Matt Priebe's 'Decode the Distant' at monOrchid Gallery Is Quietly Haunting

Matt Priebe
Matt Priebe Courtesy of monOrchid

Artist Matt Priebe traded his residential status as a Phoenician for his current digs in Copenhagen, Denmark, six years ago. Still, he’s got some great reasons to maintain a presence in the Valley — for example, he's one of the artists represented by downtown’s longstanding monOrchid Gallery. A hearty list of personal relationships is another.

Currently, his exhibition "Decode the Distant" is on view at the gallery mentioned above. It features several mixed-media pieces (on canvas) that include photographic emulsion, painting, video installation, and electronic sculpture.

Priebe takes digital images and manipulates them to create negatives for analog development. Doing this is one of the ways the artist plays with time — his process blends older and newer methods of photo development to complete pieces that have a timeless sensibility.

Artwork created with nostalgia in mind can often feel forced. It makes the subject matter a co-conspirator, utilizing imagery either so direct or so abstract that, as you view it, you become caught by the artist's cloying lure. That isn't the case in "Decode the Distant." Priebe excels at blending an aura of timelessness with a sincerity that doesn't strive to direct you to feel one specific way.

The shadowy subjects of each work are where your gaze gets stuck, around it a dreamy aura that could be from a ghostly past or a dystopian future. In either case, they haunt the viewer.

Onlookers zeroing in on the prime subjects in this series is what the artist hoped would happen. “The subject matter standing alone in its composition creates a heaviness that encourages the viewer to look deeper into its interoperation.”

As you tour through the show, each one causes you to linger; to wonder. It’s the swirling vibe of curiosity he creates that sticks to your skin. It is especially profound in pieces like Shelter, which features a hooded girl beneath an umbrella, and A Memory, a wistful work of art that stars an old house and classic car faded from view as if they’ve been softly devoured by the surrounding trees and natural elements.

click to enlarge Shelter by Matt Priebe. - COURTESY OF MONORCHID GALLERY
Shelter by Matt Priebe.
Courtesy of monOrchid Gallery
Priebe explains how he arrived at this recent style: “The show’s concept developed over time when I would frequently hear from viewers that the images in my work looked like they were from a distant era even though my imagery was contemporary and shot by myself,” he says.

“I started to think a lot about time and how we perceive it and how we relate with photography. I’ve always been drawn to the ghostliness of old photographs and the mystery they evoke. However, that also made me think about our life in the present day and even the future. It seemed like an interesting and challenging idea to create a show and atmosphere where the viewer's perception and the relationship of time were the basis.”

Another way that Priebe shines is in his ability to thread the unrelenting starkness and intensity in his pieces with a soft sense of purpose. DyreHaven features finds you exchanging a stare with a deer. The depth in the majestic animal’s gaze elicits more curiosity than fear — it becomes a silent chat between subject and viewer.

click to enlarge DyreHaven by Matt Priebe. - COURTESY OF MONORCHID GALLERY
DyreHaven by Matt Priebe.
Courtesy of monOrchid Gallery

Communication has also become of more vital importance to the artist as his work evolves. He attributes this to his move. “For the past six years, I have been living in Denmark and have experienced the duality of two cultures and their ideals,” Priebe tells Phoenix New Times.

“This has certainly changed my life and work,” he continues. “Not only have I been very motivated by Scandinavian minimalism, but I am also very interested in the way people in Denmark communicate with one another and how it translates into their art and design. They tend to focus on the essentials, often pausing for effect when speaking — using fewer words but concentrating on weight and meaning with the ones they choose."

"Decode the Distant," with its gentle and meaningful backbone, lets us examine our preconceptions and initial thoughts, allowing us to use Priebe’s thoughtfully composed works of art as mirrors for our respective thought processes and emotional natures.

"Matt Priebe: Decode the Distant" Closing Reception. 6 p.m. Friday, March 1, at monOrchid Gallery, 214 East Roosevelt Street; 602-253-0339; Free admission. Exhibition runs through Sunday, March 3.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young