The Riverside Years
The Matt Ford of today is friendly, easy-going and paints happy looking landscapes in bright colors. But his early influences could have made him turn out a lot different.
Matt grew up in Riverside, California, where he spent his school years doodling on the sides of his notepaper. “Every class was art class,” he said. He was always drawn to dichotomies of positive and negative, and especially black and white. His mother loved arts and crafts and tried to encourage Matt’s talents. “Mom had bought me paint sets, all the colors, but I’d only use black, sometimes white,” he remembered. “I had a closet that I drew on and it was this intense mural that wrapped around the wall, dark in content. Freaked my mom out. She painted over it.” His childhood friends got into gangs and tagging. “Next thing you know they’re carrying guns, expecting you to be there for them at this whole other level.” Matt knew even then that was not the scene for him.
Move to Portland
A big change came 15 years ago, when Matt’s parents moved to Portland. “The economy tanked,” he said. “Dad came up here as an electrician on the federal courthouse building. I came up to help him move, and liked it a lot.” Matt worked at several restaurants, including McMenamin’s and the Cricket Café, while he experimented with art. Eventually he quit the café life and fell back on an old skill. Despite hanging out with junior gang bangers and feeding a serious Slayer and Metallica habit, the young Matt had absorbed his parents’ knowledge of antiques. “My parents were into it growing up,” Matt said. “They dragged me along to garage sales.” Between art and antiquing, he now makes a living.
Trying out Different Media
Matt tried out a lot of media and styles before committing to acrylic paint. Some of his work was political or satirical, such as a series of sculptures with fish in boats, casting their lines for people with money as bait. He created a series of 30 clay “cock rockets” at the debut of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. “It was one of those shows that half the people looked in the window, gasped, and walked away,” he recalled. He sold ceramic drums at Saturday Market, but decided they were too fragile. Learning to fuse glass worked out better, but, like other glass artists before him, he found his most reliable market to be head shops, and making paraphernalia gets repetitive. “I had fun with it. Found a niche,” he said. “If the profit margin had been better, maybe I would have kept doing it.”
Matt’s style stemmed from a painting accident. “Around 2000, 2001, I picked up some canvas,” he said. “I thought I was going to just dabble in black and white like before. I ended up using a whole drawer of fabric paints and made a painting. I didn’t like it. I tried to clean the canvas to start over and stumbled onto a pretty cool looking technique.” His marbling technique requires a large amount of paint to build the image out from the canvas. He paints with the canvas laid on a flat surface so the paint doesn’t run off. He works it wet, pulling some paint off the surface to help it twist and marble. “For a while, I was only focusing on colors, on the marbling theme with no image,” he said. “Just canvas and the naturality of what was appearing in the image, things like a horse or butterfly that naturally occurred. That really intrigued me. But after a while I had to add a little more to appeal to other people.”
In the last couple of years, he’s focused on landscapes, mostly on trees and mountains. His paintings are “not necessarily one particular place,” he said, “but the feeling of traveling through.”
See Matt’s Art
First Thursdays find Matt set up at the Urban Art Network Street Gallery, where he’s shown for the last five years. In addition to his paintings, he usually hauls out some marbled coffee tables with iron legs. During the winter, Matt hangs paintings in coffee shops. And all year round, you can see his work on his website, www.artystyc.com, or by appointment.
Matt is currently developing a clothing line that will feature his art on fabric. “Seems like a lot of people who like my stuff are younger and can’t afford it,” he said. “T-shirts might be the right spot for them.” On the other end of the commercial scale, Matt would love to do an installation that’s an entire room of his paintings, hearkening back to that early closet mural, but without the dark subject matter.
As for artists who are trying to find their direction, Matt urges them not to settle for less than their true expression. “Stick with it,” he said. “Do what your heart is telling you to do, not what you think people want to buy.”
—by Teresa Bergen