One Thousand Cranes Can’t Be Wrong

This appeared in the winter 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 71, p. 14):

One Thousand Cranes Can’t Be Wrong

An introduction to Matthew Coleman’s “action painting of the heart”

Matthew Coleman had always been an artist — even when he saw himself as a writer or a filmmaker — but it took the mother of all depressions to open up his eyes. “The intensity, the violence of what I went through completely changed me,” he explains. Coleman’s work is the product of “heightened states of feelings”: the canvas is a “battleground” on which the artist squares up to his demons, wielding the palette knife like “a sword”.

The (noble) savage beauty of the Hand Bursts series — which culminates in a bloody mess that could incarnadine the multitudinous seas — conjures up the fleeting patterns Coleman creates on sundry beaches and then captures on camera. The Lines You Should Not Cross are vicious red pencil renditions of the artist’s bouts of self-harming, but they are also reminiscent of those lines literally drawn in the sand that will be, as it were, littorally washed away. The vibrancy of Coleman’s works often comes from this tension between the compulsion to freeze moments in time and the desire to dissolve into an eternal here and now.

The Cry of a Thousand Cranes — red, blue and yellow origami birds hanging in the Saatchi Gallery or from a tree in the artist’s back garden — was inspired by the old Japanese legend according to which whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. When I ask him if he believes in this legend, Matthew Coleman just smiles. Then he says, “I want yellows and blues and reds, I want to see them everywhere I walk, all exploding like fireworks”. We both stare in silence at the cranes gently swaying in the breeze.