Matias Brimmer considers the canvas a battlefield

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I was introduced to Matias Brimmer by his father, Henry, a graphic designer who recently retired from being a professor of advertising. He talked ecstatically about his son’s art. In a proudly paternal fashion, he told me that it looks like Matias is fighting his demons on the canvas. 

“In a certain sense, yes. But I don’t really know what he means by that,” explained Matias. “The canvas is more like a battlefield on which these materials — paints, charcoal, pastels — come into a chaotic conflict with one another. Out of that chaos, an image comes.”

Brimmer has a gallery opening Friday at the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art. His paintings depict people who seem like they’re trying to escape the confines of the body. The paintings are at war with themselves. Looking at his work, you can understand why he refers to the canvas as a battlefield. 

Jenny Saville and Francis Bacon are his most direct inspirations. Both British figure painters, their approach to portraying the human body helped Brimmer find his own style. 

“The figure appears recognizable without losing the spontaneity and excitement of seeing paint thrown all over the place,” Brimmer said. “Perhaps these figures are fighting their own demons or trying to leave their body.”
At the start of quarantine, Brimmer dove into a book by the famously difficult philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. The idea of someone trying to escape one’s own body fascinated him. 

“The way that I’m painting expresses this sense of wanting to go beyond your own limitations. The body, in its own way, sets the parameters,” said Brimmer. “I’m trying to express the desire to go beyond that. And at the same time, express our inability to go beyond it.”

He describes the body as an “engine of mortality.” Like a ticking time bomb that determines exactly how much time we get to spend on Earth. 

Depression informs Brimmer’s art. Painting and making music helped him vent after entering a depressive episode right after graduating high school. For Brimmer, painting allows him to achieve a kind of zen. He described it as a “Western version of what zen actually is.”

“When I’m painting, I can let loose the aggression or tension or anxiety that builds up because of mental illness,” he explained. “Freud had a word for when your demons are, essentially, positively channeled.”

Interestingly, Brimmer feels more connected with the music scene than the visual arts scene. He makes ambient music under the moniker Casey Jones, which is unrelated to the classic Grateful Dead tune, he emphasized 

“There’s almost a religious aspect to music. Every religious tradition involves music,” said Brimmer. “Now, it’s just random people at a house show banging drums and singing along to the music.”

According to him, painting is a solitary activity. He enjoys painting alone. If other people are around, he feels like he’s performing. 

“Oh, wow! Look at that guy throw paint at the canvas,” he said sarcastically. “He doesn’t give a fuck!”

Though painting is something he enjoys doing alone, Brimmer is still hopeful that his showing will have an audience. 

“That may sound misanthropic, but … ,” he trailed off. 

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