100 Works of Art: (Visual) X-Ray, Matthew Woodson

For an explanation of what I’m trying to do with this series of posts, please read the first post in the series.

7. X-Ray, Matthew Woodson (2008)

I am alas in the dark as to how I came to the work of Matthew Woodson: I know it was at the passing recommendation of a friend online, but my mind throws up both Sherry and Jinah as possibilities and both may be untrue. Either way, my gratitude goes to the person who suggested him to me as his clean, fluctuating lines, muted colours, and minimal/abrupt shading appeal to me a great deal.

I chose “X-Ray” (the picture itself is actually untitled on his website) for this series above his other work for the simple reason that I loved it enough to purchase a print of it a couple of years ago, and it is hanging directly opposite me as I type.

X-Ray, Matthew Woodson
X-Ray by Matthew Woodson

In terms of art style I have a number of conflicting preferences, but among them are stark, comic-book art – I grew up on Hergé and Uderzo (and Quentin Blake and Thelwell and so on but more on that later) – and a clear division of colours. As I mentioned when talking about Ortolano, bright colours catch my eye and hold my attention, but they must be distinct from each other, and well-used. The almost greyscale hue of X-Ray works with the subject matter to evoke the idea of a living ghost, and the clean, sharp divisions between light and shadow bring to mind, at least for me, reportage. It seems like the accompaniment to a news article, trying to represent in image form the ailing health of a society in the shape of a single body. I’m sure Plato would approve, although I’ll be buggered if I approve of Plato.

In terms of subject matter I have a great fondness for anatomical study and memento mori (I used to be a goth), and this superimposition of bones upon clothes functions as both. The precision of the style does not quite ape the medical textbooks I am used to, where the solidity and curvature of bone must be made explicit with dense hatching and cross-hatching, but rather children’s textbooks on the body. This gives it a nostalgic feel, for me, which adds to the memento mori associations.

Therefore to me, X-Ray says “for now you are young, and healthy, but you are a temporary scaffold for ephemeral thoughts; for now you are strong-boned and solid and clothed in flesh and cloth, but one day you will die, and your bones will be naked”. Perhaps Matthew Woodson did not intend for it to be a blunt reminder about the transient nature of life and a useful nod to mortality; perhaps he (like me) just thinks bones visible through clothes in this manner looks really cool (I am also shallow!), but I think it works that way too.

The headlessness of the subject heightens this: it is impersonal, like death.

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