Q & A: Artist Matthew Best

Last week, the Arts Council’s 100 Pearl Street Gallery opened its doors to “Interface: New Work,” Paintings by Matthew Best, which will be on display until June 2nd. After spending some time with the work, I was impressed with the texture of Matt’s canvases. There are layers of brushstrokes and drawn lines that catalog his choices and movements in each piece. I immediately thought of Harold Rosenberg, the art critic who coined the term “action painting” to describe the work of young painters like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline in 1952. He saw in their work a new interaction between painter and canvas, where the surface was a space in which to act – the painting became a record of the encounter between the artist and his canvas. Matt upholds this tradition, but reinvigorates it.

To delve deeper into his work and thoughts, and to prepare for his exhibition’s opening reception this Thursday, April 12th from 5pm-7pm, I asked Matt a few questions about what inspires his art.

What led you to pursue painting in your artistic career?

I had always done a lot of drawing for most of my life. It wasn’t until I took my first painting class in high school that I had a kind of aha! moment. While I had always enjoyed drawing, I absolutely loved painting. I don’t quite know what it was, in part I think it was being able to use color. Also perhaps the paint itself, I just liked playing with it.

My first experience with painting in high school was with children’s tempera paint which was really difficult to work with, but I did what I would consider my first “real” painting. It was a monochromatic landscape painting of a river in France. I was really excited and proud of that painting.. .

I later majored in painting at Hartford Art School, I worked with two amazing professors who have since passed on, Susan Wilmarth-Rabineau and Stephen Brown. I learned the expressive power of paint from them; that paint isn’t something that you just place on a canvas – it is a wonderful substance that you manipulate and play with. I will always be in their debt.

Can you talk about some of your creative influences, where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere. Specific art influences would be 20th century modernism, in particular the Abstract Expressionists. I’m constantly inspired by the works of Joan Mitchell, Willem De Kooning, Phillips Guston and Richard Diebenkorn. Cubism is always in the back of my mind. I fell in love with Cubism while in high school and I’ve never gotten it out of my system. I like how it organizes and distorts space. It is probably more of an influence on me than I realize.

I am constantly inspired by my practice of yoga which has deepened and expanded my awareness of my body, both positively and negatively. Yoga requires great mental focus and physical strength to maintain the poses – if one of these elements is missing, you fall. These paintings strive to achieve this same balance. Art, like yoga, can be difficult. If something is out of balance it can ruin the piece, or make it…you never know. Yoga has taught me to be patient with my work. If you’re wanting to get into yourself, or you practice yoga and you’re wanting to enlighten others to the power of yoga and what it can do for the physical and mental body, look into yoga teacher training.

Twitter has been a surprising source of inspiration. Thanks to Twitter I have met exciting and interesting artists all over the world that I otherwise would never have had the chance to. It is a source of constant stimulation. I even got the titles for a number of paintings for my current show from Twitter. I explained the ideas I wanted to express and tweets came back with words describing that exhibition’s theme. Interface…perfect.

How does Hartford factor in to your work? Anything that really makes this a great place to live and create work?

My first experiences viewing art were at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. I still vividly remember elementary school field trips to the museum and seeing the mummy and the Sunbather by Duane Hanson. In high school after I became more interested in art I used to go to the Atheneum as often as I could. It was an essential part of my education as an artist. I was exposed to so much art. I was really lucky to have the museum as a resource. Much of their collection has been a constant presence in my life, kind of like old friends.

My studio is in the same building as Real Art Ways and I’m grateful to have such a great space to work. There is such diversity of people and scenery within the Hartford area, these influences are constant within my work. And with venues such as the Greater Hartford Arts Council showing and bringing in new talent its great to see the city building up its arts community. What I love about living here is that Hartford is a city, with all the character and diversity of larger cities, but without having the more negative realities and pressures of living and working in those larger cities.

What are you working on now? What direction is your work taking?

Since finishing my paintings for the 100 Pearl Street Gallery show, I have mostly focused on drawing. I have been working on a series of somewhat large ink on paper drawings focusing mainly on mark-making and gesture repeated over and over again. They have a sort of disorienting feeling to them, as you look at them different layers of the drawings seems to emerge. The impulse is to interpret them as writing but they are, of course, purely abstract. After working so intently on the paintings I have found them more relaxing and somewhat playful to work on.

I recently took a trip to Detroit to visit friends and the graffiti combined with the decayed architecture was really exciting and interesting to me. A few sketches I have done since have reflected this but nothing concrete has come out of it yet. A rougher way to working, the application of paint is looser.

Thanks to Matt for answering my questions! You can learn more about Matt by following him on Twitter (@Matthew_Best) and checking out his Tumblr pages : http://newparkave.tumblr.com/ http://matthewjbest.tumblr.com.

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