The idea of painting is to make the invisible visible—and the only means we have to do this is the visible. As impossible as this sounds, I believe it to be the case.

Bonnard did it almost literally: the colors of the spectrum which reside in the air, in light, which are (relatively) invisible (seen occasionally in a rainbow), he made manifestly and abundantly visible in his paintings. He puts color where you don't see or expect any color, and you don't realize until he shows it to you that it was there all the time. It is one of the secret motives of nature. Another is movement. Van Gogh intuited the secret movement in things, the ki, and made it visible for us. With Chardin it is possibly more mysterious: you don't know how or why life is present in his paintings, it just is. He imbued them with the mystery that is life. Gregory Gillespie had this quality too—a kind of intensity—but he put his own crazy spin on it. It's serious but it's playful.

Matisse said that the only light that matters is the light in the artist's brain. He was doing the same thing as Bonnard was—using color as the equivalent of light.

Some abstract painters—the ones who "stract from"—notably Diebenkorn, Hodgkins, Gorky and deKooning, to name the first ones that come to mind—do succeed in making something visible invisible. But for the most part the painters who intrigue me are the ones who have confronted nature, stood in it and worked from it, and seen in it something they were able to give back to us in a visibly understandable form. Cézanne is the best example of this.

The further an artist goes in response to this problem—of making the visible invisible—the closer he comes to the motives of nature.

        — Paul Matthews, 2/16/01

From Painting Notes, 2004-2006

A tension is created between the intention and what happens. If 'what happens' wins, it's better.

In the last fifteen years I have been working towards a resolution of "tight" and "loose" within one work. This present show is the latest version of that effort.

The physicist David Bohm has described reality as being "unbroken wholeness in flowing movement". Despite the evidence, that is what I am after: the 'crystal in the matrix of connective tissue'. I've always felt my painting instinct ro be neuro-vascular.

The great beauty of painting is that everything it says is silent.

In the long battle between painting how things look as opposed to how things feel, though I love both, it turns out that I really like best to paint the way they feel; which turns out to have a look of its own. Sometimes 'look' and 'feel' are one. That's what I hope to make them in my painting.

My purpose in painting is to give flesh to an idea—maybe I should say to a strongly-felt idea. As Yeats put it, "You can't know the truth, you can only embody it." My teacher, Sydney Delevante, told a wonderful story about a first grade kid who, when asked how he went about drawing, said, "I make a 'think' and draw a line around it'. That's pretty much how i proceed, but I am influenced by what happens.

How can the painting be separate from the subject matter, any more than the body can be separate from the spirit?

Some days I feel as if I could finish every unfinished painting in my studio—some days I feel too timid to touch anything, even to start. (But I start anyway.)

Over and over again I've been given the lesson of fear and courage, of lack of confidence and faith: yesterday, as I got towards the end of my day working on Sam Elworthy's head, and began painting wet into wet, slightly heavier paint into wet but thinner paint, and discovered (for the hundredth? thousandth? time) how easy and natural and right this was, wondering why I don't always do it... and then, of course, I was too tired and my knees hurt too much to go on. So I left it to stiffen and dry. This is the lesson—or should be—that there's nothing to fear: take the chance.

        — Paul Matthews, 2007