On a lovely breezy sunny afternoon in Athens, Georgia, Matt Blanks and I met outside The Grit, a location chosen because he’s been a line cook there for a little more than 4 years. We chatted for a while…
MB: Yeah, I’m here a lot. If not here, I’m home painting, working, doing something arty. Digital work I can do almost any time. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes, then I’ve done something. If I don’t do anything, I feel bad.
AHA: Of the places you’ve been where would you like to return?
MB: I got lost in New Jersey once. I was driving to New York. I’d been warned about driving up the east coast. Everyone told me not to drive, but I did anyway.
AHA: Okay, here are some random interview questions: What 5 verbs define your daily life?
MB: Work. (He gestures because we were sitting at The Grit, where he works.)
Indulge. I mean, this is Athens. That’s what we do here.
Paint. I try to paint a little every day.
Dote. Yeah, I dote…on my dog…on my boyfriend.
AHA: What did you want to be when you were a kid, and what did you do to be that?
MB: A Dentist. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with money. I wanted nothing but to collect money. But as time when on, I thought I’d be an actor. I wrote a play and directed it. It was terrible. I tried to be an actor in my high school drama club. I didn’t want to move to a big city though. I lost interest in acting after high school. I didn’t ever think I’d do art for money. It would be nice to get a job in graphic design, to sit in climate control, which I’ve never had.
AHA: Why do you make art?
MB: I started and people responded positively so I kept going. I have no schooling, no vocabulary, but as long as it is a joy to myself and to others, I will do it.
AHA: Which of your works has given you the greatest personal satisfaction? Why? How?
MB: Nothing immediately stands out to me from before moving here, but about a year after moving here, I found a solid pace, a solid style, a personal style I can call my own. Around 2000, 2001, I found my own unique voice. That’s pretty satisfying. So maybe Christina at the End of the World would be important because it defined my style. At one point, I had thought about text – adding text to that painting and I’m glad I didn’t. I tried it on another painting and eventually I didn’t like it.
AHA: I notice many of your works have two titles. Why is that?
MB: Ha! That’s funny. I guess I’m indecisive. Some are puns. I used to think titles were pretentious and I didn’t name anything, but now I see that they can be fun.
AHA: So, let’s imagine that you are selected as an artist to be represented in the Earth Museum of Art by three of your works, which would they be?
MB: Christina at the End of the World. You know Christina (our mutual friend) well, that’s just how I pictured her reaction to Armageddon, and it was one of my early works and really the first one in which I can say I found my voice, my style; Portrait of Galadriel. Lord of the Rings was my favorite book; and Who Am I to Disagree?.
AHA: In that same museum, you are asked to select works by the three most important Earth artists, whose work do you choose?
|Big Hands by Andy Cherewick|
|Painting by Lou Kregel|
|Galadriel by Matt Blanks|
MB: Yeah. That’s what I know. I don’t really know a lot of other artists. I mean I know some Klimt and I could point out a Van Gogh, but we have some ridiculously talented people here in Athens and they’ve had a lot of influence on me. Noah McCarthy, Lawson Grice, James Greer, Dave Barnes, Toby Cole, Vernon Thornsberry….
AHA: Can you please describe the conditions under which you like to create art…your surroundings, sound, etc.?
MB: I’ve never had a studio. I like painting where I live. I like to be able to duck in and work or just take a break. My work area is pretty self-contained. I have a painting unit that I built that doesn’t take up a lot of space. I like the idea of having everything together in one place, and that it could be portable. I have an iPod with all my favorite music. Some people watch television, but I can’t do that. It’s too distracting.
|Who Am I to Disagree? (Bear) by Matt Blanks|
AHA: Most people probably don’t know that you have an exceptionally beautiful singing voice – what is your relationship to music?
MB: Oh, thank you for saying that. I made a record years ago. I think it sold one copy on iTunes. Lucas Jensen released it, produced it. It’s hard not to do something in music when you live in Athens. Oddly, even with my history of acting, I have crippling stage fright. I’d like to get over it, it seems like fun to perform. I have recorded with some people. I have great respect for those who do perform.
AHA: What works have you created so far in the course of your lifetime?
MB: Music, acrylic paintings, digital media: hand-drawn scanned images that I then manipulate via Photoshop. Ceramics, more decorative than functional. Collage, meant to be funny. Puppets. When I was a teenager I thought up make-up and costumes. I’m thinking of revisiting that. I have made horns. Each Halloween, I’ve wanted to go as Matt Minotaur but the costume just hasn’t come together. I get as far as the nose ring, and then…it’s hard, especially the nose with the ring, but I’ll probably try again.
AHA: How often, or how much time, do you spend creating art?
|Untitled 2013 by Matt Blanks|
MB: I try to do a little every day to feel good about myself. If I've had a bad day or I'm upset by something, I can't make art. I don't like to put that energy into my work.
AHA: What do you like best about yourself?
|Misguided and Highly Dangerous by Matt Blanks|
MB: I’m pretty resilient. I’ve been smacked around here and there, but I come from good folk who know how to deal with things. I do my best to stay positive. Perspective. I’m also willing to realize a new perspective by talking to others with different views.
AHA: What would you change about anything in the world?
MB: I would end disease, or I would wish for understanding. Like, if something is not hurting anyone, just let it be. Live and let live.
AHA: If you could live in any other time and place when and where would it be?
MB: Nowhere. I don’t know if it’s being a gay dude, but right here is where I want to be. We live in a golden age.
AHA: Who would you say, among those whom you’ve known, has most influenced your creativity
|The Gunge Fairy, Matt Blanks, 2008|
MB: Rebecca Wood. I worked in her studio for about 7 years. It was a different kind of place where creativity was rewarded. Rebecca loved to be surrounded by artists, young artists. It was a sweet little hippie place. Another cool thing at R. Wood Studio was getting to know David Leavitt. Andy Cherewick, I don’t know him very well and I hope he doesn’t think I’m a stalker fan or something, but he’s kind of one of the most influential painters to me. A local artist whose thick, chunky textures in his painting blew my mind when I saw his work. I don’t know, I really liked it and it sort of gave me permission to pursue my own quirky voice. Joe Havasy makes some mythical anthropomorphic stuff. It gave me encouragement to be fun and silly. Mike Groves although he’s a tattoo artist, it’s fun stuff; we did a Star Wars show at The Grit. Hannah Jones, too, who I also met while working at R. Wood Studio. Also, Lou Kregel has had a big influence. She is my opposite, neat and refined, but I once gave a speech on her for a speech class so, I kind of studied her and I learned a lot. Athens actually has a large percentage of impressive women artists.
AHA: Has your approach to art/creativity been influenced by any significant life events?
MB: In 2005 my little brother committed suicide. He was a huge supporter of my art. He used to build frames for my work. The way that people responded after his death…it solidified for me that this town, this community, Athens is where I wanted to be. Up until that point, I had considered moving. I hadn’t really settled down. But, the way people responded…I never felt more taken care of. After that, I knew that I wanted to be part of this magical creative force. I realized that I didn’t want to leave. It’s nice to be here, knowing people are looking out. I personally like that people know my business. I decided I wanted to stay and honor my brother’s faith in my art.
|Teodor, Winged Rabbit by Matt Blanks|
AHA: Why is art important?
MB: I like doing it. It makes me happy. It makes others happy, not that that has to be the only reason, but …joy. Joy predominates. A model for me is Literacy Head. A lot of the work people do for Literacy Head is unpaid, and helping people learn to read is more important than being paid. So, for me, it’s more important to inspire joy than to make money. I always try to give something to Nuçi’s Space. A while ago, I gave all the proceeds of a show to Nuçi’s. I like my art to benefit something humanitarian. I love Nuçi’s Space. I love to give to them.
AHA: How do you define beauty?
MB: Whatever a person sees or feels that elicits emotions of warmth and joy.
AHA: What are you afraid of?
|Heart by Matt Blanks|
MB: My silly answer would be sharks, deep water. Jaws broke my childhood brain. No, but really, Oblivion, that my consciousness will disappear. I don’t really know what happens after death but I’m afraid of losing my consciousness. I’m a big fan of my consciousness and I don’t want to lose it.
AHA: Well, I enjoyed your piece in the ATHICARDS show and I’m super excited for your new works at Flicker.
MB: Me too. It’s been 4 years since my last show. Flicker is my favorite place to have a show. I needed a break. People liked my work, but I needed to step back. Now, I’d like to keep up with an annual residency, like a show every August. After much deliberation, I’m calling this show Hibernation. My new works will be on display at Flicker Bar for the month of August. The opening reception starts at 8pm, Thursday, August 1. Then at 10pm there’s music by Four Eyes and Brothers.
AHA: Thank you, Matt. I'll see you at the show.
MB: Thank you. I hope to see you there.
His new works are on exhibit through August 2013 at
Flicker Bar (263 W. Washington Street, Athens, Georgia, USA, Earth).