It’s a familiar scene in Arkansas: an outdoorsman, dressed in thermals and loaded down with gear, heads off on his four-wheeler for a long day in the woods. But Patrick Matthews isn’t hunting Arkansas game; he’s searching for unusual angles of light, idyllic scenes and vibrant natural colors to capture on canvas.
Born and bred in central Arkansas, Matthews approaches painting almost as an extreme sport, traveling the United States and the world on expeditions to reinterpret natural beauty through his impressionistic lens. “I’ve got a painting rig set up on my four-wheeler, my truck, and even on a boat,” he explains. “I’ve painted in the rain, snow, wind and summer heat.”
Depicting the western aspen trees and southern hay fields that captivate Matthews requires a fairly high level of comfort with roughing it. Last year when the aspen trees of Colorado began to turn, he and several artist friends, including fellow Arkansan Barry Thomas, hired an elk hunting guide to lead them on a 10-day camping excursion into the mountains. “When it’s really cold, I have to stand on a sheet of Styrofoam or my feet will freeze, and I put a little heater under my palette so my paints don’t get hard,” he says.
Matthews wasn’t always a freewheeling artist, though. He says that as a young person, “I wanted to be an artist, but I decided I’d better get a degree in something serious, so I went to architecture school at the University of Arizona.” After graduation, he moved back home and started his own architecture firm, continuing to develop his artistic skills on the side. Eventually, in 2001, he worked up the nerve to make a break. “One night at work, I called all my clients and told them, ‘I’m just not going to do your work anymore.’” Fortunately, his clients were supportive, and his first two shows as a professional artist at Little Rock’s Local Colour Gallery sold out.
With his confidence growing after the success of those first two shows, Matthews decided to test the waters in a broader market. He visited several cities across the West, but when he got to Santa Fe, with its world-class art market and breathtaking desert scenery, he knew he had found a second home. “People fly in every day from all over the world to buy art there,” he says. After finding representation in a Santa Fe gallery, Matthews decided to leave his roots and move to New Mexico.
Matthews is known for his use of texture, an effect he achieves through the application of large amounts of paint. “When most people put paint on their palettes, they apply about a crayon’s worth. I put out a pile. I buy my paint in caulking tubes!” he says.
A modern impressionist, Matthews uses unexpected color combinations to play with light and shadow. Using a technique in which he wipes the brush clean between each stroke, he maintains the vibrancy and contrast of each color. “I apply one stroke and don’t touch it again, because once you touch it again, it starts to muddy up the color,” he explains.
Art buyers in Arkansas and across the country have responded to Matthews’ textural nature scenes and series of American flags painted after September 11, 2001. In 2006, he was selected by Southwest Art magazine as one of ten artists on the rise, and now living back home in Arkansas, he continues to show work at Local Colour Gallery in Little Rock, Waxlander Gallery in Santa Fe and The Sportsman’s Gallery in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Though he’s experienced success with the impressionistic scenes for which he is most known, Matthews continues to test his own boundaries. His latest collection, the “Mosaic Series,” uses more abstract forms, a departure from his previous work. “I’ve always loved abstract work, and one day I just started trying it,” he says. “Painting is always a learning experience, and I’ve just begun to learn how to paint.”