Beyond Words • Touched by the Art of Ingrid Matthews

Cynthia Albers

May 2, 2016

“We know, there are no words,” wrote a recent correspondent, on a different topic. There are never enough words to describe an experience of tremendous depth, the luminosity of a painting, or the instinctual twist that renders a musical performance freshly unique. Face to face with art, the artist will tell you to dispense with words. The art, alone, beckons you to feel.

Ingrid Matthews, skilled in both visual and musical arts, is fascinated by color. She speaks of differing wavelengths, as they occur in sound and in light, and the captivating quality that emerges as they combine and interact to evoke human sentiment. Acclaimed as one of the finest baroque violinists of her generation, Matthews associates audible tones with visual colors and is guided by this chromatic sensibility when she performs. As a painter, she imparts a rare musical impulse to her work, creating each composition with the discipline and fortitude of a classical performer versed in improvisation.

Strata, 2014
Strata • 2014 • Acrylic on Canvas


Chancing upon the mid-century paintings of chromatic abstractionist Mark Rothko, Matthews, as a young adult, was strongly influenced by the vibrancy of his simple forms and brilliant statements of color. Perhaps it was synchronicity that Rothko was also deeply moved by classical music, and claimed to have become a painter in order to raise the art form “to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.”[1] Matthews, a child of musician parents, has been consistently motivated to create both visual art and music. A dynamic orchestra performance experienced in her early teens led her to pursue the visceral qualities in music, but she now sees the potential in painting to express those same qualities. “I believe that the abstract use of color and form is capable of describing emotional energies with an incisive precision,” she emphasizes, “far beyond what words offer.”

Night window
Night Window • 2015 • Acrylic on Panel

Favoring a textured application of acrylic on paper or canvas, her paintings are inspired by the musical elements she understands innately: rhythm, line, and the layering that creates harmony. Other inspirations are landscape, geometry, and philosophical questions relating to our purpose on earth. She finds square forms to be grounding, but has, in her recent work, explored rectangular images that suggest an open window or passageway, movement between worlds or a step into the unknown.


A process painter, Matthews has made tiled paintings by first creating a preliminary work on paper that serves as the raw material for a finished piece. Each painting is styled with a great deal of freedom and then cut into tiles with clean edges. The tiles serve as building blocks from which she creates abstract images. She feels a release of “palpable energy” as she cuts and regroups the tiles with increasing precision; the process seeks to achieve a balance between the “opposing forces of control and abandon.”

Untitled • 2011 • Acrylic on Paper

The Road Less Traveled

It is worth mentioning that around the same time Matthews was discovering Rothko’s paintings, she became irreversibly drawn to the baroque violin. Already engaged in traditional violin studies, in a prestigious studio reserved for those with greatest potential, she stepped away from her appointed path and onto a very different one. For the purpose of this article I will focus on the (tone) color attraction that captured her attention. Tuned approximately a half step lower than its modern counterpart, the baroque violin speaks from a deeper resonance. Unwound gut strings produce a rich palette of tone colors, distinct from modern metallic strings that are valued for their durability and projection. In short, the listener is drawn into the color of the performance rather than its magnitude. A different expression from what is considered classical, the baroque style can also be an improvisatory style. Thirty years after discovering the baroque violin it is this colorful, improvisational expression that defines Matthews’s musical voice. Audio: Ingrid Matthews, violin


The suggestion of doorways, passageways, and portals in Matthews’s art can be considered on various levels, but she concedes that the primary relationship is with music. “Music is a doorway, and doorways represent openings and new possibilities. The moment a piece of music starts, a new energetic space opens up and we are invited in. This exploration of energetic space, through music and through art, is fundamental to our human experience.”

Equanimity • 2013 • Acrylic on Paper

Continually moved by the colorful byproduct of sound waves and light waves, and portals that open to artistic discoveries and life pathways, Matthews continues to explore visual and performing arts with passion and high standards. Although there are few realistic opportunities to engage with both arts at the same time, she occasionally brings a painting-in-progress to her music studio, where she studies it while practicing for her next violin performance.

Ostinato • 2014 • Acrylic on Canvas

© 2016 Cynthia Albers, all rights reserved



Ingrid Matthews is a resident of Seattle, Washington, where she co-founded the Seattle Baroque Orchestra in 1994 and served as its music director before stepping down from the position in 2013. She continues to perform as a baroque violin soloist and chamber musician and also studies jazz improvisation. Her paintings have been exhibited in Seattle and other areas of the Pacific Northwest and selected for juried exhibitions at Linus Galleries. Her works are exhibited for sale at Saatchi Art or by contacting her directly Ingrid Matthews.


All images in this article were created by Ingrid Matthews Olson

[1] Christopher Rothko, Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out, Yale University Press, 2015