“…There are people who think that painters shouldn’t talk. I know many people who feel that way, but that makes the painter into a sort of painting monkey… I feel that strongly believed in and stated convictions on art have a habit of tumbling and collapsing in front of the canvas, when the act of painting actually begins…” - Philip Guston, Minnesota, 1978.

“…Painting … is like hand-stuffing a mattress...” – Franz Kline

In his performance ‘Polemical Alchemy’, Couper takes a meta-step back from the physical act of painting to use his designated color of green to relate the involved process of painting to operative and speculative alchemy.

In alchemical manuscripts from the 16th century, green was depicted as a lion eating the sun and symbolized the fragile transition of base materials into gold. This stage in the alchemical process was one step prior to the depiction of the ‘Peacock's Tail’ – the rainbow-like rapid cycling of the iridescent colors on the surface of the metal.

Using the satirical metaphor of ‘Le Singe Peintre’, depicted in the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s painting of 1740, Couper comments on his cyclical, perhaps foolish, ‘trial & error’ fixation of painting and the alchemy involved its creation.

Keeping in step with Couper’s blatant appropriation of past masters to analogize and reflect on contemporaneous issues in the primordial act of painting, his performance is alchemical by nature - conflating the new and the old, altering existing elements to create his own  ‘visual speculative alchemy’.


Matthew Couper was born in New Zealand and is based in Las Vegas after immigrating to the USA in 2010. His practice over the past decade has appropriated aspects of western Art History traditions including Trecento, Quattrocento and the Baroque and he now uses established narrative traditions to discuss the space between myth, religion and art politics. Huffington Post art critic John Seed recently referred to Couper as an "artist with a Kafkaesque view of the world" whose imagery suggests "a pagan Catholic Cirque du Soleil”.
   In 2003, Couper was awarded a Royal Over-Seas League International Scholarship to work and travel in the UK. He returned the following year to exhibit at Jerwood Gallery, London. He held his first public solo exhibition with published monograph, The Museum Of Inherent Vice at the Sarjeant Gallery, New Zealand, after receiving a nine-month residency at the Tylee Cottage Artist in Residence program in 2007. His exhibition ‘Thirty-Three’ (with gallery monograph)is touring several New Zealand public art galleries and museums from 2012 to 2014.
   He exhibits regularly in the USA, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. His works are represented in public collections throughout New Zealand (Sarjeant Gallery, The Real Art Roadshow, Celia Dunlop Foundation and James Wallace Collection) and internationally (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rome and Brisbane, Cirque du Soleil Resident Show Division) and in private collections in New Zealand, Australia, USA, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Thailand.



Matthew Couper
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