This afternoon, Matthew Adelberg spoke to a group of about 25 rapt listeners about his show, Lineage, currently in the Dadian Gallery. At just 21 years of age, and still a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Adelberg's works show a depth and maturity that many older artists would envy. In person, he is modest, quiet, and grateful for the attention that his work is bringing him. Nervous at first, his voice became more confident as Trudi asked him about the sources for these powerful paintings.
Adelberg said that many of his works are autobiographical, a way for him to process his troubled childhood. One of the smaller paintings that is exhibited in the President's office, rather than the gallery proper, depicts a woman lying on what looks like a table with a young man standing over her threateningly. When asked about it, Adelberg said is about the his own fear of becoming violent. As a child, he saw his father beat up his mother many times, and this painting is a way to externalize his fear that he will become like his hated father. For this reason, he titled the painting “Nightmare.” In painting this nightmarish vision of fear and memory, it became for him a talisman of hope for a better future.
While many of his paintings depict disturbing stories, to my eyes they are ultimately about redemption. The artist says that the black paint with which he begins each painting is a symbol of the chaos of the broken world, out of which he carves out places of light. As each layer of paint is lighter than the one before, he believes that he is bringing in the light of God, illuminating the image of the world as it is with the divine presence.
When someone asked Adelberg how he decided that an artwork is beautiful, he answered, “When it is true.” These skillful, well-balanced, carefully composed images tell the truth about life from the perspective of someone who wants to be good, and fears the evil impulses that live inside of him. This is a reality that is at once deeply personal and completely universal. That kind of truth is so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes.