Matt Demers is based in Maine and creates colorful collage-influenced canvases. They are bright, gestural, and therefore full of energy, drawing on an interest in old-time signage and Americana. Check out the studio shot about halfway through! And you can follow the link after the Q&A to his website where you can scout out more examples of his work.
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Hi Matt! You're from Maine and have a pretty varied background with experience in sign painting, graphic design, embroidery, even grave digging! Can you tell me a bit more about you? When or how did you first become interested in painting?
I've always enjoyed graphic design so I've done work in a lot of different aspects of it either for a company or on my own. I try to learn as much as I can and different elements from different design jobs have affected my artwork in a positive way. I come from a line of cemetery caretakers so that's where grave digging comes in. It's always interesting to see peoples faces when that comes up in conversation. I've had a lot of other less interesting jobs and experiences because I really just like to learn new things and learn about the people that are doing different things. As far as my artwork goes my mom is a really creative person. She instilled her creative spirit in me and always encouraged me to think differently and to look at things differently. So I've been creating in different aspects my whole life but in high school I got more serious about my artwork and painting has always been where I found the most enjoyment and fulfillment.
You incorporate other materials into your work as well, somewhat collage-style. What sort of places do you find your materials -- or your ideas?
I like to use elements of collage, along with other mediums, to add another dimension to my work besides just paint. I buy and sell antiques on the side and when I'm out looking for items there's no shortage of old paper pieces so that's what I like to use for collage material. I'm happy when I'm able to find a box of hundreds of the same item that I can use on multiple pieces. I like repeating visual elements over a series in my work.
How do you start work on a new piece? How much do you plan a composition beforehand?
It all depends on what I'm working on. Most of my work is non representational but I do more representational pieces and commissions occasionally which I will sketch out and plan more. With most of my pieces I just start right into it and the biggest decision I make is to start with a light or dark color or a material besides paint. I make a few marks to begin and then the piece builds off of those until I feel that it's finished.
Describe your studio! Do you have any routines or rituals there? How much time do you typically spend there every day?
My current studio is a former fraternal organization's meeting hall in a very old building. There's plenty of space and great light and I'm surrounded by old objects I've collected that inspire me. I'm really fortunate to have a space like it to create my work. I'm usually there two or three hours per day most weekdays, sometimes more, and most of the day either Saturday or Sunday. Some days I'm just preparing surfaces to work on or I might just be sitting in my chair reading, and other days I can be working on multiple pieces at once. My only real rituals there are music and coffee.
I notice the inclusion of labels like "Handle with Care" or "Via Air Mail" - is there a significance to these messages?
That's an example of vintage paper pieces that I found recently that I like to repeat over multiple pieces. I want the significance to be subjective. To me a lot of the words I use in my pieces have to do with my thoughts about impermanence and the passage of time.
What has your art education been like, formal or otherwise?
I haven't had any formal art training. I have a few artist mentors who I've spent a lot of time with and learned so much from. Besides that my education is something I've pursued on my own through reading, visiting galleries and museums and getting involved in the local art community.
Are there any lessons or pieces of advice you've taken to heart as you've pursued painting?
Use good materials. Stop comparing yourself to other artists. Presentation is very important. Make work ultimately for yourself. Those are a few things people have said to me that stuck with me.
What is the toughest part of trying to pursue art as a career? What do you feel like you need the most?
There are so many amazing artists making great work that it's hard sometimes to not get discouraged about your work. So that goes back to not comparing yourself to other artists. We all need money to survive and I'm not making enough from my work alone to pay bills so I have to work other jobs. So time management is a challenge for me with work, art, and social life. What I feel I need the most is more time.
How do you define "success" as an artist?
Well one definition of success is the attainment of popularity or profit. I think that's definitely what I think of when I talk about artists I consider successful. I think it's okay to define success that way but it shouldn't be the ultimate goal. I try to just make consistent work that I'm happy with and that I feel defines me.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding or exciting aspect of doing what you do?
When someone loves something you made from a pile of materials and wants to give you money for it, it doesn't get much better.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
My next exhibition will be at the Clio Art Fair in New York City in March.
Find more at mattdemersart.com!
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