CAT: A Tonic. (Or, the Disarming Sincerity of Matthew Offenbacher)
This week in The Stranger, Jen Graves reviewed Matthew Offenbacher’s C.A.T., installed at Howard House through October 31. Like most reviewers of Offenbacher’s work, Graves makes generous mention of his numerous outside projects that make him one of the Seattle art community’s most ambitious organizers. (More on those activities here, here and here.) But when it comes to his work, her verdict is slightly less charitable, at least on the surface:
There is something deeply embarrassing about Offenbacher’s paintings. They are embarrassed to be paintings—as if it were just an embarrassing thing to be a painting, so fancy and loaded and ambitious—and you are embarrassed to be looking at them, and in this way a connection is made.
To be sure, Graves admits to being won over, if not by the peculiar charm of the paintings themselves, at least by their eccentric heroism:
Offenbacher pushes his paintings beyond all this into a sort of awkward, liberating confidence. To proudly present a large painting of your cat’s face upside down on fabric that rejects the paint itself—it is an act of freedom, of perverse strength.
I commented on her post that Matthew Offenbacher is probably my favorite painter in Seattle right now, for reasons I had not yet attempted to put into words. But I am inspired to do so now in response to the charge of “embarrassing.”
I’m fairly sure I see the qualities Jen Graves reads as embarrassing. Offenbacher’s canvases are awash with garish color combinations, rendered with an anachronistic expressiveness and a disarming sincerity, and garnished with a calculated whiff of naïveté. But I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed by them. On the contrary: I think I’m more likely to find myself “embarrassed” by artwork which lacks these qualities altogether. (Like art that desperately wants to convince us of its “smartness” or “hipness,” for instance.)
Offenbacher’s work is refreshingly free from all traces of pretense. He has a cat that he likes, so he paints the cat. He paints other things too. These things are important, but not nearly as important as the voluminous, interpenetrating Space Between Things that gets rendered with all the exuberant, idiosyncratic delight of a psychologically tetched outsider.
The resulting images are resoundingly charismatic; so confident in their freakishly egoless self-ness that they make us keenly aware of our own pretenses. If Offenbacher’s paintings cause us any existential discomfort, perhaps it is because we know that we are nowhere near as much ourselves as they are.
Matthew Offenbacher’s C.A.T. is up through the end of the week at Howard House. Thanks to Jen Graves for the inspiring food for thought, as always.