There are many people who misuse the term Matte Painter these days, when what they more frequently want to describe is a background painter.
Mind you, just to add to the confusion, even the term `background´ is now being eclipsed by `environment´. I suppose that sounds grander and more important than `background´.
Personally, I suspect that all this linguistic sloppiness is a ploy by artists in the games industry trying to get more pay for the same job. But I digress.
So, it’s refreshing to find a real matte painter who really paints mattes! He’s Dylan Cole, and he has his own website here.
Take a moment to look at those warm glowing colours, that majestic, mythological, idealised heroic scenery.
Does it put you in mind of a school of painting that enjoyed enormous popular success in the United States in the mid nineteenth century?
This screenshot is a view of the thumbnail gallery on the matte painting website, mattepainting.org and it shows that the majority of the pictures on the site also share these mid 19th century aesthetics.
At first I found this stylistic coincidence really curious, but when I stopped to think about it, it struck me that the painters of the Hudson River School and the film makers of modern Hollywood are (or were) in the same business, that of mythologising and idealising the American landscape as a context for the American dream.
It’s curious that just at the time the movies were being invented, the taste for these epic scale paintings was beginning to wane, and the newfangled impressionism was gaining a popular following in its place.
I use the term `epic´ deliberately, especially in the case of Frederick Church. I quote from his Wikipedia page:
Church became known for painting colossal views, often of exotic locations. His painting “Heart of the Andes”, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, measures over five feet high and nearly ten feet in length.
Church unveiled the painting to an astonished public in New York City in 1859. He installed the work in a specially-lit room with curtains and palm fronds, and charged the public admission to view it. The painting was an instant success. He eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.
Some of Church’s huge canvases went on World tours and were marvelled at by a paying audience, some of whom were no doubt influenced to emigrate to the golden land portrayed in the vast pictures.
Art was being globalised.
Moran, although he came from a long tradition of English topographic watercolourists, produced landscape paintings of the Far West that were later instrumental in persuading Congress to found Yellowstone National Park.
He also found time to paint more intimate views of the landscape, including this beautifully composed, almost symbolist piece called `The Bathers´.
The century turned, the movies progressed and developed, and the Hudson River School of painters declined into obscurity as lamented on this sad page.
But I’m digressing again….
I wouldn’t mind placing a bet that Dylan Cole’s paintings have probably been seen by more people than the hundreds of thousands who used to flock to H.R.S. exhibitions, the irony being, though, that they’ll never know they’ve seen them. Paintings that can make themselves invisible. Ah, the magic of the movies!