Designer/Maker: Bob Matheny (b. Santa Ana, 1929)
A sculptor, painter, graphic designer and idea artist, Bob Matheny studied under art department chair John Olsen at Long Beach State College. He initially came to San Diego to work for art director Stan Hodge at Convair Astronautics in the late 1950s, but later worked at the Navy Electronics Laboratory with his friends Jim Sundell and Russell Baldwin. He exhibited jewelry at the California State Fair in the late 1950s and showed hooked rugs as a member of the Allied Craftsmen, but had an abiding fascination with typography and small press printing.
He helped organize a regional group called the Patron’s of the Private Press, who put together a show of international private press printing at what is now SDMA and exchanged hand printed cards and announcements. In the mid 1960s Matheny made a series of sculptures based on type and the alphabet – freestanding letters or symbols carved in woods or painted in bright colors – and produced a series of limited edition prints, called Typographs, that was exhibited at the La Jolla Museum of Art in 1965. These involved graphically rendered phrases and quotations that appealed to Matheny composed with type and other printing ornaments and produced on a letterpress.
Concentrating on painting and sculpture, Matheny moved on to a new series of acrylic sculpture and minimalist canvasses spray painted with metallic flakes. He also combined more traditional disciplines with post-studio art forms to create important bodies of work related to aviation and to his mythical “Great State of Art.”
Before starting the art department at Southwestern College in Chula Vista (he became the school’s first full-time art instructor in 1961), along with early faculty members Dick Robinson and John Dewitt Clark, Matheny taught art at Newport Harbor High School and Santa Monica City College.
Matheny was instrumental in establishing the Southwestern College art gallery, and responsible for a string of robust exhibitions, a film series, art happenings and activism over the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the school’s forward-thinking permanent collection of contemporary art. The remarkable impact of this out of the way community college during the 1960s still reverberates, not only for the artists, students and public who experienced it first-hand, but also for those who, in looking back, have begun to appreciate this city’s midcentury arts heritage.
In February, 1994, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article by Welton Jones about the Southwestern College art phenomenon. It quotes John Baldessari (who taught there with Matheny during the late 1960s) as saying “… in retrospect, Southwestern College was very important, even though a lot we did was just spitting in the wind. And, if you had eliminated Matheny from the picture, none of that stuff would have happened.”
After retiring from teaching in 1991 Matheny has continued to baffle and provoke the local art community with a compelling stream of idiosyncrasies.
Description: Colorful letterpress composition on lightweight yellow paper. Signed and numbered in pencil, 11/14.
The text of this work refers to a specific incident at Southwestern College during the 1964-1965 term, when jurors Dick Robinson and Bob Matheny unanimously awarded La Jolla artist Phil Kirkland’s painting Maddog’s Las Gig top prize in the Third Annual Purchase Award Exhibition. When a black and white photograph of the painting ran in the Chula Vista Star, many people perceived it as representing a black man and a white woman in bed together – an idea that scandalized the tiny Chula Vista art community at the time. Matheny recalls that “Miscegenation was suspected by members of the community and the protests and criticism poured onto the campus in many forms, including a letter of protest to the college superintendent from the Chula Vista Art Guild, signed by 18 very indignant women artists.”
From the original limited edition series of Typographs made and exhibited in 1965 at the Nexus Gallery in La Jolla, California. This summer exhibition in Laurence McGilvery’s bookstore/gallery ran concurrently with Matheny’s exhibition of sculpture held essentially next door at the La Jolla Museum of Art. At the time, the Nexus occupied the Wisteria Cottage, later designated a Historic Site by the City of San Diego.
Dimensions: 16″ x 22″
Condition: Good/Fair – tears and light fading along right edge
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