This story begins in so many places: Cape Cod and Santa Barbara, but also the imagination, and the art world, and wherever there are true gatherings of real friends. Heather Mattoon needs a benefit now because she is confined to a wheelchair, and is trying to put together a new life without any health insurance. She fell from a window at the end of the summer and severed her spine.
Nothing against the landlords and property managers of Santa Barbara, but it must take something out of you each time you encounter another tenant like artist Heather Mattoon was when she moved here-someone from somewhere else, someone who seems a little brighter, a little more creative, a little more attractive, and a little more exciting than just about anyone you have ever seen. In short, the kind of shiny, happy young person that Santa Barbara tends to attract. No matter how lucrative renting apartments to wave upon wave of superior beings must be, there also have to be moments when one feels hollow from “owning” the sometimes calamitous spaces that these superior human specimens perpetually labor to afford, only to be replaced by still more shining angels, while you sit there, counting the money.
The story of Mattoon’s fall begins with a door that wouldn’t open. Who among us has never encountered one of those? And what was your response? Heather thought of another way of getting where she was going, and that’s when things got crazy, and where everything went all wrong. The short climb she imagined from the window of her bathroom to the window of her bedroom didn’t happen. Instead, she fell, and suddenly that short climb became the long climb she has ahead of her now. Perhaps not all of us would be so daring, but it is important to remember that this is still the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, at anytime. With action comes the threat of destruction, and that threat is always there. While there are still doors that should but won’t open, there will be things that shouldn’t ever happen but still somehow do.
The Soul of the Artist
In her painting, Heather has manifested the utmost individuality and a kind of intuitive problem solving that puts her in a special category of artist-those who operate by their own rules, the sweet renegades who don’t seem to know what “isn’t done,” and then do it. With the 2006 Off Axis month of contemporary art, Mattoon found her niche, a small whirlwind of energy spinning on East Figueroa in the then un-galleried space where Edward Cella Art+Architecture is now located. On the opening night, a precursor of all the 1st Thursdays to come, art lovers crowded the streets of downtown, sweeping from gallery to gallery in big, combustible clumps. No one was as delighted with the situation as Mattoon, who positively glowed as she received well-wishers at the lovely opening, complete with fabulous wines and food from her favorite suppliers.
Several of her paintings lined the walls in the front of the space, but it wasn’t until one turned the corner and reached a spot where a temporary wall allowed you to face forward, toward the way you had come in, that you could see the big picture, a complete anomaly she called “Little Dogs.” It is a large, roughly square abstract painting done in an extremely painterly style, and it must have taken many hours to achieve such consistent delicacy and complexity of surface effects on such a large scale. Amidst this perfect storm of brushstrokes, a series of strange and unexpected figures emerged-tiny dog stickers, most no bigger than a dime, lay hidden throughout the giant painting, like little off-the-menu treats available only to the most valued of regulars. Or better, like any of the thousands upon thousands of beautiful, creative, and ultimately somewhat vulnerable young people who camp out here every year, trying to make it work, taking extra jobs, and dreaming of making their precarious, rented dog houses into homes. “Little Dogs” is an idea for a work of art that, even in retrospect, with a year to digest it, is hard to imagine anyone else trying, let alone pulling off. J.M.W. Turner, the great English avatar of painted surface as nature, would be proud of creating something at once so relentless and so delightful.
On Sunday night the benefit for Mattoon will include art, food, wine, and, most important of all, the sense that you are part of a cause that is bigger than yourself. Come and be counted as someone who cares.
The benefit for Heather Mattoon will take place at the Contemporary Arts Forum on Sunday, November 11, 6-10pm. Tickets are a $50-$100 donation, and will be available at the door. There will be a gala reception featuring wines and food from Santa Barbara’s best vineyards and restaurants, and a silent auction featuring original artwork and lifestyle items.