'Naked' in the Gallery: Artist Matthew Gray Palmer Draws/Paints his Mindscape 

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Lex Nelson

Though he ostensibly traveled to Garden City to spend weeks painting and drawing, sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer found himself itching to do something more tactile after days cloistered at Surel's Place, where he's the March artist-in-residence. So, he stepped out the house's front door and started to walk the Greenbelt, collecting branches from the riverside and abandoned lots nearby to start a new project.

The result was a pair of sculptures made from twisted sticks, one mounted on the wall and another squatting on a table. Even without an explanation, there was something almost sinister about the tabletop piece, a circular vortex of branches with what appeared to be a single, staring wooden eye.

click to enlarge LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

"He's the guy that's not very nice to me, what we call the internal critic," Palmer said, gesturing to the sculpture. "This is where he shines, you know, is in that art making process—at least for me."

Talking to Palmer near the end of his residency, it seemed clear that the itch to sculpt was the result of weeks of mental digging. When he took the residency at Surel's Place, he set himself a challenge: to create 100 drawings and 30 paintings in just 24 days, dividing that time evenly between the two pursuits. Through that process, he told Boise Weekly before he began, he would be "looking at different aspects of selfhood and what it is to be here, and be embodied, and be a body."

"You get to this point where you start to exhaust the repetitive patterns that you rely on and get to discover some new information," Palmer said in early March.

click to enlarge LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

On March 25, with his experiment nearly done, he seemed to have succeeded almost to the point of discomfort. Though most of the work he produced was abstract, his drawings and paintings were so personal that he said he almost dreaded the opening of the exhibition, which he'd named Alluvium: Sifting through the Sands of Selfhood.

"It's so vulnerable," said Palmer. "I was half-joking, and I said, 'I'm just going to walk around naked the whole opening,' because it's that kind of intensity. There's no editing. It's just putting up what happened."

Shuffling through a stack of Palmer's paintings, some of that unearthing was obvious. One in particular stoods out: a rendering of a small boy with wild brown hair hugging what appeared to be a life-sized ET doll. Shifting from foot to foot, Palmer admitted that the boy was in fact his younger self, clutching an ET figure that he'd crafted long ago from masking tape. In the studio, he'd juxtaposed it with other, very different paintings, including abstracts in teal, dusky purple and pink that were the result of experiments with pouring paint onto canvas. One particularly vibrant painting combined the pour technique with pieces of wood that arched from the canvas, creating the illusion of a bridge crossing over a starry sea.

click to enlarge LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

"It's like being in a meditation, basically," Palmer said of the process. "...It's really sort of congealed in that way, where the house [Surel's Place] is sort of like the container of consciousness, and then the activity is all that's sort of unfolding and the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions, all the different things that sort of come out in the process of this."

Apart from the mental exhaustion of excavating his own brain, Palmer said creating the massive body of work was a physical slog that required discipline to realize.

"I get up at 7 [a.m.], I exercise, I eat some breakfast, I get started, and I know that I either have to do 10 drawings—which I did to get to the 100—or I do three paintings a day," he said.

click to enlarge LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

After the nerve-wracking gallery opening and artist talk are behind him (the opening runs the evening of Friday, March 29, at Surel's Place, with the talk falling at 7 p.m.) Palmer will share what he has learned about crafting art en masse at the workshop "End Run The Ego: Creativity In Abundant Generation" on Saturday, March 30, from 1:00-3:30 p.m. The class costs $45 per person, and each spot comes with all of the materials participants will need to start their own creative marathons.

For now, Palmer said that being able to summarize what he's learned about himself from Alluvium is still a ways off.

"It's a really difficult thing for me to even sort of frame right now," he said, looking around the cluttered, art-filled studio March 25. "I'm still kind of in it."

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