Matt Simon, artist in residence at Main Street Arts, during the month of September 2018, is working in one of our two studio spaces on our second floor. We asked Matt some questions about their work and studio practice:
Q: Tell us about your background.
I’m from Denver, Colorado, and lived in various neighborhoods around the city growing up. I didn’t really make much art in grade school (I had two art classes during those twelve years), and ended up getting into art pretty much on accident — I actually applied to a bunch of engineering schools, but ended up choosing Oberlin for financial reasons.
Still, I entered college with the intent of majoring in physics. I sat next to the painting professor at a first-year orientation event, and she encouraged me to take a class with her since I’d always had a vague interest in making more art but hadn’t really acted on it. I did so my second semester, and during a class field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art first saw the painting Lot’s Wife by Anselm Kiefer, and was enamored with its scale and textural aptitude. But during another trip to the museum with some friends during commencement week at the end of the year, the painting’s emotional weight hit me. I had to figure out how Kiefer was able to provoke such a strong reaction through an image, and I was hooked.
Q: How would you describe your work?
I think the best descriptor of my work is tactile — I love creating textures that make you want to touch them, and have slowly figured out various material processes that result in ones I’ve integrated into many of my pieces. My favorite one is probably a mixture of acrylic, sand, clay, and iron oxide, which dries thick and claylike, but much more sturdy due to the acrylic and sand; this can be seen most plainly in my book, Weathering.
My longest-running subject material is the mythology of the American West, which has a long and complex history I’m still working to understand more completely. I feel a deep affinity for the landscape of that region, especially in Colorado and New Mexico. But at the same time, that affinity is enabled by the genocide and displacement of the indigenous peoples who lived there. I draw on that tension as inspiration for my work.
Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
Most of my work begins textually, often from written sources on the West and the period of westward expansion. I find imagery or stories in these which I draw from to create preliminary ideas for pieces. A couple of my favorite textual sources for this kind of working are Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
Once I have that initial idea, I’ll try to figure out which medium best suits the idea, whether it be one of my usual assortment of book, painting, sculpture, or print, or some combination of those. I’ll occasionally make a more formal sketch of something, like on a small canvas before moving to a large one, but often I’d rather just jump in with the idea and follow where it takes me as I work the image over and over. I find my choice of mediums fairly forgiving since I can usually just add more material over the last layer if I want to change something, which helps this approach.
Q: Do you collect anything?
I like to collect natural materials, especially rocks and plants, and some of my pieces even end up incorporating them. My favorites are the ones I have that remind me of Colorado and New Mexico.
Q: Who is your favorite artist and why?
I have a hard time picking favorites, so I’d say there’s a three way tie: I’ve already talked about Anselm Kiefer, but I also love the work of Doris Salcedo, whose sculptures always have a level of detail that seems completely impossible, and Kathe Kollwitz — I don’t know of anyone who can create more depth in black space. I’d be happy to be one-tenth as good at that.
Q: What type of music do you listen to? How does music affect your artwork?
I mostly listen to things in the vicinity of indie, folk, and bluegrass, with some hip-hop/rap in there as well. I often end up playing music that feels like it suits the piece I’m working on, so I sometimes will listen to an album or even a single song on repeat if I’m really focusing in on that correlation.
Q: What are your goals for this residency? Tell us about your current projects.
I love making large-scale works, but unfortunately studio space where I live, in Seattle, is expensive, prohibitively so for a space big enough to do works of that size. So I’m planning on taking full advantage of the space I’ll have for the month and working on some good-sized pieces. I’m going to try making a book at least the same size as my largest so far (2×3’), or maybe even bigger!
Q: What’s next for you?
I plan on starting to apply for MFA programs in the next year or two. It’s a little intimidating how many incredibly skilled artists are competing for admission (especially for the well-funded ones), so I want to get to a place where I feel more confident in my portfolio first.