Column: Studio Visit

Matt Scobey’s studio. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Schaffner.

A studio visit with Matt Scobey

As a kind of studio, the sculpture yard is like a garage without walls: a space for equipment, tools, materials, benches, and other stuff that is always dirty enough to not get dirty. “On a windy day, it sweeps itself,” says Matt Scobey of his sculpture yard, which occupies the ruins of a concrete patio in back of the house where he lives on the road heading north out of town. Screened by a chain link fence and one shrub, Scobey works en plein air, in view of any passerby. For our studio visit, he had arranged half a dozen or so sculptures on an impromptu pedestal made out of a beefy battered wooden tabletop on sawhorse legs. The outdoor display suited sculptures that appear in constant communion with the light they capture.

On the table were shapely blocks penetrated with bands of fluorescent color. Scobey is an abstract artist whose work gives substance to an elemental play between opacity and translucence. Stripes of pink radiated through a gray pillar of cast concrete. A smoothly sanded rectangle of pale golden wood was cut with luminous bands of orange and yellow Slices of marble and plastic were stacked into brick one could see through. The sculptures were all of a scale and heft that appealed to being handled. In doing so, one learns a secret of their construction. “I wanted to get epoxy out of my life,” Scobey explains of the magnets hidden within the cores of sculptures that can be gently pulled apart. One anomalous little sculpture was clearly composed from two separate pieces: a square of glowing orange Plexiglas and a slumped sausage of concrete propped each other up, like a drunk couple leaving a party.

Scobey attributes his use of acrylic plastic to his first encounter with the work of Robert Irwin at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has an important sculpture from the 1960s by the California sculptor of light and space. “I couldn’t understand what I was looking at,” Scobey says of an incandescent disk of light, surrounded by haloes and shadows cast by something that disappeared into the white wall. Fast forward to many years later, when in search of experiencing more of Irwin’s art, Scobey arrived here in Marfa. And lucky are those who find themselves with Matt Scobey leading guided tours at the Chinati Foundation, where Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) (2016) is the most recent installation to enter the museum’s collection. Chinati is also where I work as the curator. One thing I’m learning from this studio visit is how deeply Scobey’s sensitivity to the abstract realities of minimalist art has been honed by practice.

Artists’ studios are spaces of study; a lot of thought goes into art. And while a sculpture yard may not be the best place to pile books — as often seen in many artist studios — Scobey has accumulated his own sort of library. A mound of scrap wood, two stacks of adobe bricks, rows of clay flowerpots and glass bottles are neatly piled around the perimeter of his work space. “I glean most of my materials,” says Scobey. A fan of Agnès Varda’s 2000 film The Gleaners and I about gatherers of cast-off food and objects, he, too, brings politics and aesthetics to his gleanings. Pointing to a group of concrete vessels cast from plastic bottles, he shared with me the Buddhist’s belief in the endless return of a flower to garbage to a flower. “I’m trying to pick things out of that stream.” He noted how nearly impossible it was for him to find materials during a residency in Mexico City, where nothing seemed to go to waste.

We take a peek inside his living space, where the front room is stocked with sheets of copper, rods of Plexiglas, chunks of quarried stone in various colors, some books (Socrates Sculpture Park), and a tablet of Scobey’s notational pencil drawings. One showed various permutations of an egg-shaped sculpture and a jot of ideas for a base: TEXTILE? SOTOL YUCCA LEAVES? The room was also full of tools, including a table saw that was itself doubling as a pedestal. An arrangement of works signaled new directions towards more curvaceous forms and compositions of elements that built greater scale and complexity. Standing in front of a window, they channeled and electrified the daylight, like all of Scobey’s sculptures.

Matt Scobey’s work can be seen in Marfa at RULE Gallery and as part of the outdoor sculpture installation at Maintenant on Rabbits Road in Antelope Hills. He actively documents his studio practice on Instagram @mattscobey.

Ingrid Schaffner is a writer and the curator at Chinati Foundation.