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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Tom Matt's newspaper impressions

Artist Tom Matt

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a Soho cafe sipping my coffee and I became mesmerized by a drawing of a New York City streetscape that hung above me. There was something very interesting about the artists technique that drew me in... there were ghostly typed words peeking through layers of graphite and oil paint. And then I realized, the artist used the New York Times front page as its canvas. I love art and design that is memorable and his work resonated with me. Ever since that moment, I have followed the artwork of Tom Matt and wondered what gave him this idea?  I was able to catch up with Tom for an embracing interview which uncovers the crux of his work...

Tom explains, "when I was living in Manhattan right before the millennium, I wanted to create a body of work that said 'New York' in a unique way, but didn't want to use white paper or canvas as a surface. I never drew cityscapes up to that point, and I felt inspired to try. One day as I was sitting in a cafe on McDougal Street, I found myself sketching a view through the front window. I was drawing on top of a torn scrap of newspaper, using a black marker and white-out that I was carrying in my pocket. When I finished, I loved the mid-tone effect of the newspaper and texture of copy that 'showed through' the drawing. It was then and there that a light bulb turned on in my mind – the idea of a 'series' of cityscapes on top of the front pages of newspapers came-to-life."

What inspired you to become an artist?

For me, art was something I grew up around since I was a child. My parents are both professional fine artists and professors, and I saw them every day, working in their studios at home, drawing, painting, designing in fabric, and making sculpture. In fact, when I was very young, I thought all of my friends' parents had studios too, 'like us' – I thought it was just 'normal'! My dad received a two year Prix de Rome in 1970 when I was 4 years old, and our family lived in Rome during that time. This experience left an impression on me, and introduced me to a world full of artists, fascinating museums, and interesting cultures and languages. I was always drawing and making things over the years, through elementary and high school, where I had some great art teachers. I attended art school for a period at Boston University, the Lyme Academy of Fine Art in CT, and later, the School of Visual Arts in NY. In recently years, a painting instructor in Brooklyn named Andy Reiss has also been influential. Growing up with art, I found that it came easily to me and it felt empowered and happy in discovering and expressing my creative process and vision.  

In three words, describe your artistic style.

Impressionistic, Representational, Conceptual.

Can you describe your creative process and the essence of what you wanted to capture in The Series NY, Paris and Kansas City MO?

I enjoy the series of 'moments' the add up to become the creation of a piece of art. When I start, I walk to the news-stand to pick up my 'canvas'. This is a magical and almost 'ceremonial' first step. I have no idea what articles will cover the front page of the paper, whether the issues will be agreeable or hard for me to read. This often unexpected 'reality' I'm about to face will merge and become part of the art. I accept this tension that makes the experience feel 'new' and makes me ready for 'perform'. Then, the actual drawing of the art itself is both enjoyable and done with a lot of thought, care and focus. I work 'on location' over a month's time. 'Finding' the view and just the right spot to stand, before I even start is a major part of the piece – as important as actually painting it. Hearing the city hum around me and encountering a diversity of passers-by also adds to the experience. Simplicity in color palette is a general theme, although in particular pieces I've also enjoyed exploring its complexity. It put final touches on my work in my studio. Knowing 'when to stop' is something I need to 'listen for'. Minutes can sometimes become hours between going back and forth between 'not yet' and 'done'.

What I want to 'capture' in each cityscape is often much more than simply 'the subject'. Its the 'movement' of the whole composition, the combination of abstract forms and shadow-shapes and how they 'work' together on the page, and the play of color and the tone of these forms within foreground, mid-ground and background. Its the managing and orchestration of these elements that is exciting.

Another inspiring part of the creative process is when a client commissions me to make a piece of artwork. The 'date on the page' they choose carries a lot of meaning for them – as it represents the celebration of 'the day' of a wedding, the birth of a child, an anniversary, birthday or... This is then tied together with a special city-view relating to the experience of the event or people involved. In these commissions, I'm grateful to be invited into the personal and memorable events of everyone involved.

Who and what are your ultimate muses in fashion, music, art and/or architecture that have shaped your art collections?

Jazz speaks to me most when I create my work on newspaper. Its melodies and rhythms are intuitive and interpretive, which mirror a large part of my process. Having lived on the island of Manhattan, I must say that its bridges hold a special place for me. But there is no particular 'architecture' that directly inspires my work. I will say though that often the juxtaposition and contrast of 'old and new' buildings create an appealing and unexpected visual dynamic that I like. A mixture of artists I admire: Degas, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Hassam, Bonnard, Vuillard, Hopper, Porter, Wyeth, Diebenkorn, Desiderio among others... They vary and interchange month by month. 

What collection are you most proud of and why?

All three Series hold meaning for me as my creative experience and expression are wrapped up in them. Let me mention Paris too, as it was impressive and wonderful. In particular, I respond to how each part of the city, with the Seine River running through it, was designed with such forethought and care. In my work, I hope to be able to continue new series in new cities. In fact, I recently moved to Kansas City MO and am just beginning a newspaper series there. On my website, you can see more pieces in my series, as well as other branches of my art:

Thank you Tom for a wonderful interview!!

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