“Old Maushop’s Smoke” • 14” x 17” • mixed media/collage on paper

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure… Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?”

The illustrious words of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” are currently coursing through Matthew Bielen’s mind. The audiobook version of the novel is serving as the soundtrack of sorts to Bielen’s days spent creating in his Springfield, MA studio. “It’s amazing that people have read it without the audiobook,” he says. “It’s perfect for making art, because Melville uses all these adjectives and describes everything down to the detail, and it puts so much imagery in your head. And it’s all subject matter I’m interested in. It definitely shows through in my work.”

Bielen’s abstract, collage-like works are at once incredibly thoughtful and, as he puts it, essentially unconscious. He goes into a piece with no expectations of its final outcome, knowing his innermost thoughts and feelings will somehow find their way into the work. It’s free association at play here. Take, for instance, the titles of such works as “Narwhal Tusk” and “Breeches Buoy”—the maritime and coastal facets of Cape Cod, where Bielen has visited every year since high school, are always in the back of his mind. To Bielen, his artwork is a reflection of the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. 

“Doggerel” • 6” x 9” • mixed media/collage on paper

“There’s this push and pull between nature and how humans react to it, by either building upon it or devastating it,” he says. “So in my work, I’m fighting against the paper—the push and pull of the black and white, the tearing of the paper where edges meet—and I’m putting my own heavy-handed human mark on this sort of natural process… Whatever the paper is creating I have to either agree with it or disagree with it and see if I can find a resolution to it.”

For any given piece, Bielen begins by making light marks on paper—whether it be plain, colored or tracing paper—with either charcoal, black chalk or black ink, along with acrylic paint. He’ll then glue another layer of paper on top. He might tear away at that paper or add more to it—it depends on how he perceives the piece in the moment. And then he makes more marks. “I use acrylic paint to put in some marks to change the balance of the picture, or I’ll use oil pastels—the smallest amount of color can set everything off,” he says. This whole process might last just a day, or a week, or an entire month or two.

There is often a sense of chaos in Bielen’s work, one that stands to challenge its viewer. “Art is supposed to, at its purest form, make people uncomfortable,” says Bielen. “You don’t have to go in and see what I see necessarily, and you don’t have to see anything,” he adds. “If it moves you, for the better or worse, that’s enough.”

“Narwhal Tusk” (inconvenient tooth)” • 17” x 10” • mixed media/collage on paper

See Bielen’s work at Larkin Gallery, Provincetown, larkingallery.com (solo exhibit June 14-25), and Cross Rip Gallery, Harwich Port, crossripgallery.com, or at matthewbielen.com.