs. This was probably my first encounter with drawing as a tool in everyday life. Also, my parents were hippies and I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV so I was forced to draw to entertain myself. In school, I dropped out of the painting department because I didn’t want to stretch canvas.
Do you see your compositions as narrative? If so how would you describe their genre? I think of them as narrative. My friend, Tim Gentles, once called them a “form of domestic surrealism,” I think that’s a pretty good way of describing them for now.
What role does comedy play in your work? Is it something you associate with relief or critique? I sometimes work for Dan Graham and he says there’s a tradition of humor that is especially important to Jewish artists. I never thought of it that way before. I want my paintings to reflect my individual sense humor. It’s more specific. When I make a painting that does that, I feel really good. But it’s rare.
How do series like the toilets or winter function in your practice? When do you know a series is complete? I’m never thinking about finishing a series. If there is a deadline, for a show or something like that, then there’s an artificial ending to a series, which can be nice. But if I want to make another winter painting in 5 years or 5 days, I’ll do it. There’s no rules. I like working in series right now as a way of going deeper into something and exploring every option or combination I can come up with. I think it helps unify what I’m doing which can sometimes feel amorphous. Working in a series also helps formalize my ideas and communicate them more fully. I like any tool or trick that simplifies the decision making process. It’s usually liberating…