Matthew Bird - Have Brush, Will Travel
Realist artist Matthew Bird didn’t know much about the small town of Ménerbes in Southern France, outside of a Ridley Scott film and a book by Peter Mayle. But he was immediately intrigued by a collector requesting a special still life for her petite château in the heart of Provence.
Artists have been drawn to Provence since...forever. Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Signac, Matisse, just to name a few. It’s a magical place, with beautiful light and a rich history. For an artist who loves to travel, this was an exciting commission.
Whether painting a portrait or a still life, Bird will typically travel to the client’s location which provides an understanding of their unique style and the surrounding for the painting. “I like to get a sense of the individual, their personality, and living space, if possible.”
For the initial meeting, detailed discussions take place to gather the information necessary to complete the artwork. Choices regarding the objects or pose, setting, colors, lighting, and mood will be sorted out.
“Every job is different. Some people know exactly what they want, others prefer me to do my own thing. It’s always an adventure!”
In this case, the commission was for a still life featuring local, Provencal items. The client was also partial to the color red. “It was almost a blank canvas,” Bird recalls, “and my goal was to merge her affinities with my painting style.”
Typically, once the elements of a painting are agreed upon, Bird will spend a bit of time working out the composition to get a feel for what will work best, in addition to photographing the subject(s) in various lighting situations. In the case of This Provencal Life, Bird was given more freedom to create his own composition around the agreed upon theme.
Bird traveled to the home, which was on a hill overlooking the town of Ménerbes, a village in the Luberon Valley. The first task was to find a table or shelf to stage the still life.
“I fell in love with an antique desk that was in the corner of one of the rooms. The rich burl wood was beautiful and there was a marble top with abstract shapes and textures that would be a fun challenge to paint and add to a rich composition.”
Items for the still life were to be selected from the local markets in Provence, and personal items belonging to the client. The towns of Bonnieux, Goult, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue were all sources of inspiration and items for the composition. The bottle of Armagnac was from the château, and added a special personal touch. Favored by the client, Armagnac is a distinctive variation of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France.
The antique books from their library rounded out their interests: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust.
Back in his studio, work began on the final painting. Depending on complexity, this process can take many hours.
His style incorporates chiaroscuro techniques (the use of strong contrasts between light and dark) coupled with careful attention to detail. His artwork reveals the inherent beauty of his subjects, each carefully studied with precision and clarity. Portraits that capture the soul, and still life paintings that reveal overlooked beauty – Bird’s work demands contemplation.
Curators agree: Galleries, museums, and exhibitions in North America, Europe, and Asia have hung his paintings. Iain Stewart writes, “Matthew’s work is not defined by the subject, but rather by the painter himself, orchestrating what emotional response the viewer will take away, while allowing the freedom to explore and glean the hidden gems within it. It’s a joy to behold.”
Bird understands that paintings, no matter how grand or humble, are inherently significant as human expressions of what is praiseworthy, and deserve the skill, time, and knowledge required to paint them.
No matter where his travels take him, Bird strives to create beautiful artwork that reflects his client’s interests, affinities, and personality. Whether it’s a traditional portrait or a still life of collectibles, he will elevate and highlight the inherent beauty of the things you enjoy most in life.
Start a conversation about creating a unique and timeless artwork for your family or institution. Reserve your commission today, now filling the calendar for 2021-2022.