Photo-based artist Matthew Brandt (b. 1982; American) creates his artworks using physical elements from the very subjects he photographs. Among different sources, the artist finds inspiration in landscape photography of the American West, especially its correlation to the methods of printing and making images during photography's infancy in the mid-nineteenth century. In this vein of historical engagement, Brandt revives traditional photographic processes, including handmade papermaking and gum-bichromate, which predates film in the timeline of photographic technology. Much of Brandt's oeuvre is made from the subjects it depicts: prints may be soaked in water from the lakes they picture, or the pigments affixed to the print may be derived from charcoal made from trees in the image. At times, the artist's process goes so far as rendering night skies in cocaine on black velvet, or baking tar-based images in the sun. This engagement with the natural world and derived materials also introduces an element of chance to Brandt's work, as the media resist control and create new, unexpected features.
Brandt's gravitation towards landscapes and the Earth's natural features is likewise guided by his interest in the tension between control and spontaneity, especially as it arises between human activity and the natural environment. His work recalls the early 19th century quest of Westward expansion, wherein America both honed the photographic medium and set about destroying much of the natural beauty that made it worth picturing. Brandt completes this cycle by folding the changed landscape back into his photographs, letting nature and the world around him depict itself as much as he depicts it. At other times, Brandt depicts humanmade structures like rooms or buildings; here, the artist lays plain their constructed nature by showing images of spaces refracted onto light fixtures or rendered in dust from the floor.
The artist's explorations of subject and material make the poetic qualities of photographic production emphatically clear and tactile. The wetness of water is evident in his image of a lake, the combustibility of wood in his image of a tree. Giving these features material influence over the process is the artist's way of letting them speak. Relinquishing some of the artist's work to nature is not disarming to his process, but liberating. After all, Brandt states his own inspirations to be: "Entropy, chance operations, and Sunday painting."
Matthew Brandt has mounted solo exhibitions of his work across the globe, including at the Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; Erarta Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Forest Lawn Museum, Glendale, CA; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; and Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA, among others. The artist has exhibited work in many notable group exhibitions, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville Paris, France; and the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR. His work is in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Art Gallery of South Wales, Sydney, Australia, among other institutions.