J.T Dockery: A Response to Matt Minter’s “Makeup Applied”

Lexington, KY-area artist and past Institute 193 exhibitor J.T. Dockery wrote an in-depth response to Matt Minter’s “Makeup Applied” exhibition, currently on view at Institute 193.

Not only does Dockery place the work in a larger historical discussion, but he also discusses the contrast between the stark monochromatic visual technique and the complexity of the context, begging viewers to consider the works in more depth than they might upon first glance.

The abbreviated essay, originally posted here, is below:

1. Makeup Applied

Matt Minter. Makeup Applied, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 inches.

Matt Minter has been chipping away at the philosopher’s stone of American culture with images and sound broadcasting from his remote compound of Lexington, KY noticeably for almost two decades. From the mist of the mid nineties to now, whether it be one of the crucial players in the noise scene of Lexington in the culture mix of Freesound (a small cassette label in the 90s, master-minded by Ross Wilbanks, that captured much of the weirdo rumblings taking place in Lexington underneath the more obvious go big blue racing horses old south culture of Lexington), as a member of Hexose and a thousand other side projects, as a member of Hair Police (a band that would streamline and flex its muscles to bring forth Lexington fried noise to a national/international stage), and all the imagery he’s concurrently generated humming alongside that white noise timeline of reality/unreality. Most recently he’s been the ringleader of the bad trip horror soundcape rotten core group, Wretched Worst, and with the album covers leaning ever and more towards stark blacks and whites and bare-boned graphic impact we arrive to his most recent body of work, collected into a group of eight uniformly sized and framed paintings (all 36 x 36 inches in dimension) on currently exhibit at Institute 193, along with a new zine of the same title featuring reproductions of all the work included in the exhibit, as well as bonus imagery from the same cycle, and a new t shirt for the Institute, based on one of the paintings in the show, “Sisters’ Secrets.”

The title Minter gives to his exhibition offers a key to a door into the flesh of this corpus. We can imagine here the “makeup” is “applied” to reality to both obscure and reveal it. Whether as in the makeup effects to used to fabricate gore as artifice which uncovers the shocking metaphor such as in the horror film genre, or, alternately, as the so-called beauty products of the so-called beauty industry can be applied to obfuscate the reality and/or the the human monster at the center/underneath the “makeup,” that which we really are/and or can be, with all of our tools and distractions of obscuring reality replaced with the artificial/superficial, to such an extent we’re no longer sure what is which and where one begins and another ends. Be careful, or pretty soon your applications might be applying you, we might pause to reflect.

Let us look at “Promise Her Blood.” What is going on here?

8. Promise Her Blood

Matt Minter. Promise Her Blood, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 inches.

Let’s start with the figures in the image. The hooded disembodied male figure with knife in hand, as he adjusts the hood perhaps better to observe, with eye singular(more fixed maybe upon the female presented with a skull for a head), the two females , the females framed and connected by two symmetrical panels at an angle slanted. The isolated head of the female with flesh (framed sans body (as opposed to bare skull (with body)), comports herself with an expression enigmatic, teeth slightly bared, head tilted slightly back. Is it fear? Is it insolence? A bit of both?

Of course, as we scrutinize more closely the two females, very quickly we perceive it is not two different figures but the same character twice, with flesh and without flesh. A before and after or with body/without and/or simply seeing the same figure both with and without x-ray vision, and both/and/or all above a bit of double-vision.

Then, in observing the male figure prostate, head covered with a leather bondage mask and a skull placed where the his genitals might be, either obscured by the intestines and/or maggots (the visual cue Minter uses often to illustrate as a kind of shorthand for both decay and/or what is blocked in general by static (disembodied/disemboweled/maggots/intestines: where does the metaphoric decay begin and the literal decomposure end?)(and it might even be appropriate here to notice that the same cue obscures on the tips of the fingers not holding the blade at the same time as it obscures the the single eye of the disembodied hooded head)). One realizes that just as the female character is presented both with flesh and without, the image of the leather mask is mirrored by a corresponding bare skull for the prone, bondage masked male figure.

Note the eyes/lack of eyes in the leather mask are also obscured by this visual cue. Is the prostrate male figure regarding himself with his own death’s head? Or is the skull, in fact, his genitals/lack of genitals? Is the hooded disembodied head with one eye peeping in fact the same male character at bottom, or is he (or for that matter is he both/and) the instigator who has offered up this blood sacrifice or he himself the sacrificed observing the scene from some out of body perspective?

The knife’s blade, perhaps a priapic symbol of male violence/sexuality, tilts to the right, designed to mirror the tilt also of the whip of in the female figure’s hand, either at rest or on the verge of being cracked, an odd ambivalence (remember the enigmatic expression of the fleshy female visage), which in turn leads one’s eye to the masked male on the ground, with the blood dripping from the disembodied hood above (note corresponding blood splatter within the panel framing the female skull), in turn yet again taking our eyes back to where we started with the single eye from underneath the hood looking at the woman.

The painting creates a loop (or perhaps we see several loops within one larger loop)and we are at the center as viewer/voyeur. When we realize, perhaps most crucially, that we as watchers are being watched by the central female death’s head/whip-packing figure, it takes us off-guard, by surprise. I get the sense we better hope we (all of us/any of us) are promising “her” blood.

The manner in which the disembodied hooded male figure grasps the blade in his left hand with, two fingers and thumb extended, mirrors, in the Latin Church, the priest’s sign for giving absolution or blessing, meant to symbolize the Trinity, with the priest’s right hand, making this a kind of inversion, like an upside down cross, for example. (Could it be that the hooded, disembodied figure is absolving his own eye, or, closer to the bone yet: parodying absolution?) This reference is both grim and funny, working on the viewer on an almost subconscious level.

Make no bones about it, this is sophisticated (and subversive) symbology. This is often what strikes me about Minter’s work: what could be seen/read as mere exploitation under closer scrutiny the awareness arrives that we are being guided to regard an obvious, blatant structure in his images as we then further become aware just how many ways there are to actually see/read the image in its latent structures. The stark simplicity of the blacks and whites deceive the eye; there is no truly straightforward way to look at Minter’s work.

3. Relieve The Crying Eye

Matt Minter. Relieve the Crying Eye, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 inches.

With Minter’s Grand Guignol reality principle at play (sex/death/horror/satire), these images are not brutal so much as they are about the brutal world, even a parody of the brutal world. What seems like shock value does have a value beyond shock. He presents images, narratives within the images, that beg the viewer to ask what is happening here, what is going on within the surfaces/surfaces structures, and why.

If we pull the camera back from the framing of the image in the art and see ourselves looking at it, we can ask these questions, shirk from them, or maybe look in the mirror, adjust our makeup and continue to delude ourselves or not that we, the viewers are not, in fact, the perpetrators, the monsters.

However, we can also comport ourselves in a manner in which it is our charge as human beings to confront that which frightens us. Otherwise, we might all end up in a mass grave of polite society, no more enlightened than any era past or present which has covered/currently covers up rather than resolves its conflicts.

There is no repression or oppression at work in Minter’s art, but rather depictions of/the violent exploding of repression or oppression, in fact, a manner of going all the way in to come out the other side free from bondage, what William Blake called the “mind-forg’d manacles.” Matt Minter is asking us to see clearly before us our own demons, our own nightmares, our own traumas, our own shadow selves, and we must question whether we really are the agents or the victims of whom or what we might think ourselves to be. To put it country simple: he is asking us to see ourselves.

—J.T. Dockery

For more information about Matt Minter or the works included in “Makeup Applied,” contact Cat Wentworth at cat@institute193.org.

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