Persona February, 9th 2023 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 401 - Matt Chaim de Groot

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 401 – Matt Chaim de Groot
I recently saw Matt Chaim de Groot’s work in the BLOOM exhibition at the GoMulan Gallery, together with that of Jonat Deelstra and Sophie Steengracht. I had seen his work before, once in combination with that of Joran van Soest, and another time in combination with Zwier Cornelissen.
It is multi-layered work that does not reveal itself immediately. I recently visited the artist in his studio on the industrial estate of Beverwijk. It’s not far from the Black Market/Bazaar.

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To Israel
Matt Chaim de Groot studied Photography at the Photo Academy and Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. He was born in Amsterdam and grew up in Israel. His inspiration comes from the conflicts he experienced there, both physical and mental.

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It is one whole, the story of his art and his life story and he tells it with passion. Matt: “It’s a complicated story, but some elements are constant. I am Jewish, born here, and have Jewish family here. The Second World War hit my family hard, grandfathers, uncles and aunts did not survive. I am a so-called ‘second generation survivor’.”
At the age of 9 he went to Israel with his parents and sister. “It was a different country, a fantastic country, a vibrant country, but also a country full of contradictions and strife. I experienced that myself, especially during my time in the military service.” That work was shown in an earlier exhibition at the GoMulan Gallery.

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His IDF (Israel Defense Forces) service unit was stationed on the Golan Heights. His experiences there were not very positive. “I have seen people do things that were unprecedentedly great and unprecedentedly small. The most beautiful and ugliest were close together. That caused a lot of friction in my head.” But heat is also generated in such a field of tension, he continues. “Heat creates life, possibilities. It is precisely in the atmosphere where frictions arise that it becomes interesting.”
Being Jewish has made him a history freak. “History plays an important role in the Old Testament and in my work. I make a constant comparison between the Old Testament and life now.” The Old Testament contains many stories and a set of rules for the people to behave in such a way that society is liveable.

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Stories from the Old Testament
Matt: “The same stories are still true. Then it turns out we didn’t understand anything. Take the simple rule: “thou shalt not kill.” This rule is being circumvented in various ways. Most of the Old Testament stories are illustrations of problems and conflicts that arise because the rule is ignored. See the book of Job, see the Paradise story, see Exodus, a migrant story, a battle for a place, the story of King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals. See the story of Lot, cousin of Abraham and the only righteous man in Sodom. When his wife looked back at the city – which she had been warned not to do – she turned into a pillar of salt. Her name is still unknown.”
These themes are reflected in his work in many ways. “It is complex, everything is very nuanced and detailed. Nothing is what it is. It turns out to be extremely difficult to stick to a simple rule. In my work I always look for this elusiveness, also in the materials. With that I do things that you as a viewer don’t see. You just can’t grab it.”

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Ink on concrete, paper and natural rubber
For this he uses epoxy-like material and also paper and natural rubber, which creates layers. You can look at it from different angles, and each time you see something different. He shows a painting on concrete. How the hell does he get that upon it? Matt: “I’m a photographer and when I saw a photo I wondered ‘how do I get ink out, out of the paper?” He went to work, it was an almost impossible operation, but it worked, he got the ink out and got a liquid image. He poured that into the liquid concrete. The trick was to keep it in place. When he succeeded, he wanted to repeat the same thing on as many different materials as possible, starting with hard stone. “Hard stone is a reference to the Wailing Wall, tombstone and memorial stone. Stone is even more permanent than concrete. I also want to get ink from resins.”

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It also worked with paper. He was looking for a way to capture elusiveness on paper. To show the viewer that there is more than meets the eye. With an etching plate he indeed got to grips with the depth. I see an elongated image of the desert in Israel and an image of a pine tree. “You catch it and you don’t catch it as a viewer. To get hold of emotion I have to enter the physical. That is quite a struggle for me as a maker. At a certain point, the work seems to be taking over from me. The work says what I want to make. I am no longer in control, the piece is in control. That is a magical interaction. Sometimes it works out better than other times. The work is always further. The history behind a work goes a long way anyway. If you do that purely, you feel it as a viewer. Then, as a viewer, you make the connection with the energy it contains.”

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Key work
Does Matt have a key work, one that set him on a new track? He has. It’s called ‘Wounded Man’ (2011). It’s a self-portrait in red. It is not for sale, he is so attached to this work. “I was doing self-portrait, I printed it, but it went wrong. It was just a bad evening. The ink did not adhere to the paper. It made me angry. I put it away and put paper and a book on top, I didn’t want to see it again. A few days I came back, saw it and thought ‘I have to clean this up’. Then I saw this. This work represents more to me than I could have achieved if it had gone well.”
And it hasn’t changed since then. He can still be surprised at what comes out. “When I can use the physical, my space is created. The work communicates back, is a discussion partner. Sometimes I wake up and suddenly realize it. Sometimes it’s a wonderful surprise, sometimes it’s a shock. I have nothing to do with second-generation victimization, but I still appear to be damaged.” When he was in Auschwitz 10/11 years ago, he discovered what had happened to one of his grandfathers. He had been involved in medical experiments there. “Apparently I am involved in a certain way.”

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How long has Matt been an artist?
Since 2006. He did the Photo Academy and then the Rietveld Academy, general department. “It went pretty well. At one point it turned out that I had been in the Netherlands for nine years, while I had actually left for a year or so.” Through the Sandberg Institute he was able to exhibit in the Kunstkapel. He still worked analog. The following year he exhibited in Kunstvlaai, the counterpart of the KunstRai.
Then nothing happened for a while. As a technician, he started working for an IT company. He left when the company was taken over. It was not until 2006 that he resumed his art practice. His house became his studio and he worked there for three years. In the Dokzaal of Plantage Dok he showed work and it was seen by Mulan from the MulanGo Gallery. And since then he has already had a number of exhibitions at this gallery.
He is also a lecturer at the Photo Academy Amsterdam. He mainly teaches graduate students. “I help them find their own way, their own signature.” He especially likes to coach people who have graduated and who also practice experimental photography from their own professional practice. “It’s nice to be busy with other people’s work. As an artist you are a mirror. Your function as an artist is to reflect, to have a say, interaction with people is the most important part of being an artist.”

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Finally, what is his philosophy?
“I am looking for the bridge between photography from the last century and photography that is to come. As an artist I not only create, but I also try to inspire others. The one time by talking, the other time by sticking your fingers in the concrete and then by taking pictures with precision. The dynamics are good. It is hard work.”

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