Arts and Entertainment

Learning to forget the rules

From escaping a conservative small town in Idaho to selling paintings to pay the mortgage, Christopher Mathie goes against convention. - Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo
From escaping a conservative small town in Idaho to selling paintings to pay the mortgage, Christopher Mathie goes against convention.
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo

Port Orchard painter/potter Christopher Mathie, one of the contributors in this month’s “Night Sky” exhibit at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, is far from a conventional artist.

In fact, though he’s represented in nine galleries across four states, surviving as a professional artist with a studio at his home in Southworth, he’s a bit of an anti-conventionalist.

Port Orchard artist Christopher Mathie set to paint at BAC Jan. 31, asking kids of all ages to join him in letting art happen.

Years ago, he escaped a conservative small town in Idaho to attend the University of Puget Sound — where he originally enrolled in business school, until an extra-curricular pottery class convinced him to switch to an arts major.

That’s when he realized he didn’t have to follow all the rules.

Even as an artist. He uses bold, unabashed strokes. He doesn’t clean his brush mid-painting. He sprays the canvas with a water-like solution, allowing the paint to morph. Before the colors, he adorns the canvas with random strips of tape and a layer of gesto to create a certain spontaneity. He hopes for surprises.

He does whatever he can to not be in complete control of what’s happening with the painting.

It’s a conversation, he said.

The process is guided by the thought that there is no right or wrong in creating art. It just happens. Mathie put it more delicately: “In truly creative pursuits, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ there is only self-expression, which is the highest form of personal freedom.”

He’ll be leading an interactive painting demo to that end at 1 p.m. Jan. 31 at BAC, giving kids (of all ages) a canvas, a paint brush and paint to create a big collaborative work of art. BAC invited him to share some insight into his self-expression-driven technique.

Though removed from realism, it’s not complete abstraction. Mathie’s work is more of a randomly pure form of impressionism — made even more pure when there is more than one person working with the canvas.

He kindly invited us to his Southworth studio to explain. I asked if I could paint with him.

“Sure,” he said with a laugh, “If it works on you, then it will probably work on the kids.”

He seemed a bit nervous for his upcoming in-gallery painting demo. It’s as if he’s getting ready for a big presentation and wants to get it just right. But judging by his mantra — that there is no “right” or “wrong” in truly creative pursuits — he doesn’t have much to worry about. But, though it seems exceedingly simple, the concept of being content and confident in that whatever happens is meant to be is actually quite difficult to come to grips with when facing a blank canvas.

“I think I’ve been fighting myself with that concept for years,” Mathie said, noting that if he’d only developed the mindset that he didn’t have to conform to all the rules of society all those years ago in conservative small town Idaho, “I would’ve saved myself a lot of trouble and time spent worrying.”

In turn, he wants to get that message across to the kids, not necessarily not to follow the rules, but to know that there are no rules when it comes to creating art. Splattering paint on the wall in his little yellow studio to the soundtrack of Coldplay, Mathie seems to have it mastered. Myself, on the other hand — an admittedly self-critical over-thinker — I struggled.

Wanting so badly not to screw up, I filled my mind with doubt before we even began, paralyzing the creative outlet. When I finally smacked the brush to the canvas my initial response was to erase. But there’s no need to erase, Mathie says, it’s all a part of the process. Each piece contributes to the whole.

“That’s what my hand wanted to do, so it must be right,” he noted, adding again that there is no “right” or “wrong.”

So I put the brush back to the canvas, layering colors on top of colors, consciously trying to avoid my self-consciousness. And I finally started to lose myself in the painting, just in time for Mathie to tell me to step back for a minute and the let the painting have its turn.

He tries not to control it because sometimes amazing things can happen when you’re not even looking.

“It’s amazing how art happens in so many different ways,” he said.

It’s amazing what happens sometimes, when you just let go.

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