For years, my professional work with survivors of abuse and trauma showed me the worst that humanity could do to itself. Seeing the unkindness of one person to another, and seeing my own failures to live up to to my best moral potential as well, meant I was constantly exposed to the worst of ourselves. Not only was I hearing from survivors about the worst things they had endured, but I had found myself also becoming less kind, less humble, and less connected to others.
My art is what helps me undo that damage in my own life. It helps me focus on what's beautiful in the world, which is why the people I portray in my paintings are peaceful, respectful, and fulfilled connections between each other and creation. You'll see men and women interacting as equals, relationships that are healthy, and reverent interactions between humans and nature. Creating each piece of art therapeutically reminds me to also strive to put myself back into balance, and to work to become the man I actually want to be as well. I haven't always been that person, but I'm working on it. Each painting is another step in my own efforts to become a better person, more humble, more respectful, and more free of my own past failures and regrets as a person.
It's working. Today I am closer to being that person than I was a year ago. I'm more patient, less brash, more thoughtful, kinder, and less materialistic than I was. I'm still working on it, but art, volunteering, counseling, and contemplation have all genuinely helped me change by reminding me what actually matters in life. I hope those good feelings continue in each home where a piece of my work finds its place; creating art has certainly helped clarify my own values.
Today, I'm a better father, a better husband, and a better member of society, and I'm more focused now on what I can do to uplift others than on my own needs from others.
"Unity of Spirit" - Original oil, 48w x 24h, Available
I wanted to make a really big romantic piece, and this is one of the largest I've ever done. Four feet wide! It's painted on canvas on aluminum-backed birch panel.
The scene depicts a Siksika (Blackfoot) couple at the shores of Maligne Lake in Canada, an area which is now within Jasper National Park and which is also the traditional territory of several First Nations, including the Simpcw Shuswap, Kutenai, Siksika, and others.
Everything in the painting is deliberate, and reflects traditional lore of the First Nations people of the area. The small island in the lake is known as Spirit Island, and it is called this in honor of the spirit of the young woman which still resides there because it was a place where she met the young man with whom she had fallen in love. Even the loon is symbolic, because loons are associated with the sound of courting flutes. The site today is dotted with wildflowers, and that bright blue of the water is exactly right for that lake, and the mountains behind it glow pink at sunset; the whole place is brilliant with color.
The piece as a whole is meant to convey not just romance, but tranquility, connection, and fulfillment. It brought me such a powerfully good feeling to paint. I poured my heart into this one, and in turn it also filled me with a sense of peace and hope, too. I look forward to seeing it bring those feelings into the home of someone who connects with it.
This is one of the most special pieces I've done yet. It may look so simple--a man and teen girl goofing around at a western diner table over a sundae--but there's a lot more going on here.
In 2014, I was in Sheridan, Wyoming on my way to a photoshoot in Montana when my transmission died and stranded me in town for four days. From my tiny motel room I walked to a nearby diner, and while eating I noticed that at a nearby table sat a classic Wyoming country grandfather and his teenage granddaughter--a weird, punky girl with a leather jacket and dyed hair. Grandpa, a cowboy to his core, could not have been more different from her, but they were talking, joking, laughing, and just enjoying every moment of their time together. There wasn't a moment between them that wasn't pure joy and humor. In fact, I got on my phone at the time and described it all, live, on my Facebook wall!
I told the waitress that I wanted to buy their dinner. Afterward, the waitress told me, "You could not have picked two more deserving people to do that for!" She explained the story to me: the girl's single mother (grandpa's daughter) had died of cancer just two years before. Grandpa had taken steps to adopt the granddaughter so that she wouldn't go into a foster care system, even though it meant that the girl would have to leave her city life and come live with him in "cowboy country." So that's how a punky/gothy girl from the city came to be in a diner with her grandpa. And that's why they looks at each other with pure happiness and adoration. The waitress told me they ate there together 2-3 times every week, and were always that happy.
I waited two years before painting this because I wanted to get it exactly right, JUST how I remembered it. The teenage model is my son's best friend, and the grandpa is a Colorado cowboy/horse trainer I met in a diner here (and yes, approached out of the blue to ask for his help for this painting). For me, this piece is special because of the story it tells, and because it brings the lives of a cowboy elder and a young city teenager together in a way that I was lucky enough to see. I also like the juxtaposition of the young trendy cool teen girl with the older western elder; it shows that even as time moves on, we still find ways to connect to our traditions.
Here are the original Facebook posts I wrote live while watching the scene:
Running Eagle Falls in Glacier National Park is named for Pitamaka, "Running Eagle," a Blackfeet woman who performed her vision ceremony at the site in the early 1800s. Pitamaka became a warrior of great renown, even keeping a place in her father's warriors' council lodge. Running Eagle Falls remains a site of significance to the Blackfeet people to this day.
This painting shows a group of young Blackfeet men passing in front of the falls, and spotting a red tailed hawk--a holy omen. I love this site in Glacier--the loud rush of the cold water and the rising mist are just amazing. It is almost magical how the slanted stones of the falls turn from flinty grey in direct sunlight to a warm, luminescent blue-orange at dawn or sunset. I often use golden sunlight in my work, and on the sloping shelves of stone it just seemed perfect.
I'm proud to have two new original works included in the American Plains Artists western show, juried by Art of the West Magazine's Tom Tierney! The show runs August 7 through October 15 at the Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. My two pieces, "Westward with Hope" and "Father's Shield, Warrior's Son" are both part of this tremendous, prestigious show. I am so honored to be among artists I have admired for years!
This painting began with a rough pencil sketch on linen mounted to a birch board. I used a projector to help place guide lines (well, scribbles, really) to map out my basic forms.
Once I had my basic forms in place, I did a quick sketch in charcoal pencil to help plot my dark and light areas. To be successful, this painting would need to have strong contrasts between light and dark values, so that good edges would give form to the major components. With the busy work bench, I didn't want the man and his violin to be lost.
Then I do a light wash of acrylic to help settle the shapes and placements of major forms:
Then comes the underpainting. These are quick, broad strokes of oil paint, simply to help establish the colors of the painting. My goal here is to get the main blocks of color and form down so I can verify that the palette is working well. There's no detail, just brushstrokes.
I start to add detailed brushwork here, and borrow a friend's violin for reference
And now a little more (I lightened the man's shirt, because the warm tones in the picture above were too similar to his face tones, and he was getting lost against the dark wall):
The finished piece:
I have an art degree, including extensive studies in art theory, art history, and exposure to art movements from prehistoric to postmodernism. And I really do love quite a bit of abstract art. But I have to confess, I honestly do not understand the multimillion dollar appeal of a piece such as this. Sorry, Rothko.
I start by cutting linen to size, and adhering it to a birch panel. I use an acid-free conservationist's adhesive made of liquefied plant starch, which will preserve the canvas.
Mounting linen to panel creates a more durable ground for the painting. It resists warping, will not have to be re-stretched every few years, and won't tear or puncture.
A rough pencil sketch helps establish the composition.
A thin wash of acrylic paint over the gesso helps block out the image.
Apparently, as a member of the Oil Painters of America, it is perfectly proper to refer to one's self as a "Member, Oil Painters of America" (or even "Member, OPA") but the specific acronym of just "OPA" by itself is only for Signature members. I'm an associate member, but not an Signature (or "Master") member. This simple mistake in how I describe my membership has been fixed, and hopefully nobody would ever think that my mistaken use of "OPA" rather than "Member of OPA" would have ever been intentional.
To most, it's hardly a big deal--"So Matt used the wrong term to define his membership. He fixed it. Next."--but to some, that is a very significant distinction, so out of respect (and because being artistically ethical is very important to me), I am happy to clarify.
Culture and Traditionalism
Photos and information about traditional culture and art