Alyssa M. Matthews stands next to one of her paintings in SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery ("Bride-to-Be," 66 x 66 in., 2012).
When Alyssa M. Matthews touches her brush to a canvas, she isn’t just making a mark — she’s making a statement.
“My painting isn’t neutral,” she said. “To paint is political; what you paint is political, how you paint is political, and there are so many connotations associated with everything in art.”
The 24-year-old Lafayette native, who graduated in 2010 from LSU with College Honors before earning her MFA from the University of Connecticut, recently moved to Brooklyn to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional artist.
And it looks like her dreams are coming true — Matthews recently had her work on display at New York’s SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, a non-profit, artist-run organization devoted to increasing public awareness of the excellence and diversity of women’s art.
“Do Not Disconnect,” the 2012 University of Connecticut M.F.A. Exhibition, was displayed at the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, CT before traveling to SOHO20. The exhibit featured several of Matthews’ works, which Matthews describes as “feminist paintings that exalt prettiness over traditional aesthetics of beauty.”
Despite the fact that Matthews has already exhibited her work in four states, she did not always believe that she was capable of pursuing a career as a visual artist.
Her love affair with art began at Lafayette Parish High School Arts Academy and continued throughout her college career.
“As soon as I started college, I took a landscape painting class with Rick Ortner that made me realize there’s so much in nature that you can’t abbreviate,” she said. “It was absolutely fun. It made me learn how to filter information, and to realize that we all filter reality differently.”
During her undergraduate years, she helped to found the LSU Painters’ League and became involved with the Honors College organization FOCUS (Focusing on College and Unlimited Success), serving first as the Art Seminar Leader in 2007 and becoming the Director of Curriculum the following year.
“Through the class I took for FOCUS, I realized for the first time how much the arts are needed in communities in Baton Rouge and all over the world,” she said.
In the process of teaching her FOCUS students how to pursue careers in art and through talking to other artists in the Painters’ League, Matthews also realized that her passion for creating art could become her career.
“I really enjoyed teaching and I kept saying I was going to do arts administration, but I realized through my involvement at LSU that what I really wanted to do was to paint,” she said. “I knew it was possible, but I hadn’t figured out how to be an artist. Through showing someone else how art could be pursued as a career, I was also demystifying it for myself.”
Today, Matthews is working to create paintings that challenge ideas of prettiness and beauty within the discourse of contemporary art.
“My work deals with thinking about prettiness and its cultural context,” she said. “I think in my work, I’m trying to allow women to establish a new aesthetic of beauty on their own terms. And that’s by taking a kind of aesthetic given to women in the past and saying, ‘Now I’m going to own the superficiality that you told me is meaningless … and show you how it can actually exhibit a complicated image.’”
Matthews said she hopes to continue using her work to raise questions about femininity and representations of women in art.
“Many women are uncomfortable with calling themselves feminine, but you don’t have to deny your femininity in order to be considered equal with men,” she said. “Femininity is not at odds with feminism. And I think to take what is seen as lesser and exalt is more threatening to an established tradition than simply being successful within that established tradition.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831