America on a First Name Basis: Matthew Cornell

May 20 – September 3, 2022


Matthew Cornell’s new series of oil paintings, many of which were created in 2021 and 2022, is being exhibited for the first time at the Zillman Art Museum. America on a First Name Basis depicts an assortment of mom-and-pop businesses found along stretches of America’s backroads. These intimate outposts are meeting places that locals frequent for an inexpensive bite of food and the comfort of seeing familiar faces. Cornell’s enjoyment of traveling small byways—along with his desire to connect with people—served as inspiration for the works. The paintings portray places that the artist and his wife visited with a desire to “hear about the lives” of local residents. Many off-the-beaten-path eateries and groceries, with their informal homey charm, are in decline; independent owners being supplanted by giant corporations with slick brands.  

The level of realism in Cornell’s paintings is achieved through many hours of work. He exhaustively studies every detail of his chosen subjects—“every line and every brick and every window”— is considered. The depicted buildings in these compositions, some as small as 7 x 7 inches, document aspects of Americana, and as Cornell states “are the backbone of another era.” The artist has meticulously rendered the unique settings and features of these road-side businesses with their hand-painted signs, aged exteriors, and weathered parking lots. Adding to the drama is Cornell’s ability to capture the transient nature of light. The works reflect these local spots at various times of day, from a sky of tranquil drifting day-time clouds, to the moody lights and incandescent signs of the buildings at night.  


Matthew Cornell oil painting "Susie Q's"       Matthew Cornell oil painting "Chris' Corner"

Left: MATTHEW CORNELL (American, born 1964). Susie Q’s, 2019. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the Lohmar Family.

Right: MATTHEW CORNELL (American, born 1962). Chris’s Corner, 2022. Oil on panel. Courtesy of the artist.


Press Release for Matthew Cornell can be found here: MATTHEW CORNELL_PressRelease