Matt Gondek – ‘I like getting my hands dirty’

Words: Tamara Samardžić

Grown up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based in Los Angeles, California, Matt Gondek is an artist of unique and recognizable style. Painter, street artist, and digital artist, he created his own world of deconstruction, deeply associated with pop culture. Bringing punk attitude and ethics into the world of fine arts, drawing inspiration from cartoons, comic books, and video games, Gondek is one of the most interesting artists in the world today. We caught up with Matt to discuss his past, current, and future projects.

Hey Matt, thanks for your time to do this interview! For starters, can you tell us some random facts about you?
Matt: Sure – Did you know that I collect Santa Claus Coffee cups? I’ve been collecting them for years now. I use them all year long. Not just during Christmas.

You actually had a long road to get where you are now and to find what you’re comfortable with. Do you think that struggling with depression and not knowing which direction to go somehow reflected within your art?
Matt: Let’s first give this question some context! I’m not depressed now – but there was a period of my life where I was dealing with it. I’ve been a full time working artist for 10 years now, but the first few were very hard. I was doing a lot of commercial illustration work that I was not happy doing and just working to stay afloat. I wasn’t producing anything that I was proud of or would allow me any sort of advancement. I began painting just as a way to keep my mind busy and to try something new. I never planned on becoming a fine artist, but it did stem out of a period of depression and not knowing what else to do. Painting just makes me happy. I like getting my hands dirty.

You take these cartoon or comic book characters and transform them into real-life creatures that are made of bones, flesh, and blood that are bursting into color. How did you first get into it, and do you think these ideas are somehow connected to your depression? Was it some kind of escape for you?
Matt: I try to never paint or draw blood, and I haven’t now for years. Although my work shows characters deconstructing, I don’t think it stems from a place of violence (most of the time). My first painting was a Mickey Mouse with his head exploding, but it was just a random idea I had at the time.

Only after completing that piece did I discover the simple act of painting brought me joy. I don’t want to dwell on the short phase of my life where I was depressed. I think that it was only a byproduct of uncertainty. I will say that painting in itself to combat depression turned out working better than I could have ever imagined. I started painting because I wanted to create something physical and real. Before that, I was producing all of my work digitally on a computer. Nothing I made really existed. I like that I can physically pick up and manipulate a painting in the real world.

Do you have a comic, cartoon, or video game that stands out in your world, that you feel especially connected to?
Matt: I was raised by The Simpsons. Also, I was very fond of a comic book called Scud the Disposable Assassin in the ’90s. It was my first experience with a self-published, low brow comic book. It definitely opened my mind to the possibilities that if you want something, you can make it yourself.

You run your own podcast, you are always working on some new projects and you travel a lot. How do you manage all that? What does your usual day look like?
Matt: There’s a small team that helps me with everything. I have a full-time assistant that helps with whatever project I’m working on, my gallery representation keeps everything on track and handles sales, and we just hired a graphic designer/media person.

My day starts at 7 am. I typically answer all of my emails while I eat breakfast. Then I sit with coffee (in my Santa mug) and check Facebook and to delay getting in the shower as long as I can. I leave the house around 9:30 or 10:00 and usually stop at the art supply store to grab whatever I forgot to grab there yesterday. It’s then a short drive to downtown LA to my studio. My assistant and graphic designer start at 11 and we normally work until 6. This includes painting, packing up prints, signing things, meetings, podcasts, etc. A lot of friends and other artists stop by during the week which really helps break up the monotony. At six I go home and eat dinner with my wife and dogs and usually play around on my iPad or something until 9-ish. Then it’s back to work on the computer for new painting ideas or prototyping whatever we’re working on. I normally go to bed around midnight but always read in bed for about an hour. A lot of Bukowski.

For you, what’s the main difference between painting on canvas and painting on a wall? Which one do you prefer and how challenging is it to paint in the surroundings that you can’t control?
Matt: The biggest difference is the medium in which I do them. In the studio, it’s all acrylic paint, where outside for a mural it’s spraypaint (aerosol). I really don’t prefer one over the other… in the studio with acrylic I love how finely tuned and detailed I can be. I can really make the piece exactly like how I envisioned it.

On the other hand, doing murals means being outside, traveling, and meeting new people. It’s also great to paint things that are super huge. There are always unknown factors you encounter with every new wall and even though I normally complain about them at the time, they’re always great to look back on.

I know it depends on the size and complexity of the painting, but what would you say, how much time does it take for you to paint on canvas and to paint on a wall?
Matt: You’d think I’d be getting faster, but it’s the opposite. Each piece is taking more and more time. I used to be able to complete a canvas painting in three or four days, where now it can take up to two or three weeks. I do think this is a good thing because I’m really trying to make each piece as perfect as I can now. I’ve noticed that while I used to work on just one piece until completion, I’m now juggling three or four at a time. I prefer this method.

You said that you grew up listening to a lot of punk rock music, and you spent a major portion of your life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, surrounded by a strong punk scene. Do you think punk rock influenced the way you express your art?
Matt: It absolutely helped me when I was starting out. I was in a lot of punk bands. We would put on our own shows, do our own promotion, do everything ourselves. When it came time to pursue the business of art, I already had this fundamental of “do it yourself” ingrained in my head which helped me push through the lean years.

Punk rock music is basically based on things that make you feel uncomfortable, and turning those things into something positive. You kinda do the opposite – you take things that are well-known and twist them into something uncomfortable. What is the effect you want to cause, and how do people react to your work?
Matt: I would disagree with that statement. Although I’m deconstructing characters from people’s memories and childhoods, the overall reaction I get back tends to be happiness and excitement. I think people like to see things they recognize in a new way. I know I do. My medium is pop culture. I use elements of pop culture as vehicles to express my love of clean lines, bold bright colors, and my deconstructive style. When I’m working on a new piece the biggest thing that runs through my mind always is “how can I make this piece pop more?”

When you present the piece of art on your Socials, you hide your face with the face of animated characters. Is it some kind of homage to the world you take the inspiration from, or there is another reason for that?
Matt: What I look like isn’t important. I want what I’m producing to be the focal point. Not me.

Earlier in your career, you did a lot of design, from band T-shirts and merch to skateboards or snowboards. Although you said you don’t enjoy digital art as much as you did, would you do it again if approached? What would the idea have to have to “click” with you, and make you want to do it?
Matt: I still spend a lot of time on the computer. Every single one of my paintings starts with sketching my ideas out in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. Now that I’ve incorporated painting into my life, there is a nice balance between working in the physical world and the computer world. But to answer your question straight-forward – I absolutely do accept digital work when the right projects arise. I’d still rather be painting than sitting on the computer, however.

When you look back at your paintings, which ones would you choose as the most significant for you? And can you sum up the highlights of your carrier so far?
Matt: I think my most important painting would be the Deconstructed Homer Simpson mural that I painted in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. It was the first mural of my Deconstructed style and was a definite jumping off point for my career. It’s still my widest known piece of work.

You are working on a new book of 3D artwork that comes out this year. Can you tell us more about it and other upcoming projects you are working on?
Matt: Sure. A few years ago, I collaborated with a printing company to release a small book of drawings that worked in tandem with those old red and blue 3D glasses. I thought it was a fun little side project and simply wanted to do it again with my newer work. We began production of the book in January of 2018. There’s no set completion date for the book. We’re just working on it as we go along.

As for other projects, my first four-foot vinyl sculpture will be released this spring as will some other vinyl toys. I’m also doing some other pop-ups and exhibits, but it’s a little too early to talk about those. Lastly, I’m working with a documentary team to do a small video about my hometown of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania’s art community, and Andy Warhol (who was born there). I also want to buy a drum set.

Do you plan on exploring other forms of art, or are you comfortable with what you are doing at this moment?
Matt: Yes. I’ve been tinkering with an idea now for about two months… Basically, we threw an old Donald Duck cookie Jar off of a roof.. then glued most of it back together… built a rig, and began suspending all of the pieces at different heights.. trying to make it look like it exploded in mid-air. Lighting it with different colored bulbs and then photographing that. Then taking the photo into Photoshop and deconstructing it more. When that’s all said and done, I’m going to try and create a painting based off of the photo. We’ll see how that goes…

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