A weird, phantasmagorical dimension: Matthew Langland at Goodluckhavefun

Langland’s paintings feel both mythical and reactive. Perfect for a garage gallery thinking outside the white box.


Goodluckhavefun is a pandemic baby of sorts. The West Austin garage gallery, run by artist Tim McCool and designer Kira Prentice, opened last fall, after the couple decided to move from Boston to Austin amidst the coronavirus.

What does every bouncing baby gallery need? A second garage. “We had this extra space, which is a luxury,” says McCool. “It’s very much a garage still, but with a couple coats of white paint and the neon sign, people are into it.”

Goodluckhavefun lights up the gallery’s main wall in a soft neon script, the official seal for this funky alternative space. Its name references a phrase often used by online gamers when wishing opponents luck before playing. “We joked about being the only video game arts gallery in Austin,” he smiles, “but it’s really just about being positive and not taking things too seriously.”

McCool, who was on faculty at Boston College as a painting and drawing instructor, says he began checking out Austin’s art scene online while still living in the Northeast.

Austin was an easy choice: his fiancée Kira is originally from here, and they were both drawn to the city’s wide range of possibilities. Unlike the insularity of Boston, or the density of New York, Austin possesses a certain lightness which is open to new and different ways of doing things, he remarks. Like a DIY garage gallery.

Currently on view is Matthew Langland’s “Feedback Loop,” 14 abstract paintings bordering on the bold and bizarre, redolent of the barely recognizable. Langland sources his material from a vast collection of images, reshuffling and repurposing to form new and overlapping meanings.

His heavily graphic compositions often have a bilateral symmetry, much like an inkblot. And much like an inkblot, Langland’s paintings ask the subconscious to play a game of Guess Who. “I wanted to embrace symmetry and forms floating in space,” he tells me. “Like a shield or emblem being presented to you full frontal, in this black void.”

“Applause Generator” (2021) — what Matthew’s young children have nicknamed “The Zoom Call” — highlights many such elements. Caution Yellow breaks up the pitch-black space with a winged creature conducting the call. A Brady Bunch grid of hostile characters begin to glare back at you, once you’ve stared long enough at them.

Matthew Langland Applause Generator, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 27 in.,
Matthew Langland “Applause Generator,” 2021, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 27 in. Image courtesy the artist

“Invigilator” (2019) is almost a portrait, an unfriendly presence with yellow eyes and a pair of bright red boxing gloves ready to bump. A yellow iris in the painting’s upper right corner serves as a third-eye, the all-knowing eye, keeping tabs from the confines of the canvas. A pink squiggle toward the bottom is a signature courtesy of one of Langland’s kids.

These paintings are a study on semiotics: signs and symbols taking shape in the viewer’s mind in ways the viewer can’t quite articulate. McCool mentions to me an academic article (titled “Sublime Annihilation and the Weird: An Aesthetic for Times of Anthropocene Indeterminacy”) about the literary genre, “The New Weird.” The paper’s author, Amaris Enid Montes Burgos, touches on the very thing he experiences with Matthew’s work:

“… that objects are withdrawn, unknowable, even when they seem to manifest something. Humans cannot, under this light, trust their own senses or frameworks; in fact, they are now revealed as weird as the very objects that they try to penetrate, subject to their beliefs and actions. The sublime thus unveils a ceaseless feedback loop, a weird, phantasmagorical dimension. The recognition of it gnaws and infects thought.”

In other words, the sublime — that sense of awe — plays a key part in how we experience, perceive, respond to art. Rinse. Repeat.

Langland grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and learned early on about the Chicago Imagists, a collective of artists associated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1960s who produced figurative, surrealistic works. The Imagists’ comic book influences and humor — sometimes dark, sometimes psychedelic — captured his imagination. Ed Paschke was his first favorite of the group, but Karl Wirsum, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 81, later became an even stronger influence, ebbing and flowing in Langland’s mind as he himself evolved as a painter.

“All my life I’ve been in love with this very comic book look, the shapes and forms and colors all separated by very clear distinct line work. Full-frontal figures, very graphically high contrast, which are, of course, zany and very exaggerated — but also shamanistic.” Langland says Wirsum’s work might be viewed as juvenile, yet with piercing insight into human nature. Ugliness and beauty at the same time, and knowledge beyond our everyday understanding.

The zany and the exaggerated stretch to the titles of Langland’s paintings. “Crunch Quest Questionnaire,” “Slogan Eroder,” “Uncoupled Certainty Device” create the same sort of remixed effect as the visual component.

“I use words in the same way that abstract paintings form shapes,” Langland explains. “If the forms in the painting don’t line up with the feeling I get from the sounds of those words, I won’t use it. In other cases, it comes more directly from the painting itself.”

Matthew Langland, "Hierophant," 2020, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 27 in.,
Matthew Langland, “Hierophant,” 2020, acrylic on canvas, 32 x 27 in. Image courtesy the artist

“Hierophant” (2020) is an example of the latter. It is named after a painting by Myron Stout, an abstract expressionist/minimalist who often worked in black and white to create flat geometric shapes. Stout’s own “Hierophant” (1955) is a three-pronged object which recalls the Hierophant card — also known as The Pope — in the tarot deck.

Like Stout’s painting, and like the figure on the tarot card, Langland’s “Hierophant” features vertical prongs set against an intense black background. “I’ve been aware of his painting for many years. It, too, has been in my mind; eternal and solemn, but simple and stark.”

“Feedback Loop” is a short stroll into the subconscious. Langland’s paintings feel both mythical and reactive. Perfect for a garage gallery thinking outside the white box.

“So much of his work, so many parts are on the verge of being recognizable,” says McCool. “The faces, the text — the different visual elements together — hovering on the edge of coming into view. Never fully manifesting.”

Matthew Langland’s “Feedback Loop” is on view through May 29. Goodluckhavefun is currently by appointment only. Book a visit at glhfgallery.com.

Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell is an arts and culture writer based in Austin. She is the author of Black Ice: Poems (Fly by Night Press, 2006). In addition to Sightlines, her work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Canadian Art, Glasstire, and Tribes Magazine. She is a graduate of Skidmore College.

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