Classic forms under water both abstract, realistic

“Peach Palms Up”

The female nude has historically been a source of inspiration for male artists, and New York-based artist Matt Story says his underwater paintings of women are informed by classical figurative painting. “So instead of Manet’s Olympia reclining nude on a sofa, I have her doing a backflip underwater in a bikini!” he jokes.

His beautiful swimmers look like women out of a Sports Illustrated magazine. “The women in my work tend to take on idealized forms, and (as the Greeks believed) idealized forms are instinctively more beautiful (or truthful or representative).” Story’s swimmers flip, turn, and twist through the water, showcasing his unique skill for rendering hyper-realism. “I was lauded for ‘photo-realistic’ technique, but I was never after that, really, after what a camera impartially sees, because there’s so much more captured only by the human filter of memory.”

Story worked as a technical illustrator and graphic artist from his early teens, and studied art in the United States and western Europe. After graduating from UCLA, he worked in film and television production, and later turned to painting where he is better suited to the isolation of the studio.

He’s inspired by the masters, “none more than Caravaggio,” Titian, Bernini, Velasquez and Vermeer, among others. He says painting after the turn of the 20th century interests him less because much of it is a reaction against photography. After living and painting for a year on the Isle of Palms in 2014, Story connected with Robert and Megan Lange and says, “Charleston is an amazing city for art, and RLS is the jewel in a very unique jewel box.”

Working in plein air for this artist means standing knee-deep in a pool with a photographer and a model. Using water as a backdrop allows him to put classical forms in contemporary settings. He is attracted to the extreme lighting conditions that water presents as well as the varied metaphors of being immersed in water: a rebirth, a cleansing, a baptism.

“I love painting images that seem at once abstract and photorealistic. I get this in the underwater environment, the distortions, the prismatic colors and strange depths of field.”

He doesn’t paint from a single photograph, but pieces together elements from different images so by the time he gets to the easel, he’s working more from his imagination or intent than reality.

“Dive In,” contemporary new paintings by Matt Story, will be at the Robert Lange Studio, 2 Queen St. from Feb. 5-26.