Nov 13th 2022

Matthew Girson: Plot Structure

@ Riverside Arts Center Freeark Gallery

32 E Quincy St, Riverside, IL 60546

Opening Sunday, November 13th, from 3PM - 6PM

On view through Friday, December 30th

Matthew Girson: Plot Structure

The Riverside Arts Center is pleased to present Plot Stucture, a solo exhibition of paintings by Matthew Girson in our Freeark Gallery, curated by Anne Harris.

Opening Reception: Sunday, November 13, 2022, 3:00-6:00 PM

Exhibition Dates: November 13 – December 30, 2022

On View: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 1:00 – 5:00 PM

Artist Talk: Saturday, December 10, 2022, 2:00 PM

Exhibition Catalogue: Will be available for purchase including a special edition with a limited edition print by Matthew Girson


Reflections on Facts and Fictions

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful‚
The eye of a little god.
–Sylvia Plath, Mirror

Matthew Girson’s recent paintings are mirrors. I mean this literally. Actual mirrors are embedded. Silver paints are used. These mimic surfaces ranging from chrome to pewter. The paint is used to depict muted interiors which abut the actual mirrors. These show us the actual interiors we stand in, and our reflected selves, peering into the painting, trying to sort out what we see.

Matthew’s paintings are also mirrors, metaphorically. The illusory sensation of space is the physical depth of a mirror—that fraction of an inch suspended between the surface of the glass and the silvered backing. The images are oddly flat, pressed back at us, impassive and neutral. Every reflected millimeter is equal.

These are also experiential mirrors, capturing many reflective possibilities, from breath-steamed, to satin-finished, to sparklingly clear. But they’re at odds with the traditional expected fiction of painting, that paintings are like windows, not mirrors.

We expect to look through a painting as we do a window. The window pane is the picture plane; the world of the painting exists behind that plane. But Matthew’s painted world slides against that plane. It lives where our world meets its opposite. He paints the moment of reflected flip, the liminal shimmer.


The Larry Bookbinder paintings are windows. We look through them and see painterly interpretations of observed objects on surfaces. Described by Matthew, “They are small (and odd?) windows into densely filled, colorful, bright, reflective narrow spaces.” Understood this way, they are part of the tradition of perceptual still-life painting, in conversation with Chardin, Cezanne, and more recent painters like Albert York and Lois Dodd. These artists work interpretively from life, using paint as a sensory thing, each mark a felt response to specific observation.

The Bookbinder paintings can be read this way; however, adding one contextual fact changes everything. Larry Bookbinder, himself, is a metaphor. He is part of a layered story whose characters include both Bookbinder and the paintings. When we know this, these paintings flip from windows to mirrors. They reflect their actual maker, who is obsessed with shifting fact to fiction and back again.

The mirror is his subject, muse and metaphor. It holds both fact and fiction at once. Light bounces off its surface to reflect the world and ourselves, while holding the window’s experience—that we look through it to see another world. This embodies an essential human trait, that we reflect upon our existence through metaphor and story-telling.

—Anne Harris


Paintings can be dizzying and intoxicating when they open our senses and curiosities. At the same time, they can be sobering and grounding when they remind us where, when, and how we experience them and the world at large. Paintings are never just one thing and are at their best when they are all of the above: slippery, shifting, complex and – ideally – very simple and straight forward.

Following the lead of Polish poet Wyslava Szymborska, Girson prefers the absurdity of making paintings to the absurdity of not making paintings.

—Matthew Girson


Matthew Girson has been exhibiting his paintings, drawings and other work locally, nationally, and internationally since the mid 1990s. The full breadth of his creative output includes sculpture, sound installations, a perfume, a type-face, and the adaptation of the correspondence between poets Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs into a theatrical production called Dear Poet, All Light. From January 2017 through January 2021 he hosted monthly Murmurs of Democracy performances inviting people to reflect on the successes and failures of our democratic republic. He laments that he’s never written a novel though that has not stopped him from exploring narrative, character development, and setting in his work.

He teaches painting, drawing, and seminars on contemporary art at the Art School at DePaul University in Chicago. He lives, works, and gardens in Oak Park, IL.

The exhibition also includes paintings by Larry Bookbinder. Details about Bookbinder’s life are vague, though we can glean clues about him from his correspondences and poems. The correspondence is divided into a small collection of letters he received in the 1940s while still living in Europe, and other letters that he wrote in the 1960/70s after moving to the U.S. One of the late letters refers to a fictional character he invented named Matthew Girson who says, “Sometimes we wrap ourselves up in the warmth of the stories we’ve inherited. At other times we spin, weave, and create our own stories. And sometimes our stories fray and tear. None of these options are pure and I prefer none over any other.”

Anne Harris’s paintings and drawings have been exhibited at venues ranging from Alexandre Gallery, DC Moore Gallery, and Nielsen Gallery to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, The Portland Museum of Art, the California Center for Contemporary Art, and the North Dakota Museum of Art. In addition, her work is in such public collections as The Fogg Museum at Harvard, The Yale University Art Gallery, and The New York Public Library. Grants and awards include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and an NEA Individual Artists Fellowship.

Harris is an Associate Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She also is Chair of the Exhibition Committee at the Riverside Arts Center and has curated numerous exhibitions there.

Riverside Arts Center
32 East Quincy Street
Riverside Illinois 60450

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