curated by Francesca Gavin
Objects of Care: Matt Ager
Text Francesca Gavin
Matt Ager’s wall objects and sculptural furniture rethink the concept of assemblage art from a contemporary perspective. Rather than the Duchampian readymade, Ager instead starts with the thrown away fragments of modern life and transforms them into sensitive and complex sculptures. The result is a practise that questions ideas around design, architecture, status, class and matter.
Ager is based in London, where he has exhibited extensively alongside residency at the highly respected Skowhegan in Maine, and recently The Anderson Ranch in Colorado. He studied Sculpture at Camberwell College of Art before going to the Royal Academy, and his work has developed considerably since he graduated in 2015. The city itself is somehow embedded in work, which is partly made from its rejected fragments. He questions what London does not want.
The artist was first attracted to working with found objects because of their materiality. His pieces are created from “sections of discarded things,” the artist explains. “I enjoy nurturing and taking care of things. Giving neglected things attention.” The artist discovers things on the street and in skips, as well as looking for scrap from workshops. He adds elements of formica, acrylic and laminate when he is transforming them into new works.
The shapes and forms he creates are made with a jig saw – which he uses like a pencil to draw. “I use various saws, drills, routers and sanders to make most the forms. Using a combination of these I can pretty much do anything. Decisions are made as I go and rarely end up as I planned,” he notes. “I use paint, fabric, oils and polish to change surfaces, more emphasising rather than completely changing.” Originally the artist’s aim was to resemble or draw from the shape or swimming pools and the profiles of hair lines. Over time this has developed into something more abstract, with a focus on texture and palette. “Frequently the shape of the material or object will be part of its original charm and reason for selection,” he points out. Ager’s gestures are simple yet there is a strong sense of skill and sensitivity to his attention in making.
These forms feel nuanced and sensitive, at the same time as they are solid and sturdy. It is natural that they seem in some way to touch on ideas of modernism. Yet, Ager notes, he has a wider range of personal references. Some of these draw from the history of design, marquetry and sculpture. In particular, Italian and European relationship to objects. Ager’s work is touched by the legacy of Lily Reich, Fred Baeir or Ettore Sottsass. He is also interested in the concepts of interior design, in both an office and domestic context. His objects are chameleons, dipping in and out of recognition. They exist at the intersection of function and dysfunction. “I like things that ‘work’, I spend quite a lot of my time trying to make my definition of ‘work’. Functionality can exist visually and practically. In making my work, I can exist on the borders which I like,” he enthuses.
The status of the art object – as opposed to the discarded unusable thing – is also vital here. He elevates his materials. There is something strongly painterly in Ager’s work – with a sense of colour palette and texture that echoes other artistic influences such as Richard Rezac and Blinky Palermo. “I treat colour instinctively, and my instincts are ‘don’t be too loud’. I like subtle, incidental colours,” he explains. “I like to democratize the magnolias with the Farrow and Ball-esque colours. They can exist side by side in the work. Alongside colours, textures can seduce, I work with textures that seduce me, I just want to pass it on.”
The etymological roots of the work ‘make’ comes from West Germanic makōjanan for fashion or fit. There is something of that puzzle-like click in Ager’s work. The forms he creates to appear smoothly integrated or fitting together. The materials he uses leads the way to forms and combinations that fit agreeably together. These fluid pieces fuse the hand made and the industrial in satisfying forms. There is a sense of consideration here. The artist caring for something cast-off and re-using and re-thinking its role in the world.
Matt Ager (b. 1985, London) lives and works in London. Ager graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2015 and holds a BA in sculpture from Camberwell College of Art. Exhibitions include: Stampede, Horse & Pony Fine Art, Berlin (2021); Clay TM, TJ Boulting, London (2020); Usable Space Gallery, Milwaukee, USA (2019); Bare Elegance, Lungley, London (2019); OH I KNOW WHY, Sundy, London (2018); High Gallery, Poznan, Poland (2018), Sleeping Procession curated by Sean Steadman and Gabriel Hartley, CASS Sculpture Foundation, (2017); Closer to the Veg, London (2016); GUSTO Studio Leigh, London (2016); Maybe Your Lens is Scratched, Averard Hotel, London (2016); Either Those Curtains, Fold (2016); Wrongguns, Agency Agency, Brussels (2016); Is it Heavy or Is it Light, Assembly Point, London (2016); Sunday School #11 curated by Amanprit Sandhu (2015).