Workhouse Artist of the Week: Matthew Kiehl

See his work in Building 5, studio 510-B at Lorton's Workhouse Arts Center

Matthew Kiehl’s gentle demeanor and soft words are a sharp contrast to his pen and ink artwork. 

“My work is really intentional to show the time it takes to create it,” said Matthew. “With oil painting, often you can’t see the amount of time the artist puts into it. But with pen and ink, people get it. People are familiar with what it takes to make a mark with pen because everyone does it.”

The graphic lines and geometric shapes in Matthew’s artwork didn’t come about by chance. He was raised by a family of engineers in the small town of Ballston Spa in upstate New York. 

“I actually thought for a very long time that I would be an engineer, that I would go into the family tradition,” said Matthew. “I discovered that I wasn’t quite analytical enough to do the schooling. I studied engineering in college for about a year and a half before I figured I was too intuitive—and I didn’t enjoy the process as much as I thought I would.”

Matthew moved on to study architecture and then philosophy before settling on studio arts. He received his degree from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.  

“To this day, I still use architectural lines and even engineering tools in my work,” said Matthew as he pulled out a wooden box filled with ivory-handled architectural vintage drafting tools. “This is inherited from grandfather, and he inherited it from his grandfather. They are from the early 1800’s. I use them partly because I don’t know how to get contemporary tools to do what some of these do. I can draw a wide arch by putting some of them together in such a way that you can get a really big circle. I’m using them with my experimental work with arches and windows.”

Pen and ink is just one of the media that Matthew has on display at the Workhouse. Priced at $500, “Earth to Earth” is an earthenware box that is decisively utilitarian.

“Every piece I make is an experiment,” said Matthew. "Sometimes I’ll step into a media to see what my style looks like in it. For example, my violin piece, 'A Moment in Contemplation' is an existing violin from a violin maker who had it hanging in his studio. He didn't feel it was good enough to use for a violin, but thought it was too beautiful to just toss. Instead of throwing it out, I created art with it.”

Another realm of experimentation for Matthew is his outer space-themed pen and ink drawings that cover the windows of his studio. “I’m a huge sci-fi fan. With a science engineering background, it’s something that really inspires me too. I’m also an amateur astronomer. I’ve been watching Saturn recently from my front yard.”

Matthew’s star gazing translated into another form of experimentation with mid-tones. “I’ve always been pretty graphic, partly because one of my teachers really emphasized contrast,” he said. “The challenge with some of my work is to get the mid-tones… because when you’re working with black and white it’s almost impossible to achieve mid-tones unless you’re viewing it a distance. With my space-themed work, I needed to get the shadows right. I wasn’t just creating sharp lines. I had an intention of mimicking my reality here.”

Matthew’s work is priced from $15 for small pen and ink drawings to $10,000 for his largest and most intricate work, “Testing of Patience Through the Application of Simple Principals and Various Levels of Scale”.

“It's very long title is a testament to how much time and patience was required to create it,” said Matthew.

Tracy Bank August 04, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Matthew has just informed us that his work will be exhibited as part of building 5's group exhibit, "Unexpected". This will be open next Wensday the 10th of Aug to Sept 4th.


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