Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Jeremy Show Interviews: Artist Matt Irie

Last week I had a chance to sit down and talk with local artist Matt Irie about imaginary friends, Marxism, Prilosec and art. You can learn more about Mr. Irie at his website

What is inspiring you right now?
British crime dramas, my new bike, contemporary abstraction. I would like to say the Turrell exhibitions in New York, LA, and Houston but unfortunately, I don’t think I am going to make any of them.

How could you see British crime dramas or your new bike taking shape in your work?
I don’t. I may have a TV problem. Geoffrey Todd Smith used to work on his drawings in front of a TV before he got a studio in the city. I was making large text drawings at the time that required a lot of reading and concentration and I was jealous. To be honest, I think I was just bored of making the drawings. Once I began working on the drip paintings in earnest and got my studio situation squared away (I have a studio at home), I set up a small TV and DVD player left over from a piece Dominick Talvacchio and I did. I started with all of the HBO and Showtime shows and then moved onto cable shows like The West Wing and Battlestar Galactica. We have a pretty great library by us and in time I moved onto what they had a lot of, which is BBC crime dramas. I like the pace of the long form television series. You don’t have to pay such close attention. I used to listen to a lot of audio books in the studio but got sucked into things like The Wire. I found myself making excuses to finish episodes or watch another one, which kept me out of the studio. The TV has kept me productive. It’s still like listening to audio books except that I now look up from what I’m doing from time to time. I just enjoy riding my new bike. It has no influence on my work that I can see.

How did you decide that art was going to be your career?
It started with my finding out that I was getting a D in physics senior year. I then learned if I was going to major in some kind of art discipline I could drop physics and take another art class. That sealed the deal. I went into undergrad as an illustration major and after asking my Drawing II instructor, Mark Arctander, which illustration class I should take, he advised me to take some “real art classes.” The next day I changed my major to painting and that was it.

Tell me about your first job.
My first job was a paper route in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I am originally from. I don’t remember much about it. I remember how bad it was trying to deliver papers after an ice storm and I remember me and couple other kids who had routes going with the area manager to sell subscriptions around the city for extra cash. I also remember the manager guy had a shitty car with a revolver in the glove compartment.

Why do you stay in Chicago, rather than a larger city for art like LA or NYC?
I worked in NYC for a summer on a Sol LeWitt mural in Midtown Manhattan between my first and second year of grad school and thought I might move out there sometime after I graduated. However, after grad school I started teaching at few colleges around Chicago and then Cougars began touring. The band, friends and family have played a big part in keeping me in the Midwest. I like New York and LA is growing on me, but I prefer to live in Chicago. Maybe someday…

Tell me how LA is growing on you because I stayed there for six weeks and almost hospitalized myself and dropped out of school.
I went to LA as a kid and liked it well enough. Then I went back a few times during various tours. Maybe it was the weather, the places we played or the bands we played with, but I got a bad vibe about the place. The airport is awful. A couple years ago Geoffrey and I went out there for an art fair and I had a better time.

Tell me about your favorite building in Chicago.
Good question! I am a big fan of Modernism so of course the Mies buildings, but maybe more so Bertrand Goldberg’s buildings such as Marina City and River City II. It will be a shame when the old Prentice Women’s Hospital comes down.
Prentice Women's hospital on it's way to architecture heaven.

I work close to the Prentice Women's Hospital. I love the building as well. But Walt Disney's quote- "Disneyland is not a museum" always comes into my mind when I hear about the controversy surrounding whether it should be saved or not. I guess I feel like if it should be saved it would have been saved- that the world can't always be a museum. I don't know what kind of fascist attitude that is but that's how I feel.
I see your point. Everything is in motion and change. For me I think it’s a matter of taste. That style of brutalist architecture is my jam. I understand it no longer meets the hospital’s needs and thus has to go, but I’m willing to bet that the building that goes in its place will have far less character, for better or for worse.

First Clown Shoes, 2008
Your sculptures (like Saucepan, First Clown Shoes) remind me of things you'd buy at a really smart novelty magic shop. It's as if your inner child is performing a magic show for the viewer. Were you a performer as a child?   
Yes. As a child I would lip sync to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Hall & Oates in the living room to an imaginary audience while my parents watched TV in another room. In high school I started playing the drums and singing in bands. I like that you refer to those pieces as performative. In one way or another I want all my work to function in a performative/experiential way.

So the first thing that strikes me (at least on your website) with your artwork is the title you give each one. What goes into titling a painting? Do the titles usually relate to the painting directly? Is there hesitation when you title a piece of work or do you enjoy it?   
My titles used to be very literal, descriptive, and/or minimal such as Drawing #1, Stop Sign, Cord, etc. I suppose Saucepan and First Clown Shoes are as well. However, shortly after I began making paintings again I decided to approach them differently. I used to try to keep what I did musically separate from what I was doing in the studio, thinking that they didn’t really have much to do with each other. Now I generate titles similar to the way I write lyrics, which has to do with word play and collage. I take notes all the time and have running lists of things that could be used for titles and/or lyrics. After I finish a painting I refer to the notes and assign a title that fits best with the specific piece in an ambiguous way. My hope is that the titles allow for another way to approach the work. I think there has always been humor in my work and this way of generating titles provides me the opportunity to inject a little humor into what might otherwise be seen as too formal of an investigation.

You shared a show with artist Geoffrey Todd Smith (who I've also interviewed for my site) called "Imaginary Friends." I forgot about imaginary friends- did you have one as a child?
No, just imaginary audiences (see above). When I was a kid I played a lot with action figures. I would give them each their own personality and character traits as if they were a part of some large story arc. Does that count?

Yes. I think I had one and it involved some sort of watch that I could summon them with. This was with my friend Nicole. We both had the watches. I think mine was a girl. 
As I get older I find it is difficult to make non-imaginary friends, or difficult to find the desire to make new friends. Do you find this as well as you have gotten older?
Perhaps. Most of the new friends I make I meet through work these days. Having a full-time job, a studio practice, being in a band, and about to become a father makes it difficult. I have a number of terrific friends and with how busy I usually am it’s hard enough to find the time to see the ones I have.

You use the hammer and sickle in your sculpture and drawings- tell me about what interests you about that icon.
Poorhammer-Sadsickle II, 2008
I had a great Western Civilization professor, Marvin Rosen, who was a Marxist. He and I became very close and ever since I have been interested in the left and Marxist inspired philosophy/politics. In 2008 I started a website which no longer exists. The site was mostly an archive of screen shots of posts on craigslist of things like last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune or a half-used bottle of lotion and then the responses to the posts. I sent letters to the Hammer Museum from Sickle and a letter to Sickle, the clothing site, from Hammer as if they were old lovers trying to get back together. The Reader actually published a Missed Connections from Hammer to Sickle. At any rate, the Gifts sculpture and the Poorhammer – Sadsickle drawings grew out of that project. The icon itself interests me as a signifier for the Marxist inspired philosophy/politics mentioned above. In 2008 you could buy a CCCP or a Che Guevara T-shirt from places like Target. Working with the icon allowed me to explore the space between the ironic and the sincere, which was something much of my work was focused on in grad school.

Tell me about what's going on with Cougars. I see that the Cougars Wikipedia page says that there is a new album in the works..."Gentlemans Choice." Is that still in the works?
Cougars is still a band, albeit a much more relaxed version of it. We are now a five piece (down from eight) and all have full-time jobs, other projects, families, kids, etc. We still practice somewhat regularly, but rarely play out live. “Gentleman’s Choice” is the working title of what will be our third full-length record. It’s still in the works and at present we are one to three songs away from having enough material to record again after about seven years. I think it’s the best stuff we’ve written. We write slowly. Many songs have been put to the grave.

How does your artistic sense affect what you wear? Rupaul says the whole world is in drag- as if we are all playing some sort of character that we idealize. What character are you? Do you put that much thought into what you wear?
I suppose there is a connection, but not one that I consciously cultivate. Although here I may have a problem as well. Other than my dress shoes and the ones I wear with shorts, I’ve been wearing the same style sneaker (Adidas’ Stan Smith) for over a decade. I have a nice pair, an everyday pair, and a shitty pair for yard work and such. Likewise, I buy the same style jeans year after year (Levi’s 527) and I only wear crewneck undershirts that have tight collars. It’s the same story with sox and underwear. The only real variation is in shirts, casual button up plaids or solid color long sleeves in the fall with the occasional sweater or sport jacket and t-shirts or short sleeve plaids in the summer. However, lately I have been getting into golf shirts. I think they help to disguise my love handles.

If you are having trouble sleeping- what do you do? Is there anything that always works for you?
I don’t usually have much trouble sleeping, but when I do I generally close my eyes and think of all the shit I need to do.
What items do you carry in your bag?
The Metformin, generic Prilosec, and ibuprofen are in there in addition to Dramamine, fresh breath, 5 hour energy, and generic Nicorette. You can also find a half dozen flash drives, two or three college ruled, spiral bound notebooks, and folders full of art stuffs and lyrics. More than likely there will be the most recent Artforum in there as well.
What do you find different about students today compared to when you were a student?
I’m not sure. Perhaps there’s more apathy. I feel like when I was in school my classmates and I wanted to take over the world. Of course there were mopes then, but I feel like now there is a lack of students who really want to do great things. Maybe there’s less ambition. However, every year I always have a handful of pretty great students.

"Lamppost," your Installation for Public Art Fund NYC that you collaborated with Dominick Talvacchio on, is genius. Tell me about that experience.
Lamppost, 2009
Thank you! The Public Art Fund asked Dominick and I to propose a project for an outdoor exhibition of site-specific sculpture at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn, New York. After our proposal was excepted, Dominick and I worked with a contractor based in Queens to fabricate a lamppost that was identical to the lampposts at MetroTech, only ours was made to look as if it was wilting or being sucked into/creating a depression in the ground. Overall I would say it was one of the most stressful things I’ve worked on due to budgets and deadlines. From the beginning of the fabrication and installation, anything that could have gone wrong did. In the end we completed the piece around 3:30pm the day of the opening reception which started at 5pm.

You've worked in installations, video, public art, etc...what area of the arts do you want to explore next?
Firemud, 2011
I have always worked with whatever the idea calls for. I have never set out to make a video, just to explore the medium for example. The performances were performances because that was the best medium for the idea I wanted to investigate. For the last four years I have mainly concentrated on painting. After the stress of Lamppost, Dominick and I focused on our solo work and eventually stopped collaborating. At some point I would like to explore other ideas and I have a few things in the works that are more akin the work I was doing with Dominick. However, at the moment there is still more work to be done with the paintings.

What are you doing this weekend?
Working in the studio, going to my brother-in-law’s graduation party, watching The Killing & Newsroom, and possibly a studio visit. 

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