Artist Tony Matelli creates works of art that are eye-catching
and thought-provoking with unexpected elements of humor and surprise—a warrior draped in deli meats, a horse with a head of lettuce, or Caesar with a stash of half-eaten fruit.
His realistic subject matter is decidedly everyday, incorporating “faux antiquities”
or found garden sculptures with that of “perishable objects frozen in time”
made of painted bronze in the shape of fruits, vegetables, and meats.
These vanitas sculptures capture the passage of time—an abandoned garden sculpture
that is at the end of its life juxtaposed with that of shiny and seductive fruit at the height of its potential.
Co-organized by Marlborough Contemporary, six of Matelli’s sculptures will be installed in the lobby of The Joule during the Dallas Art Fair.
Born in Wisconsin, Matelli credits his imagination to his childhood.
To escape the cultural landscape of the Midwest, he created dioramas,
building his own fantasy narratives using model cars and action figures.
This sign of “tinkering as a kid” led the artist to a new way of thinking about representation in art school.
Matelli questioned, “What happens if I make this tiny diorama larger?”
During his undergraduate studies at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, the sculpture department offered him the freedom to explore compelling narratives.
After attaining his B.F.A., he pursued graduate studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Even though he started as a conceptually oriented artist, he considered the conceptual realm to be “visually boring” and lost interest in it.
“I reached towards realism and it felt radical at the time, but in reality, it was a return to my roots,”
says Matelli, referring to the tradition of representation that permeates art in the Midwest.
Today, the artist runs a hands-on Brooklyn studio where most of his works are made onsite.
His artistic process starts with a collage where he gathers his inspiration to determine the viability of his ideas.
His choice of materials stems from a sense of efficiency rather than a philosophical choice.
Most of his concrete or marble garden sculptures start with a found object, which serves as the perfect base,
albeit reborn with the addition of a piece of fruit or meat made of painted bronze.
This material creates a very realistic impression of bright colors yet also remains durable for transport and display, both indoor and outdoor.
The artist finds bronze to be rewarding—it happens to be “cool,”
yet has been used since ancient civilizations, reflecting the historical continuity of materials.
Matelli adds, “There’s a bit of magic or fooling the eye in my work, and there’s a sense of wonder but it’s not really the goal.”
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