Denver Art Museum through May 17
A retrospective with works from throughout Matthews’ career, curated by Thomas Smith
Best known for his watercolor images of cowboys, William Matthews got his start in 1970 doing record album covers. But he says he quickly got burned out on that and moved to Denver in 1972. In 1983 he was invited to attend the cowboy poetry gathering in Nevada. “They were great guys. They invited me to come visit them—so I started painting them.” The cowboys he has painted over the years have become friends—and now he knows many of their parents, their kids, and their grandkids.
Matthews is effusive in his love for watercolor. Growing up in San Francisco, his mother was a portrait painter who took him to many museums. Although his mother used oils, Matthews says early on the watercolors he saw “were electric to me. I remember making a conscious decision when I was about 12 years old that that was what I wanted to do.” Painting was a distraction from his education, he admits, and he dropped out early and never went to college.
“Most people are drawn to oils,” Matthews says. “I like the fragility of watercolor, the floating nature of it, the transparency of it. You have to know what you’re doing, otherwise you’ll screw it up. It takes a certain amount of confidence—and I paint with it for ten hours a day, every day. It’s the only way to really own it. Most oil paintings, the surface just doesn’t excite me. Whereas the surface of water colors really gets me.”
Why is the exhibit called Trespassing? “I’ve always thought of myself as an outsider,” says Matthews, “and being in some ways a journalist and not being of the group. It’s symbolic of the way I’ve visited these ranches. I’m always aware of who belongs and who does not belong.”
In recent years Matthews has developed an interest in old industrial buildings. “I’ve loved these buildings for so long,” he says. Matthews will have a show of industrial building paintings with his son Austin Matthews at his studio in the RiNo art district in March.