Mercedes Carles Matter was a dedicated painter and teacher who played an important role in the New York art world and the history of American art. Her art and her philosophy of teaching grew from her father, Arthur B. Carles, and her teacher and friend Hans Hofmann. Matter's striking beauty and some of her talent in art came from her mother, Mercedes de Cordoba Carles. Her parents were living separately from the time she was born except for part of one year they all spent in France. On her visits to her father, he would let her paint in his studio, which encouraged her to think of herself as an artist. The first concentrated time she spent with him as an adult was during the summer of 1934, when she was studying with Hans Hofmann in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
After deciding not to finish college, Matter joined Hofmann’s painting class at the Art Students’ League. Hofmann’s ideas about painting and her father’s were similar, since both had been in Paris during the birth of Fauvism and Cubism. Matter studied with Hofmann in Gloucester in 1933, at the Hans Hofmann School he opened on Madison Avenue in the fall, at The Thurn School in Gloucester in 1934, and for the first of many years in Provincetown from 1935. She was proud of how she got Hofmann, who had been only drawing in black and white, back into painting at age 54, the first step in the development of his signature style of painting with pure color. They remained life-long friends.
Matter became a life-long teacher herself, and she played an important role in the
history of American art as the founder of the New York Studio School. The catalyst for the school was the article "What’s Wrong with U.S. Art Schools?" she wrote for Art News in September 1963, in reaction to the emergence of Pop Art and academic college art departments. She envisioned and then created a school where students could concentrate full time on drawing, painting, sculpture, history of art, taught by artists "whose work and thinking are alive." First set up in a Greenwich Village loft, it opened in the fall of 1964, in 1967 the school found its permanent home at 8 West 8th Street, formerly Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s studios and then the home of the first Whitney Museum of American Art. The New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture attracted major artists and scholars as teachers and impacted the lives of generations of students over the years. Matter was the first dean of the school and taught there until the end of her life. Her contribution as a teacher was honored by the College Art Association’s Distinguished Teaching of Art Award in 1978.
She has recently received deserved recognition in several retrospective exhibitions at the Mishkin Gallery of Baruch College, New York City; the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California; and a mini-retrospective at Mark Borghi Fine Arts.
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