Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Mathew Rose’s love of letter-writing didn’t begin with a note to a cute girl or a plea to Santa, but rather as an appeal to someone with a little more influence: the President of the United States.
“I wrote Nixon about racism and told him he should stop it,” Rose said. “Fairly naive on my part, but I was 9.”
Fairly naive, but also ambitious and idealistic. And despite the fact that it didn’t quite work, Rose wasn’t discouraged from future letter-writing.
“Writing and reading letters (for me) is the poetic history of my life and my friend’s lives and, of course, the lives of my electric and gas company,” Rose said. “They document the world around us.”
It makes sense, then, that Rose’s next art exhibition at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., will be all about letters.
“In this exhibition, I’ve combined images with letters from a young French boy writing his parents from Tunisia in 1948,” Rose said. “They document his life and his desire to keep his voice alive in his parents’ hearts.”
Prior to the exhibition, which opens Saturday with a reception and artist talk at 6 p.m., Rose put out a call for love letters. He wanted to get the public involved in the exhibition while encouraging them to pick up the pen themselves.
“So much art is static, non-participatory, confusing and as a result, distressing and often the object of ridicule,” Rose said. “Art is a window on our consciousness and this project, as well as my other projects involving the mail, bring people together in many different ways. Artists can provide the glue to culture; I’m interested in correspondence in all its flavors.”
At the exhibition, there will be a stack of unopened letters that the gallery received on Rose’s behalf, which may be taken home by gallery-goers.
“I want people to read and experience letters in a new and different way, or at least in the old way and consider the joys of correspondence and text and images and the mind and voice behind it all,” Rose said.
The Paris-based artist has produced 333 artworks that deal with several letters in several ways, all of which will be on display at the show.
“Many of these works are actually letters, and most if not all have been sent through the mail,” Rose said.
But he was quick to get semantic about the definition of “letters” – not much of a surprise when one learns that he studied semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) at Brown University.
“What is a letter, really? A word sent in an envelope? A post card? A money gram? Look at what could be a letter!” he said.
He also connected letters to notes he received as a child and to artwork in general.
“My mother used to send me clippings from newspapers and write on the articles. My father used to write me all cap notes on my birthday or forward checks to me and sign them ‘YOU’RE RICH! LOVE YOUR DADDY,’ ” he said. “I’m so attracted to handwriting, mistakes in spelling, syntax and grammar … they are like Jackson Pollock drips!”
Rose thinks that society has lost something because it has lost its love for mail.
“I have lost something and I believe that people have become a little less interested in the writer’s voice, their correspondents’ voices,” he said. “Now we seem to have quite a bit of illiterate rantings on social media and message boards, text messages salted with smiley faces and in general a kind of messy graffiti hitting us non-stop.”
As far as the literary future of our culture is concerned, some of Rose’s 9-year-old optimism comes back to the surface.
“Perhaps we’re losing the ability to articulately listen and respond to people, but maybe not,” he said. “Perhaps this is simply a form of literary evolution.”
For more information about Matthew Rose, visit matthewrosestudio.net.
For more information about Converge Gallery, visit www.convergegallery.com.