Matthew Couper, 16 from 33, JUL15–12AUG 2016

16 from 33
JUL15–AUG12 2016


1997, 1981, 1984, 1996
1979, 1985, 1983, 1995
2005, 2008, 1999, 1978
1977, 1994, 1982, 1980


16 works from ‘Thirty~Three’ (Retablo Series)
2009, Oil on metal, 36 x 29cm each
Individually available unframed

This installation by NZ-born, Las Vegas based artist Matthew Couper consists of a series 16 from [33] thirty-three paintings, each one documenting a year of the artists life. Each painting recalls personal experiences along with social and cultural interests that the artist believes are universal - luck and misfortunes, gains and losses, cultural and social quirks and popular culture references. Although autobiographical, Couper's paintings relate tales of common life experiences - schooling, money-making jobs, lessons learnt, travel, career dilemmas, musings on mortality, sex and religion. They create a chronological narrative that describes a rite of passage in the first 'natural third' of life. Couper's Thirty-Three paintings are based on the Mexican retablo painting tradition. 

Prevalent in the 19th century, retablos were affordable devotional works executed by village artisans, commissioned by a client in gratitude to a specific patron saint to acknowledge an incident or personal experience. Pictorially, a retablo usually depicts the saint in a generic landscape with symbols, attributes and text to help explain the devotion and the incident. 

Couper is drawn to this medium because of its honest and direct narrative and devotional intention. His fascination with the retablos and ex-votos derives from interest in the adaptation and hybridization of art forms. He sees these media (especially Mexican Colonial painting) as a blending of two important civilizations, a new multi-cultural vehicle for figurative narrative painting. Couper is also drawn to the anonymity of the artisans who executed retablos. Although this series of works is about his life, keeping in mind the nature of the artisan provided a loadstone for me to focus on while constructing the visual narrative.