Reflections on abstract painting and trauma

Reflections on abstract painting and trauma

Interview by Raquel Villar-Pérez for Africanah 

Reality is a complex conundrum of ideas, facts, shapes, thoughts, etc. The more reality is attempted to be defined as precise as possible by language and aesthetics, the more it is reduced into categories. To describe reality abstractly is to open the door of endless possibilities.

First of all, I want to get your eyes, you see the work, visually it catches your attention, then it gets your body, you have a physical reaction to it, then it gets your soul and your mind. For me, It has to have enough substance at all these different layers for the viewer to get closer and closer and to fully experience what is happening.

It has been only under a month since Manuel Mathieu’s first solo show Truth to Power held at Tiwani Contemporary in London, closed with a remarkable sold out. The Haitian artist is already shipping works to ARCO art fair in Madrid and finalising the last strokes of his forthcoming solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago Nobody is Watching. Manuel Mathieu’s paintings are characterised by the intuitive use of an array of soft pastel tones that inspire somehow tranquillity, combined with the organicity of gestural, and mainly, abstract shapes. The artist is relishing the reward of more than ten years of discipline and hard work. In the little temporal space in-between celebrating the success of Truth to Power and the stress of the upcoming new projects, I speak to the artist about abstract painting and trauma.

Raquel Villar-Pérez: Your artistic career took off about two years ago. What do you think was the turning point?

Manuel Mathieu: It has been an accumulation of things. When I got to Goldsmiths it took me a year to find myself, to find what I wanted to do. At the pinnacle of my experience a motorbike in New Cross, right in front of Goldsmiths, hit me. It was a terrible accident. I had a concussion, fractured my face, my jaw, lost my short time memory for a while, I almost died. My sister came to get me in London and we flew back to Canada … . It took me about 5-6 months to build myself back and start painting again. The recovery process was definitely a turning point for me because I had time to meditate and reflect.
Taking the time is important in the process of growing up. These moments when I was in limbo are very important in defining who I am and who I want to be in the world. The idea for my graduating show came from that place of reflection.

RVP: Your latest project, the body of work exhibited at Tiwani Contemporary, Truth to Power, portrayed the emotional trauma left in the aftermath of the two Duvalier’s dictatorships in Haiti…. I believe the depicted scenario is very much transferrable to other contemporary contexts such as Syria, North Korea, etc. Can you expand in the ideas of atemporality/acontextuality or even universality in relation to your work?

MM: I’m sceptical when it comes to the use of the word universality; to me there is not such thing that is universal art. Art always comes from somewhere; always means something for somebody. I think an artist is due to failure by starting a project, thinking that he or she is going to achieve something universal. If something bigger then oneself is meant to happen in the work it will just happen.

This is interesting because this word is used often in the global south. However, artists from Germany, from Switzerland, from Canada for example, don’t seem to be concerned about that concept or are even asked about it. As if they didn’t have to think about that concept at all. Within their practice, the artist self-proclaims ‘what I’m doing is what it is’.

As an artist I think there is a capacity to dig in to very precise subjects or concerns and find elements that people relate to, it is our strength. It is through singularity that people connect and transcend reality.

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