Portland native Matthew Dennison has spent his whole life living within a 4-mile radius of his childhood home near Mount Tabor, and like a lot of kids in the 1960s and ’70s, fueled his imagination with the natural world he saw around him.
“It was very cloistered and magical,” he remembers. “I grew up in what was an old cherry orchard and there were these wonderful trees, old cherry trees, almost like a little forest. And I would sit in the yard and just stare at the trees. It was great. I loved it.”
Some of Dennison’s paintings recall the aesthetics and idyllic impressions of that time, but a closer look at his work reveals more than mere nostalgia.
“I’m aware of what’s going on in the world, so it inserts itself into my narrative … you want to be part of the world. I think we have a responsibility to engage in it, or at least try and focus what’s going on in the world and I am trying to do that with my drawings and my paintings.”
Dennison’s parents gave him an oil paint set when he turned 12. These new tools opened the door for him to explore and process his ever-expanding world through art.
“The signal for me in my teen years was humans. And then I started evolving and making it more stories. And I’ve always been interested in the news in the world and so the painting suddenly became more of a vehicle of my feelings and the world around me, whereas before it was more of a secret world. So I went from this kind of cloistered, secret world to more of just telling stories about what was going on.”
Dennison’s work offers a chance to connect the images and aesthetics of the protected, cloistered world of his youth with the more grown-up perceptions of how humans impact the larger world with intriguing stories about encroachment, technology and climate change.