Matthew Kirk and Hello Little Paw

Matthew Kirk and Hello Little Paw

By: Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art

Matthew Kirk in his studio in Queens       

Matthew Kirk’s works represent a psychological and energetic journal of his life, the diary culmination of his daily art practice. They are a visual diary, a stream of consciousness, process and organizing of all the sensory input he experiences. During his nightly painting the compositions evolve as layers of lines, forms, graphics, color, and shapes that intertwine and compete to create is visual language–Jennifer Vigil (Dine’/Latina)

When Kirk was chosen as a 2019 Eiteljorg Fellow, I had the privilege of visiting his studio in Queens. He was not one of the usual subjects from the contemporary Native art community. His paintings were symbols of his own design. The marks he makes are influenced by what he sees throughout his daily activities, which includes art handling for major museums and important collections. That is where he received some of his most important influences and art education.

Kirk is self-taught. He graduated from a progressive thinking high school where he excelled. However, he discovered he did not enjoy college and left after a semester. His exposure to art coupled with his disciplined art practice is the formula for his unique imagery and the prolific amount of work he produces. That and his chatter and play of his two sons who are in an adjacent room as he works an important part of his inspiration.

Matthew Kirk (Navajo, born 1978)
Hello Little Paw, 2018
Mixed media on sheetrock panel
Museum purchase from the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship

Hello Little Paw is painted on sheetrock. Kirk likes the way the paint responds to hard surfaces. In this diptych it is it is apparent how he may use similar images or marks but they always are morphed into different paintings. Hello Little Paw, is a good example of that, especially compositionally, maintaining his unique style but not becoming monotonous. This panel on the left has a fast moving swirling composition. The heavy black lines give both panels a sense of motion. However, Kirk slows the right panel down with a vertical composition and vertical white lines.

Looking at the paintings can be like looking at clouds. Sometimes they gather in ways that creates images, faces or animals. With Kirk’s art amid the abstraction there can be an image of a foot or a house even batman! (No doubt an influence of his boys.) And sometimes the way the marks relate to each other creates an image. Look at the lower right corner of the painting. Look only at the two circles and think of them as eyes. Right below think of the two jagged rounded shapes as teeth. For me Kirk has created a little monster!

Matthew Kirk in his studio in upstate New York. He and his family left NYC as soon as they closed the schools due to Covid-19.

There are things like step designs that I’ll create and recreate in the work…I won’t say that I never consider sand paintings, weavings [or other Navajo cultural references] I consider those things in the same way I consider painting on the side of a truck or giant corporate logo [I think] how did they come up with that design? Then I think, oh, I get it. It’s two letters mixed together.—Matthew Kirk

This piece is not on display. Look for it in the future and if the opportunity arises to see more of Kirk’s work!