Matthew Beall is an American artist who lives in Germany. He creates some of the most austere and disciplined photography and paintings www.matthewgbeallart.com I’ve ever seen. He also travels a lot and gets inspiration on his many travels. What makes him tick? Check out our cool chat and find out.
MICHAEL: Hey Matt! First of all, your photography is exquisite. I don't think I've ever seen more austere, minimal and almost frighteningly disciplined work. Is this something you're trying to achieve? The work is so visually pure.
MATTHEW: Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your words. I like this term 'visually pure,’ yet I am not so sure how pure it (my work) is. I think it can always be better. Is a piece truly ever finished? But there has got to be a end somewhere. Anyhow, I strive to make my vision come out in my fine art photography. So, yes, it is austere, and it is, as you say, disciplined. Minimal in many cases, too. I suppose this can be directly connected to my painting.
MICHAEL: Many, if not most people, equate minimalism with "almost nothingness." How do you see it and apply it in your work?
MATTHEW: I suppose there are those who make this connection and that's fine by me. For me, minimalism simply implies minimal. Perhaps it's a matter of semantics. Anyhow, I prefer to apply the word “reductive” to much of my work. Regardless of how one spins it, it comes down to this - work that emphasizes clarity, simplification, reduced means, reduction of form, streamlined composition, primary shapes, and restricted color.
MICHAEL: Your photography is also very restrained yet stunningly beautiful. What are you thinking when you're photographing landscapes and cityscapes?
MATTHEW: Whew! That's very hard to answer. A lot runs through my mind: light, shadow, composition, angels and perspective. Also, “Is it interesting?” “Would it make a nice shot?” “Wow, this is beautiful!” “Ah, this one will be good or this one is a maybe” and so on. Somehow, all of this jumbled mess is set aside as I make the exposure. I am thinking about the photograph even before I make it. What I mean is that I am always looking and seeing things as a potential photograph and visualizing the outcome more or less. And then it starts all over again.
MICHAEL: I remember you once said that when you're painting, you get paint all over yourself. Obviously, it's difficult to avoid when you're a painter! However, is the process very physical for you? What drives the working process for you? Is it more emotional, intellectual or spiritual? What are you attempting?
MATTHEW: Painting is a messy business. Sometimes my painting is physical in the sense of "action" and sometimes it's more restrained. Nevertheless, I always get paint all over myself. As I answer your question, I picture myself in my studio and I see I that I am physically all over and in my paintings regardless of how restrained I believe myself to be. I never thought much about it until now! Painting itself, the act of it and the result of it drives me. I simply like to paint. I don't buy into the intellect part very much. It's highly overrated. I guess you can say I paint emotional situations. And what am I attempting? I don't know, Mike.
MICHAEL: I think you've just made a tremendous point about intellectualism being overrated in art. How much of a role do you think this plays in the belief that many people have that art is only for wealthy, highly-cultured people? I'm asking because your work is sophisticated and certainly appeals to this crowd.
MATTHEW: Good art (yes, it is highly subjective), can be appreciated by anyone. PERIOD. I don't think one needs "education" to be able to get something out of it. But the art world is intimidating, confusing and incredibly self-important and it is filled with tons of unintelligible pseudo- intellectual BS. I think these things, along with auction sales that are completely out of this world, all significantly contribute to this idea in a big way.
MICHAEL: And so, being an artist who doesn't really participate in that, what's that like?
MATTHEW: Of course I participate in it despite the downs. I think you can't truly isolate yourself from it.
MICHAEL: What was your first meaningful experience with art? When did you realize that you could be an artist? What was that like?
MATTHEW: Hmm, this is truly a very difficult question you threw at me here, Mike. When and what was my first meaningful experience is not answerable, but I am sure it happened many decades ago. However, a meaningful experience that I will never forget was when I saw de Kooning's “Composition, 1955” a handful of years ago. I got all choked up with goose bumps to boot! It was the first time I saw it in "real life" and it just blew me away. I couldn't even speak. It was an extremely powerful moment. Even though I didn't use the word artist when I was young, I have always been one. I have always been creative and curious. Yet, the development took time or I should say it took a long time for me to call myself an artist. The development part is ongoing by the way, and it will always be ongoing.
MICHAEL: What was it about the de Kooning piece that moved you? Going back to that moment, what was going through you? Is this something that you try to express in your own work?
MATTHEW: I can't pinpoint anything in particular about “Composition, 1955.” It was the whole. The emotional intensity that coursed through my veins cannot really be described in words, but elation, wonder, beauty, sadness, happiness, awe, humility, and speechless come to mind. I remember thinking this is a painting that speaks and I hope to someday be able to achieve that as well. So, yes, I would like to try to express some of these things, but easier said than done. Again, it's all subjective, isn't it?
MICHAEL: Do you see any differences in the ways Americans and Europeans regard contemporary art? I know that using the term, "European" is extremely broad and perhaps unfair.
MATTHEW: The great shift that occurred in the 1940s, when the US became the focal point of art/the art world, was the beginning of the period of American dominance i.e. out with the "old" and in with the new. Aside from how you define modern and contemporary art, I'm not too sure there is a difference in the way Americans and Europeans regard contemporary art nowadays. If there is, then I haven't experienced it. When you take away the art history stand point, I don't think there is much to be said about differences. I suppose everyone and anyone would have their own point of view.
MICHAEL: What's your daily routine as far as art is concerned? Do you paint every day? Do you reserve photography for special trips? How do you get inspired? Do you begin with a concept?
MATTHEW: I don't paint every day, but I do think about art and painting and photography every single day. I tend to take a camera with me pretty much every time I leave my place. You never know what wonder might be out there just waiting. I'm inspired by light and shadow, I'm inspired by other artists, I'm inspired to make another picture because I have already made one, I'm inspired by the ordinary and mundane, and I am inspired by the yet unseen. I sometimes begin with a concept, for example, gray landscape and brown & gray series and the Ulmer Münster and Flower Power series, but more often than not, the concept evolves after the fact.
MICHAEL: Finally Matt, What does creating art do for you and where do you want to go with it in the future?
MATTHEW: Simply said, I need to create. I make paintings and photographs out of this need and out of passion as well. This passion applies to looking at the art of others from the very well-known to those who are not. It's an endless circle, and an awesome one at that. I want to continue to push myself. I want to sell more than I do now. I want to find others to work with. I want to continue to have the passion I do even when I feel myself doubting. I want to do more artist residencies. I have a lot of wants and those wants will continue to turn into accomplishments.
MICHAEL: Thanks Matt, This has been great.
Check out Matt’s work at www.matthewgbeallart.com.