Visual artist Brian Mathus gave Artists United a serial interview that started in February and was updated this week.
DAU: OK, Brian Mathus, tell me about yourself.
BM—Well, let’s see. Fun fact. I’ve lived on both sides of the country. I lived in Virginia from the time I was 2 until I was 17, then I moved to Portland.
BM: Yep. And it’s just like you imagine it. It’s where I found my peeps, people like me. It’s so creative there, and everybody is doing their own thing. They have this guy out there that rides a unicycle in a Darth Vader mask.
DAU—I’ve seen the video!
BM-I lived in Portland until I was 30, and then moved to Dayton.
DAU: Where you became an artist?
BM–I think I was always an artist. I just didn’t know how to be one. I made my first work when I was 17. It was a large-scale work called “crabs in a barrel.” I didn’t know how to stretch a canvas, so I just stapled it to the wall. I gessoed it and got gesso all over the floor. When it came time to take it down it was gessoed to the wall. It actually came off with pieces of the wall on the back.
Years later I worked a frame shop and this woman who worked there help me stretch it into a frame. She complained the whole time about how “this wasn’t how you were supposed to do this.”
DAU—where is it now?
BM—I think it might be at my parents.
DAU—And you’ve been painting ever since? How many works do you think you’ve created?
BM—I don’t know. Over a 1000? I’ve started taking pictures of my work. I’ve sold some, maybe 70 pieces, that I never made a record of.
DAU—So, 70 pieces. Is that a lot? Is it, quit your day job and be an artist full time?
BM—Oh no, no, I’d love to be an artist full time, but I have to have that regular paycheck. I have kids. They’re expensive. I have got to have a day job. I paint houses.
BM—I have made murals. They are expensive, but they aren’t a regular paycheck either. I am a house painter. And a painter. Not at the same time.
DAU—Have you done any murals in Dayton?
BM—There’s one in Miamisburg, and one in Huber Heights.
DAU—What do you think needs to happen for more artists to make a living from their art?
BM—We have to get rid of the old way of having artwork sell. Very few artists sell paintings priced over 1000. I worked at a gallery in Portland, actually, I helped build a gallery in Portland. All the artists, the small people, got together to make a cooperative gallery. We were trying to sell high end product. But there was this TV show….. I watched the art market there become saturated and choke out the little guy.
DAU—Well—there’s not a tv show about how odd Dayton is, yet.
BM—True, but the market can become saturated without a tv show. Bill Cunningham has convinced me that producing mid-priced work on a regular basis is a better foundation for a shot at being a working artist.
DAU—Bill Cunningham at The Orphanage?
BM—Yeah, I just had a show there
DAU: How did it go? Talk to me about being an artist in Dayton.
BM—The show went well. I sold some work out of it. Being an artists in Dayton has been interesting, it’s a different environment. It is very easy and difficult to be an artist here. It’s very cheap to rent space and have work up.
DAU: Talk to me more about Dayton. What is your favorite thing to do here?
BM—Take the kids places, the art museum is pretty good and the city is fun for playing Pokémon go.
DAU—Who is your favorite artist and why?
BM—Either Francis Bacon or Rothko, both had the ability to make you feel something that was transcendental, though one represents the sublime and the other represents the letting go of inner angst.
DAU—What was the last book you read?
BM—Sex before Dawn
DAU—If I were going to make a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?
BM—CalebCity, that dude is hilarious.
DAU—What would the movie be called?
BM—An Ordinary Life, although I’m pretty sure people could find not ordinary things.
DAU—What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever done, seen, painted—take your pick.
BM—Getting shot with a taser and that was a weird sensation.
DAU—If you could have anyone in the world in your studio as a model, who would you like to paint?
DAU: So, what’s next?
BM—More art. I’ve got a series of nudes I’m working on because a woman volunteered. She’s into bondage, I don’t know if that is in my wheelhouse, but it might be interesting. I was working on a series of representation for black people, but models are hard to come by at times. I want to do multiple figures and put some meaning into my work. I have ideas to play with, but nothing solid. But that’s how it always is.
DAU–Since conducting this interview, Ohioans have been ordered to “Shelter at Home, ” I reached out to Brian for an update on how the Covid-19 situation has affected his life.
BM– Well I’ve been laid off so I’m teaching the kids during the day. So far, keeping my hands busy has given me a sense of purpose. I’ve built a lot of canvases. I’ve been able to get some depth in my drawing, because I don’t have to work. I don’t feel the pressure of “I have to get this done today or I’ll never have a chance again.”
I’m not bored at home. But I keep wanting to do landscapes. I’ve tried, it’s too hard. The people who are outside seem to have no sense of boundaries. I’m guessing a lot of people need more human contact then they are getting.
I do feel this pressure to create meaningfulness, but anything can have meaning if you peel away the veil of routine and look with fresh eyes.