There’s an undeniably seductive, Alice-in-Wonderland feel about a world in miniature. It’s a quality that certainly seems to have sucked in French artist Charles Matton. On display here, alongside his sculptures, drawings and paintings, in an atmospheric low-lit installation, are 36 wooden boxes, made between 1988-2007, each of which contains a 1:7 scale model of an interior. Some are based on personal spaces such as the Paris flat where the artist lived; some are based on the rooms of well-known individuals such as Francis Bacon’s studio and yet others are more imaginary – libraries are one recurring subject. What they all share is an intricate attention to detail and an evocative mood created through lights and mirrors.
This show is a significant survey for Matton (who died in 2008 aged 77), an artist whose career also included film directing and illustration, but whose figurative, fine art never quite seemed to be in step with the times. Matton’s now sought-after boxes initially began only as props to photograph and make paintings from, but gradually have come to be regarded as artworks in their own rights.
Despite the time and attention he spent on making his boxes – which included moulding and casting objects in a mixture of marble and resin and painting his own fabrics – Matton wasn’t interested so much in representing one reality as trying to encapsulate infinite realities. It’s his diminutive libraries – many titled in homage to Matton’s literary influences including James Joyce and particularly Jorge Luis Borges – that represent this idea best. In Borges’s short story ‘The Library of Babel’ he describes a seemingly endless library, analogous to the universe, which contains all possible permutations of a 410-page book (with each page containing 40 lines of 80 letters). Through Matton’s clever use of reflection, the shelves in his libraries also appear to extend inexorably through time and space.