Artist Interview: Norman Mathieson by Nicola Maule

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When artist Norman Mathieson moved from Glasgow, calling the Japanese inland sea island of Awaji home, there echoed a shift away from the medium of printmaking as his primary method of working and a 13 year pause in exhibiting on his native soil. Something which has been wonderfully rekindled with an exhibition of paintings at Mansfield Park Gallery and a body of work that offers a beautiful reflection of this new landscape and his expressed moments in time.

As a graduate of Glasgow School of Art and the MFA at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, Mathieson’s roots were at one time firmly placed in the UK – working at the Northern Print Studio in the North East of England and subsequently as the master screen printer and later, workshop manager at the Glasgow Print Studio. A time he recalls of, “fun days – great people with plenty of creative energy buzzing around.” It was also around this time however that he was involved in several overseas residencies and printmaking workshops. “About 3 years before relocating I took part in a workshop on the techniques of traditional Japanese woodblock printing located in a rural mountainside village called Nagasawa on Awaji. Everything about the place including the landscape, the buildings and the way of life seemed a bit magical, like the movie, My Neighbour Totoro.” Mathieson was also to meet his wife Kozue on this trip and after a few more visits, settled in a town close to this village. 

Knowing of Awaji only for its famous Naruto Whirlpools and home to Izanagi Jingu, legendary referred to as the oldest shrine in Japan and being aware of Mathieson’s work as a printmaker, I had been intrigued by how these new experiences and the sense of place would translate and perhaps influence a new body of work. Not long after arriving and through the world of Facebook he started his page, ‘Awaji Drawing’ and it was clear from early on that the creative momentum endured. “I had been drawing around Awaji City and soon had completed about 10 sketchbooks, mainly in watercolour pen. In the studio I was painting most days, subsequently I was amassing a body of work, however I didn’t have opportunities to exhibit the work I was making. I started ‘Awaji Drawing’ around this time principally to reconnect with friends and other artists. I post regularly and although it’s not as satisfying as exhibiting it’s a good way to share with others what it is that I am doing in Japan,” he tells me. 

I really was drawn to the works Mathieson was posting. There is a gift of beauty and a little bit of that magic, less abstract in composition to previous works but continued sympathy and reflection of everyday life. The balance of the elements within the paintings are measured in their composition, showing a deep respect and love for the landscape and these observations. “My world is a very simple place; well it seems so when I compare it to the complications felt by others. When I look at my artwork, I want to contemplate its uncomplicated simplicity but not to the point where all the elements have been paired down to the basic minimal. It’s important to retain the elements that I feel represent the episode that I want to depict. I’m searching for a way to represent the beautiful moments and memories that touch my heart when I am surrounded by my world,” he adds.

Life may have taken Mathieson physically in a new direction, but he recalls that, “although printmaking may not be my main way of creating artwork now, I think its influence is strong in my method of working. I was always interested in the mark making that could be attained from the various printmaking techniques, and as a result I used to make a lot of mono prints.” The working method for these new pictures sees him work from drawings and print outs on Photoshop, which he paints onto stretched watercolour paper with watercolour and gouache, building up layers of paint from rough broad applications of complimentary colour to more detailed painting of specific areas of significance. Adding that, “I am very concerned with the construction of the composition. I look at ways in which to integrate the various relevant elements. A car, flying birds, running dogs. It’s a balancing act between the volume colour and shape of the objects and the space that these objects inhabit in the painting. The use of colour and the method of painting are my other concerns. The application of paint is also very quick drying which allows me to build up layers to create depth and volume. Adding light colours to dark areas and vice versa adds volume.”

From once exhibiting regularly in the UK and around the world, it may have been some time since we have viewed a Norman Mathieson exhibition here in Scotland. For those of us that have been viewing the works online, seeing them in the gallery space, over the computer screen is pretty exciting and will be well worth the wait I am sure. For those that are new to the pictures of Mathieson, I urge you drop by the gallery. Beyond this exhibition, well the journey will of course continue through the power of the internet – until of course the next one.

Details of Mansfield Park Gallery

Normans Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/awajidrawing/

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