Brooklyn-based artist Daina Mattis rewards those who look twice. Her second exhibition at High Noon Gallery in New York titled “Family Style” includes fuzzy flocked paintings, surreal hybrid sculpture… and a plate of cookies. It’s a collision of ideas, materials and objects that are a thrill to see in person while questioning ideas of “luxury” and “value” in our own homes.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a modified drop-leaf table titled “Wounded Table”. It’s a combination of an antique table and a common disposable plate. Daina purchased the antique table – original crafted by the Maddox Table Company in Jamesville NY – from an antique festival in Syracuse, New York. The enlarged plate was CNC-machined from high-density polyethylene, a material carefully selected for its precise match in translucency to the original plate, with improved structural integrity.
A secret awaits those who know to ask the gallerist to open the drawer (Do it!). Inside, Daina has left the original handwritten price tag as she found it. More than revealing the original price of “material”, the tag holds this table to a specific personal history. It is after all, a used table with a very personal past – an idea that contrasts beautifully with the concept of a “disposable” plastic plate.
The breakout stars of the exhibition are Daina’s layered paintings – easily the most underrated works I’ve seen in New York lately. In short, these are paintings OF walls.
The “background” of each painting is not a painting of marble. It’s a painting of a “faux marble” wall treatment!!! Faux marble walls are a cheaper DIY method of painting the illusion of a more expensive material.
The fuzzy floral pattern on the final layer is hand-flocked and inspired by classic wallpaper patterns. The color of that flocking will often change throughout the painting, either standing in contrast or camouflaging into the paint layer below. Both “marble” and “wallpaper” feel like peeling back the paint layers on decades of wall decor.
To play further with depth and texture, certain areas of the paintings hold no paint at all. Brown areas in each painting are the raw canvas itself! The areas were masked (and well planned) from the start of the process.
The trompe l’oeil of the air vents at the base of each painting are “life size”. In addition to revealing that these are paintings of walls, the vents also encourage viewers to extend the composition of the artwork beyond the canvas: a nearby outlet, light switch or radiator can suddenly join the “event” of each painting.
In a larger work titled “Descent” (below) all the frames are painted to look 3D while the mats within each frame are flocked. The only thing “unpainted” are the pictures at the center of each frame. The blue faux marble on this wall appears faded by the sun, revealing its true material (not marble) and calling attention to the light that now casts a shadow of the unseen banister.
In the back of the gallery, a series of smaller works take inspiration from over-protected furniture. These flocked “Vinyl Paintings” (below) are inspired by classic upholstery fabric patterns and are encased in custom handmade clear protective covers.
And last but not least… the cookies. Daina has a tendency to feature sculpted food in her exhibitions. Her previous exhibition in 2018 displayed handmade Louis Vuitton “alphabet” pasta. These new “Legacy Cookies” are homemade sandwich cookies that swap the classic Oreo pattern for the official seals of Ivy League colleges. They too are a mash-up of culture and “class” while pointing out a clever design crossover: Oreos have an abstract floral pattern on their perimeter too.
Daina Mattis’ work is an extremely clever observation of design overlap across “class”, but it’s also a celebration of the “unfiltered real”. Standing in front of these paintings of walls, I now appreciate the beauty in a nearby restaurant’s faux-marble walls, I see the pride of ownership in clear plastic furniture covers, and I’ll stand longer to admire the plastic plates at the grocery store. Art can call attention to a never-noticed beauty in everyday things and break long-held beliefs about what is and is not “valuable”. I see the world differently and better because of this work. You should see it, too. Thanks Daina.
All images © and courtesy of High Noon Gallery, New York