The eye cannot see itself seeing without a mirror. Likewise, lacking reflection, we fail to grasp the structure of experience, the human order we impose on the amorphous, sensual mass of our desires. What is more, our own habits of thought and action blind us to how we betray beliefs and values we claim to live by until others react to our hypocrisy. For almost two decades, Matthew Carver has exposed these three blind spots—the physical, the cognitive and the political—in his paintings, playfully combining them to bring viewers face-to-face with themselves. Always beautiful but never gratuitously so, Carver’s paintings leave one marvelling at his technical mastery of anamorphic form and colour. In his earlier works, his playing with our physical and cognitive blind spots yielded a simpler pleasure. As his focus shifted to the political in the past decade, the mirror he turns on human nature has darkened to emulate the state control and violence of global capitalism reflected behind us.

In Night of the World, for the first time, Carver expands the political arena to stage the art world itself. Here, he paints the libidinal economy of contemporary art as it appears in the tastefully modernist domains of elite, global collectors. The opulent minimalism of these art-adorned spaces betrays a lack of life: besides two Dobermans and a pond of koi—themselves status symbols more than pets—the only inhabitants of this elite world are decorations, figures in the paintings-within-paintings. With no lives to depict, Carver frees the spaces for us to inhabit as we shift our gaze from one piece to another, only to find the work on the walls inscribed on the walls in the work. With this visual recursion, Carver implicates himself, and us, too, in the space he paints and thereby in his critique. Last to appear, the darkness of these paintings, the trap of the trappings of capital, resolves only with a careful look, the violent explosions mostly relegated offstage.

Yet even the night of the world holds hope. Haunting several of these paintings are two historical figures: the cult esotericist and choreographer Georgi Gurdjieff and his one-time acolyte Olgivanna Hinzenberg (third wife of Frank Lloyd Wright). Imagining them living their flawed lives illuminates a space behind the stifling, empty modern perfection. By returning to the past with this hint of narrative, we regain a sense of history and a context for grasping the contradictions of our own time.

Kevin Temple, 2015.