Student Spotlight: Printmaker dives into themes of power, idolization

Using various printmaking techniques, UI BFA printmaking senior, Casey Mathews, uses his skills to make unique prints. He will be displaying his art at the BFA show Feb. 10-15 at the Visual Arts Building.


Emily Wangen

University of Iowa BFA student Casey Mathews poses for a portrait on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, inside of his studio space located in the Visual Arts building. Mathews is a printmaker and began studying art after taking a general education art class.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Editor

In the right-hand corner of the University of Iowa Visual Arts Building printing studio lies a desk covered with spray paint bottles, charcoal drawings of people pinned to the wall. Standing among it all isCasey Mathews, a UI B.F.A. printmaking student.

Dressed in black clothing and a bright orange hat, Mathews pulled his most recent prints from a filing cabinet — multi-colored yarn tied to its handle —  near his desk, revealing three prints that each have “yes, no, and maybe,” spray painted on them. The first print shown had Jesus, a mushroom cloud, the word “no,” and several other objects and textures on a gray background.

Mathews’ work tugs at themes of power and the idolization of figures in power within a religion, government, or some form of social establishment.

“People [travel] to go see figures or a speaker or go to a religious event,” he said. “There’s a lot of life and time devoted to doing those things, and I think that’s really interesting and how people have really centered their life around those sorts of structures.”

The printmaker applies different techniques of printmaking — such as lithographs and screen-printing — to the same print, overlapping the skills he acquired while at the UI. He strives to learn about artists who have come before him, latest being Robert Raushenberg, an artist who explored collage and integrating printmaking into original pieces, described Mathews.

“I’ve been making, very recently, things that include five or six different processes that are one-offs, but they use printmaking as a drawing tool instead of a reproduction method,” Mathews said.

After taking a drawing class last semester, charcoal drawings began to make their way onto Mathews’ wall, and eventually into the final prints, he said while pointing towards a drawing of an angel.

While Mathews’ path led him to drawings, prints, and other works of art in his shared fourth-floor studio, his interests when he first stepped on campus would tell a different story.

Before coming to college, Mathews considered delving into the realm of math and science because he did well in his classes, but kick-started his UI experience as an English and  philosophy major, and even dabbled in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

“I would tell my grandparents that I would want art supplies for Christmas and birthday gifts,” he said. “I got a long ways away from [art] in high school, and I started to do math and science stuff. And then I came to college and took one art class and kind of re-found out that I enjoyed it.”

Eventually drawn to printmaking by former M.F.A student Rachel Kauff, Mathews noted that he enjoys printmaking because people with a low income can afford prints, as they might not be able to afford an original painting.

“Printmaking is kind of like a democratic art for the people,” he said. “It’s obviously a way of reproduction of an image, and naturally, an image that can be reproduced is going to be less valuable than a one of a kind.”