Profile | Matt Leines

Harold Ramis, 2013 Acrylic on paper, 18” x 24”

A happy creature drifting through the kitchen cosmos. Native American name-givers and the zig-zag of eternity.  These are just a few of the themes found in Matt LeinesHyperbolic world.  When I first laid eyes on Matt’s work, it conjured up memories of my inspiring discoveries of the 1980’s East Village Art Scene and The Hairy Who of 1960’s Chicago all at once.  His use of color and repetitious pattern create visual stimuli that are both moving and restrictive simultaneously.  He creates objects and people that are from a fictional prehistoric time warp, and you really do get transported as you take notice to the hypnotic line and pattern in his work.  As a graphic surrealist, Matt’s work is something that transcends and moves on from the past to create a fresh and relevant view of objects and figurative work.

Below are a few questions Matt answered about his life, work, and process:

LC: When in your life did you know you were going to be an artist?  Is there a significant time or memory you can remember that initially inspired you to pursue painting?

ML: The thought has always been there. My mom says as soon as I was able to grip a pencil or crayon or whatever, one was constantly in my hand.  Which is funny because the way I hold a pencil is wrong and really tight so I guess I was so used to my certain way that by the time I would have been taught the correct way it was a lost cause.  And now I’ve got some strange callouses to show for it.

In school growing up it was known that I was the kid who drew things and I think I may have had a little more leeway about getting away with drawing when I should have been following a lesson.  I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Polzer, hanging up some drawings and if it wasn’t explicitly encouraged few teachers actively discouraged it except for one guidance counselor in high school, but he was a shithead.

When it gets to becoming a painter that gets a little trickier.  I went to the Rhode Island School of Design initially for industrial design but quickly decided against that route and chose illustration as a major instead.  I wanted to be a toy designer but found out it was more about mathematical drafting and CAD programs than I had realized and went with illustration because I’d be drawing all the time just like I’d been doing forever.  So I had a lot of focus on making pictures that solved problems and finding inventive ways to describe mundane articles, which still plays a big role in how I make pictures.  But it wasn’t until my junior year that I was exposed to different kinds of work that I understood that being a fine artist or whatever you want to call it was a possibility.  I was introduced to work by Chris Johanson, Barry McGee and especially Gary Panter and other works stemming from there.   Stuff that from first glance had more in common with the pop culture landscape of a boy growing up in the 1980’s than it did with most of the things taught in the art history lectures.  As I learned more and matured as a picture maker myself, however, the context of where this type of work was sitting in the realm of art history became more apparent which then of course lead to even more discoveries as I know it did for many other artists coming up at the same time.

Rob, 2012 Acrylic on paper, 18” x 24”

LC: You just celebrated your 1 year anniversary of living in New York.  How has your move to Brooklyn influenced your work and thought process when creating?

ML: That’s still something I’m trying to wrap my head around I guess.  I lived just outside the city in New Jersey for a long time so I consider myself a New York artist even if it’s only been official for the past year.  But recently I was in Philadelphia for four years which wasn’t the right fit for me.  It’s refreshing to be back up here, around old friends and just generally being in a place where there’s always something going.  That also becomes a great motivator. I definitely feel like I have more to prove here being surrounded by so many great artists.

Painter In His Studio, 2013 Acrylic on paper, 30” x 22.5”

LC: Have your sources of inspiration changed since you began painting?  What was the main influence for your upcoming show Hyperbolic?

ML: Sources change all the time and the recent work I’ve been making allows for a lot more imagery to present itself.  For a while, basically from 2002-2008, all of the work I was making was part of one large series essentially.  The way I described it was as if all of that work was the collected output of a culture of people who were just recently discovered. The drawings and paintings I was making were the record of the people depicted in the pictures.  This lead to a number of rules I thought I needed to follow which ultimately lead to restricting things I thought shouldn’t exist in that world and kind of took the fun out of the whole thing.  So I decided to break from that canon and start fresh in a way with a different process and trying to have as few rules as possible.  But old habits die hard and it took a while to adjust.

But I think the result is a much fresher view where anything is a possibility.  I used to be hesitant to reference real world things but now that rule is completely out the window.  There’s much more of a reflection of the now as opposed to some undefined past in my older work. I don’t know if I can identify the main influence yet.  Sometimes it takes me some time away from the work to look back and put the pieces back together because as I’m figuring things out it’s really so many disparate influences working together.  I guess there’s more of me in this work than ever before, which looking back on seems like a silly thing to try to distance from the work I was making.  But now I even want it to be silly or funny because that’s a better representation of what I am when I allow myself to break all of those goddamned self imposed rules.

Untitled (Portrait). 2009. Acrylic and collaged paper on panel. 16” x 26”

LC: What has driven you to make art for the past 10+ years?

ML: I can’t see myself doing anything else at this point.

LC: Is there any significance to your use of pattern and outline within your work?

ML: Using patterns was initially a way for me to define shapes in a more interesting way than using flat color.  My work has always been pretty graphic and relies on outlines.  That’s probably the result of cartoons and comics playing an important role in what I though made for an exciting image and the fact that I don’t really have depth perception.  I developed a lazy eye when I was young and because of that I see things differently.  It takes a lot of work to focus them together, to see a 3D movie for instance, so most of the time I see things without stereo vision.  I always just thought that was how it was for everyone else and didn’t actually find this out until just a few years ago.  But it answered a lot of questions.  Because it started at a young age my mind corrects it, so I can tell something is in the distance because I know its supposed to be and it never really gets in the way.  But it has impacted how I see forms.  In figure drawing classes I wouldn’t really be able to see form, but rather my mind would translate it linearly.  So if I was supposed to be just painting with tone it wouldn’t work out that well.  I kind of see it like the earliest steps in a “How to Draw Something” book where it’s some circles and curves and then my mind fills in the blanks.  But those limitations went on to define my style.  Since I couldn’t really work with tonality, patterns became a way to disguise those shortcomings.  As I worked at it, my inventory of patterns would increase and hopefully as a result so did interesting and new ways of describing space and shapes.

LC: What is the atmosphere in your studio like?  Do you have any sort of rhythm or process when starting a new project?

ML: Starting on something new is always the best part of getting to work.  Lately I’ve been starting off really sloppy and then tightening up around that with my line work.  That beginning sloppiness is definitely the freest and most fun.  If I’m stuck on something I’ll usually start something new even if that means just painting a messy background for another piece.  Unfortunately that leads me to leaving some things in a constant state of unfinished, but I made myself tie up some of those loose ends for this show and it paid off because some of those become pieces I’m really happy with.  The rhythm of my work schedule is always different depending on what deadlines are looming, how many hours of sunlight there are, or other variables which is something I’ve been trying in vain to improve forever.

Young Turks. 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 20” x 24”

LC: It’s undeniable that the repetitious prints and details within your work are pretty rad.  I want to wear your paintings!  Would you ever consider working into textiles?  Who would you love to someday collaborate with?

ML: I would absolutely love that.  I’ve done a bunch of t-shirt graphics both for outside companies as well as ones I get printed up myself.  The few attempts I’ve made to branch out from there to all over prints and more involved ideas haven’t come to fruition for whatever reasons.  Part of that is because I don’t know enough about that world, especially the technical aspects.  But I want to learn.  If anyone wants to collaborate on that kind of thing I hope they get in touch!

Untitled (Object). 2010. Acrylic on paper. 9” x 12”

LC: What is your most valuable item in your collection of Earthly possessions?

ML: That’s a tough one.  I have a lot of things and a lot of collections but as time goes on I’m really finding that the need to hang on to a lot of this stuff isn’t as strong.  If I can find a new home for something I’ve been increasingly eager to pass things along if I know it will be appreciated more.  That’s a lot easier said than done, though.  My books and zines are the collection that I’m most excited by now even if I don’t add to it that much.  And the one piece in that collection that is the most important to me is a sketchbook I’ve had for I guess almost ten years now that I collect drawings from friends and other artists in. The first volume finally got filled up right before moving up here from Philadelphia and a second one has now been started.  It’s really a record of where I’ve been and who I’ve met along the way.  I’m sure you meant sentimental value but I’ve been fortunate to get some real knockout doodles in there so it probably counts for both definitions.

LC: What does the rest of 2013 hold for you?  Can we expect any other projects or exhibitions after Hyperbolic?

ML: Lots of things tend to pop up.  The next focus after this show will be another solo show in October, this time at a gallery in Sweden called Krets.  So I’ve got a little bit of time to get a lot more paintings finished.  Maybe I’ll finally get around to showing some sculptures I’ve been kind of working on and thinking about for awhile also, and hopefully taking a step towards some textiles.  And I haven’t given up on the dream of designing toys either so hopefully I can finally make that happen sometime soon as well.

x Lauren Demith Chung