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Mercedes Carles Matter

 (1913 - 2001)
Mercedes Carles Matter was active/lived in New York, Pennsylvania.  Mercedes Matter is known for abstract expressionist still life painting, drawing, educator.

Mercedes Carles Matter

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Mercedes Carles Matter
Best known as a painter of abstract still life and founder of the New York Studio School, Mercedes Matter was also a distinguished teacher and writer. She lived in East Hampton, New York. Before founding the Studio School in 1964, she taught at several east coast schools and published many articles on modern art.

She was born Mercedes Carles in New York. Her father was artist Arthur B. Carles, and her mother was Mercedes de Cordoba, a model for photographer Edward Steichen. She was raised in Philadelphia and New York and Europe, and by age six, was painting under her father's direction. She later studied with Hans Hofmann at the Art Students League and at Bennett Junior College in Millbrook, Connecticut.

In 1939 she married Herbert Matter, a graphic designer and photographer, and they were active in the New York art scene with the Pollocks, de Koonings, and Calders.

She started the New York Studio School after a 1963 article by her in ARTnews appeared in which she lamented the the phasing out of studio art classes. A large group of students asked her to start a school based on her ideas.

In 2007, a book, Pollock Matters by Ellen Landau and Claude Cernuschi, was published, which detailed the relationship between Mercedes Matter and her photographer husband Herbert Matter, and Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.  The review of the book from Amazon reads:

"Legendary abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock (1912-56) is most famous for the frenetic, highly textured works created through his trademark "drip" technique in which he poured paint from its can directly onto the canvas.

Pollock Matters
explores, for the first time, the personal and artistic interrelationship between the notorious artist and noted Swiss-born photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter.

Published to coincide with an exhibition at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art, Pollock Matters traces a close friendship that spanned almost two decades, beginning in 1936 when the men's future wives, painters Lee Krasner and Mercedes Carles, met after being sent to jail for protesting Works Progress Administration cutbacks. The friendship continued until Pollock's tragic death in an automobile accident in the summer of 1956.

Featuring compelling visual and documentary evidence, including over 150 illustrations, this book demonstrates a critically important chain of influence between two creative individuals not addressed in previous studies of their respective careers.

Pollock Matters reveals the crucial role that Herbert Matter's technical innovations played in helping to stimulate Pollock's radical artistic conception of  "energy made visible."

A previously unknown body of small drip paintings labeled by Mercedes Matter as "Jackson experimentals" is presented here along with scientific analysis of the works. This volume will be essential reading for anyone seeking an enriched understanding of Jackson Pollock's life and work or the history of abstract painting."

ARTnews, February 2002

Editorial Review, Amazon,, and Boston College Magazine, which also provides the reference of subsequent controversy resulting from the claim of Alex Matters, son of Mercedes and Herbert Matters, that he had found a "stash" of Pollock paintings among his father's possessions, see Boston College Magazine, "For Art's Sake" by Jane Whitehead, summer, 2007.

Mercedes Matter periodical /exhibition literature references:

1. 'Drawing', by Mercedes Matter. 1961 issue of It Is
2. 'Whats wrong with U.S. Art Schools?'. September 1963 issue of ARTnews.
3. 'Drawing at the New York Studio School'. 9/2/73 The New York Times, Arts & Leisure
4. 'The Paintings and Drawings of Mercedes Matter', by Louis Finkelstein Autumn 1991 issue of Modern Painters.
5. 'MacDougal Alley: New York's art alley', by Avis Berman. November 1990 issue of Architectural Digest.
6. Making Connections: Approaches to Space in Drawing, 82nd Annual Exhibition, February 21-April 8, 1993, Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Woman's College

Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC
Mercedes Matter was born in New York in 1913. Her father, the American modernist Arthur B. Carles, had studied with Matisse. Her mother, Mercedes de Cordoba, was a model for Edward Steichen. Ms. Matter grew up in Philadelphia, New York and Europe.

She began painting under her father's supervision at age 6, and studied art at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y., and then in New York City with Maurice Sterne, Alexander Archipenko and Hans Hofmann.

In the late 1930's, she was an original member of the American Abstract Artists organization and worked for the federal Works Progress Administration, assisting Fernand Léger on his mural for the French Line passenger ship company. Léger introduced her to Herbert Matter, the Swiss graphic designer and photographer, whom she married in 1939.

The Matters were active in the emerging New York art scene and also traveled frequently to Europe. Their closest friends included Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning. They were also close to Alberto Giacometti, who was an important artistic role model for Mrs. Matter and a frequent photographic subject for her husband.

Beginning in 1953, Mrs. Matter taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), Pratt Institute and New York University. Based on her teaching experiences she wrote an article for Art News in 1963 titled ''What's Wrong with U.S. Art Schools?'' In it, she lamented the phasing out of the extended studio classes required to initiate ''that painfully slow education of the senses,'' which she considered an artist's life work.

The article prompted a group of Pratt students to ask her to form a school based on her ideas, which led, in 1964, to the founding of the New York Studio School. Originally in a loft on Broadway, the school gained almost immediate support from the Kaplan Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation. It granted no degrees, had only studio classes and emphasized drawing from life. Its teachers, chosen by the students, included the artists Guston, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Charles Cajori, Louis Finkelstein and Sidney Geist; the art historian Meyer Schapiro; and the composer Morton Feldman.

The Matters lived on Macdougal Alley, where Mr. Matter had a studio in one of the eight small buildings that had housed what is now the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was his idea that the buildings would make a perfect home for artist estates School, which bought them from the Whitney family in 1967.

Mrs. Matter practiced as she preached, spending months, and sometimes years, working on drawings and paintings that usually began as still life's and evolved into near-abstractions animated by thatched lines that attested to her her devotion to the work of Giacometti and Cézanne.

In addition to her art and teaching, she wrote articles on artists, including Hofmann, Kline and Giacometti. She wrote the text for a book of her husband's photographs of Giacometti, published in 1987, four years after his death.

"Then it was the Cedar Bar and The Club itself. All kinds of nonsense went on about membership, about how to pick members, whether women should be admitted. There was quite a fuss about making Mercedes Matter the first female member of The Club and things like that"

Leo Castelli
Interview with Leo Castelli
Conducted by Paul Cummings, May 14, 1969

Biography from
Following are exhibition reviews of work by Mercedes Matter:

"Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective Exhibition at Frederick S. Weisman, Pepperdine University, March 2010.  Written by Peter Frank

Daughter of a key American modernist, student of another, lover of several, friend to many more, and founder of what is the closest thing to an American academy for abstract art, Mercedes Matter could have produced a memoir at once gossip-rich and historically invaluable.  What Matter did leave behind is the New York Studio School and a body of work that straddles--and finally melds--her manifold influences. With the abstract expressionists now mythologized, it's a surprise that this colorful, attractive, and crucial figure in their midst, a proto-feminist every bit as impressive as Lee Krasner or Louise Bourgeois, has not already been biographed.  Finally, though, she has been retrospected.

Matter was the offspring of Philadelphia cubist Arthur B. Carles and actress-model-journalist Mathilde de Cordoba.  Jeanne Carles picked up her father's intense palette, urgent brushstroke, and brittle, even unstable sense of composition, a manner that in fact infused cubism with an expressionist vigor.  Unsurprisingly, she found Hans Hofmann's style, and pedagogy, reifying, and became one of the German emigre's most devoted students in America. Three decades later, she founded the New York Studio School in order to perpetuate Hofmann's tenets and methods.

By time Mercedes Carles married Swiss-born photographer-designer Herbert Matter in 1941, she was an accomplished painter, a WPA veteran, a close pal of Krasner, Pollock, Calder, et al., and a fixture on the New York art scene.  But was Mercedes Matter as powerful and distinctive an artist as her myriad cohorts?  Her retrospective doesn't argue this too persuasively; rather, it reveals that, throughout her career, she was the advocate in practice as well as principle for her "two fathers," Carles and Hofmann.

Her work also betrays the influence of certain contemporaries, in particular Philip Guston and Franz Kline.  But, in emulating great painters, Matter developed a syncretic style ultimately as distinct as any of theirs--and, in the last decade or two of her life, as powerful.  Whether rendering representational subjects or formulating non-objective compositions, Matter consistently employed a jagged line and elusive but brilliant color, ultimately achieving a shimmering, stuttering, blurred, unfinished look.  Everything (but color) comes together in the charcoals Matter drew on canvas between 1978 and 1998. Intricately interlocking vectors, complex descriptions of volume, and a pervasive crackling energy suggest she was infusing cubist conventions with abstract expressionist dynamism. The result is a very sophisticated neo-futurism, a pictorial sense quite unlike anybody else's. We should all go out in such a blaze of glory.

Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective Exhibition, Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York, November 7-December 14, 2009.  Written by Lance Esplund

One of the best New York painting exhibitions is not in a museum but in a gallery, and off the beaten path. The traveling Mercedes Matter retrospective of 33 well-chosen works spanning her entire career, though it should be much larger and headlining a museum, gives us, in a nutshell, the monumental achievement of a monumental, but sadly overlooked, artist.

A central figure of the New York School, Matter (1913-2001) studied with Fernand Léger and Hans Hofmann; but important also were her father the painter Arthur B. Carles (a student of Matisse), her friends Giacometti and de Kooning and her husband the photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter.  Included in this show are extremely accomplished early works from her teens; Fauvist-inspired nudes, still lifes and landscapes, as well as pure abstractions, all from her 20s; and the masterly drawings and paintings—the crowded, jostling, mountainous still lifes, in quicksilver-charcoal line and bold, racing color—of her mature period. Some of these late works rank among the finest the New York School has to offer.

Matter's own legacy lives on not just through her artwork but also through her teaching at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, which she co-founded in 1964. Unfortunately, the organizers of the lavish monograph that accompanies the show don't seem to trust entirely in the strength of Matter's art: A seminude portrait photograph of Matter (taken by her husband) graces the book's cover, and throughout the catalog undue emphasis is placed on Matter's more-famous male peers. Her powerful paintings and drawings, however, are the strongest form of rebuttal.

The exhibition will travel on to Pepperdine University's Weisman Museum of Art in Malibu, Calif.; Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y.; and Knox College's Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

The Wall Street Journal

A Retrospective Exhibition, September 4, 2010- January 2, 2011, Organized through Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc. in New York City, and curated by Dr. Ellen Landau, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University. 

This first major museum exhibition devoted to the Abstract Expressionist artist Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) spans her career from 1922 through 2000. Matter was the daughter of the famous American modernist Arthur B. Carles, and during the 1930s, she studied with the prominent art teacher and Abstract Expressionist master Hans Hofmann. She also worked for the mural division of the WPA (Work Projects Administration), assisting Fernand Leger with his mural projects. In 1939, she married the renowned Swiss graphic designer and photographer Herbert Matter, and the couple became active within the emerging avant-garde art scene in post-war New York. They were close friends and artistic collaborators with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem and Elaine de Kooning.

Beginning in the early 1950s, Matter embarked on a successful teaching career; she taught at the Philadelphia College of Art, Pratt Institute, and New York University. In 1963, inspired by her critical views of standardized art education in the United States, Matter founded the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, an alternative institution dedicated to fundamental principles of artistic training patterned after the European atelier system.

Influenced by the artistic precepts of Hofmann, Matter was a proponent of paint- ing directly from nature. Her works are characterized by vigorous angular marks and geometricized rhythms. Many of her pieces represent a unique fusion of advanced ges- tural abstraction and a sensitive perceptual observation of landscape and still-life motifs. As an indication of the Abstract Expressionist artists' respect for the creative vigor and innovative character of her work, Matter was the only female artist invited to become a member of The Artists' Club, a group of progressive artists, critics and poets associated with the New York Studio School in the 1950s. The club organized formal discussions on topics ranging from art theory to philosophy. This exhibition devoted to Matter is part of an increasing and significant art historical trend to examine the work of important women within the Abstract Expressionist movement, such as Lee Krasner and Hedda Sterne.

Views from the Figge Art Museum
, Summer/Fall 2010 

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About  Mercedes Carles Matter

Born:  1913 - New York City
Died:   2001 - Long Island, New York
Known for:  abstract expressionist still life painting, drawing, educator