Today we’d like to introduce you to Matthew Penkala.
Matthew, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
“And what if Art were considered bad for us? Much more like cocaine that gives us pleasure while intensifying our desires, and less like penicillin that promises to cure us all.” -Dave Hickey
I’d like to think my story starts like most others – with DNA. But about nine months after that, I spent my early years held captive to the grey skies and cultureless climates of Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll gloss over the childhood years, because, well, you’re a kid, so who really cares? My high school years were riddled with the typical underage drinking, awkward moments of all brands from the hormonal to the social, rebellion against pretty much everything including historic models of rebellion, going to punk rock shows, and skateboarding. The skateboarding might seem commonplace now, but in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio when I was there, carrying around a skateboard was akin to lugging around a tuba draped with an ISIS flag these days. You were only opening yourself up to ridicule, torment, inevitable scorn, and inviting donut filled cops to have an easy target. All of this in combination with a haircut that would make Andy Warhol turn his back and gag AND a Suicidal Tendencies t-shirt? Well for some reason I woke up each day seemingly seeking constant ridicule and a bloody nose. I escaped this glorious backwardness and banality while still in high school, and headed straight to the west coast. After watching the movie Repo Man countless times, I knew there was a world out there that was infinitely more interesting, or at least an invented one, and one that I would blend in with and call home. However, while still a relative child, I saw a movie that I would decades later learn would be one of the most formative visions not outshined to this day. It was only until recently that I realized how much of an impact that this movie influenced certain paths I would or would not take, decisions I would or would not make, and mistakes I would or would not let define or guide me. Never really a fan of literary fiction, it’s strange to think that a single science fiction movie could encompass almost every aspect of my interests going forward. I was mesmerized and verging on the edge of obsession with the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It would be decades later that I realized that this film was all about being an artist. Not to mention its narrative construct is one that flirts with the idea between fact and fiction, real and representation, artificiality and actuality.
After seeing Close Encounters countless times, and before my departure to CA, I knew what I wanted to do. Not to make movies, or a mountain out of mashed potatoes, or hop on to a spaceship with a bunch of Freddy Krueger armed aliens (although that would be pretty fucking cool), but to do what I tell my students that artists do – we make shit up. I strive to make shit up, to make something you have an unconditioned response to, to make something you’ve seen all around you, but have never seen before. I also intend to have the work be akin to the opening quote of Dave Hickey’s where it strives not to cure us of anything, but to intoxicate (visually or otherwise), to intensify our desires, and if I’m lucky, and if I may be so bold to include another Hickey quote, have it “signify our anxious pleasure at something that transcends the merely appropriate and asserts the relative value of that thing over other things of its kind.” To accomplish this, I could only be so lucky. Along the way to all of this, I received my Bachelors in Photography at Arizona State University. I then went on to get my Masters in Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit, and headed to this city of the future, Los Angeles, still looking for that ice cream cone shaped UFO hurling across the corner of a highway, up into the sky, and off into infinity, and occasionally getting into my studio making paintings and or in front of a laptop making images.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I know this is going to reek of pretension, but to be honest, I make paintings. I don’t think I make art. This because I feel that is a culture’s place to define something as being Art or not. So by that logic, I’m a painter and not an artist. The paintings I make are more of a historical approach to moving a liquid material around to form an image on canvas or analog object until it dries, in my case spraying liquid acrylic. Or I move pixels around until they’re sprayed onto canvas via an inkjet printer, and then I spray more liquid acrylic on top of that with an airbrush. I do this so one can’t actually discern between the printing and the painting, printed and painted. To me, there isn’t any difference. I think we as westerners wish to dispell the mystery of things much akin to how we see a magician and the first question we ask after the illusion manifests itself is “How did you do that?” The analog paintings consist of millions of airbrushed particles on canvas, just as much as the digital paintings consisting of millions of pixels. I’ve been long invested in the history and continuum between the two mediums/languages – those being what we can understand to be painting and photography.
As far as what I would want people to take away my work would be whatever they would want. I would never wish to be dictatorial in singular reads or experiences in anything I make. I would never want this to be some schematic or guide to meaning or make you believe you had to see or read a certain thing. Now is there concept, and theory, influence, and allusions to hundreds of years of art, well of course. I would hope you see something new each time you were to look at it, akin to not being able to bathe in the same river twice, or how desire operates in that it is an activity either mental or physical with an intended goal but it never being satiated. Like some of the best things you ever experienced and took home with you from a movie, or road trip, or watching a band, a fireworks display, hike, or night of debauchery.
There is a dictum, among several, that factor into my work and how I approach it and that I abide by; it being “It doesn’t have to make sense.” We as westerners tend to want to quantify everything, to make sense of that what is presented to us, to explain away what we don’t understand. For me, there is a definitive degree of banality in this. I prefer the area between the two ideas of what is real or representation, nature or culture, artificial or actual, etc. I like when the brain gets crossed wired. I’m a bit dyslexic, and when it happens, it always fascinates me. In my head, I’ve typed something correctly, but when I read it, the letters are reversed, jumbled up. But my brain is still convinced at that moment that what it was doing was correct. Part of this is why I title my paintings and digital work after misinterpreted song lyrics. There is something hilariously interesting to hear a song and each time you are convinced you hear one thing, but what is sung is altogether different, which completely dismantles the intended meaning structure of the song’s narrative, in most cases to become complete gibberish. I prefer the mis-encounter with the real, as opposed to is understood as the real, or what is understood at the moment as culturally authentic. Like in the movie Blade Runner – does it really matter if what we perceive as human is what was once thought of as real? From preventative inoculations to plastic surgery, to pigs being bred to make skin cells genetically identical to ours, we’re already replicants. So I make work that resides somewhere between real and unreal, object and illusion, digital and analog, something subtextually you can identify with but have no idea what it is you’re experiencing.
The stereotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
I think this is a condition every artist faces, for the most part, unless you’re some trust-fund kid. That is until and if you hit the point where you can live off of selling your work if that’s your goal. I think my most sincere bit of advice on this is never let the market control your work. No matter what, ever. As soon as you start listening to someone else from a gallerist to a collector on what you should be making because something sells or not, you’re compromised, and you might as well be making bric-a-brac. Money will come and go, but as soon as you start catering to the market, you’re making work that suffers from knee-jerk reactions and surface level concept. If your end goal is to buy a yacht, good for you, great, but it will show in the work, so please, get another degree in finance or something and become a hedge fund manager. Not to say there is anything wrong with those professions, but if you think you’re an interesting cultural producer by catering to the market, you’re kidding yourself and pretty much anyone else that knows their shit. All you’re doing is business. Now I’m not naive enough to understand that the Artworld is a business, but if the impetus for the work is so, you can holiday in the Hamptons, well, to me, that’s just dial-a-cliche’, not to mention banality.
We often hear from artists that being an artist can be lonely. Do you agree?
I think the idea that an artist is lonely is a romanticized one carried over from the Modernist agenda. This idea of what an artist is; that artists have a tortured soul, suffer from existential loneliness, etc. or the whole agenda behind Abstract Expressionism and how the work looked inward towards the “Self”, as opposed to outward towards the world and the cultures that construct the idea of self, is outdated and misguided, I think. That whole notion of the “lonely artist” is quite rubbish to me, and really isn’t part of the contemporary Artworld continuum, as far as I understand it, and I know I’m not alone on that. I think this misperception is also a carry-over from the 1950’s where pretty much any degree of public education of art ended. I also think there needs to be a clarification between being lonely (Romanticized idea in this context) and being alone. Most artists spend a majority of their time alone, focusing on their work, conceptualizing, making, outsourcing, etc. This being alone is to focus, reduce distraction, and not to mention just work. If by chance I do experience loneliness, I tend to take Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame’s advice; that being “How to fight loneliness… just smile all the time…” And seriously, what’s so wrong about being lonely? (insert Morrissey groan/sound clip here)
As far as connecting with other artists? Going to gallery openings that happen throughout the city from Culver City to DTLA is a good start, but also doing studio visits with artists you respect is another way, if you can arrange it. But the best way I know? Well, getting a beer or 6 at a local pub doesn’t hurt. Some of the most meaningful and interesting conversations I’ve ever had have been with fellow artist friends over beers at Footsies, or some similar bar that has Dead Kennedy’s or Fugazi on the playlist/jukebox, or at least Radiohead.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Unfortunately, at this moment I don’t have gallery representation here in Los Angeles. A few years back, my gallery in Culver City closed up shop (amongst many others in the area, unfortunately). The combination of this with the love of my life being murdered, well, let’s just say as the Radiohead lyric goes, “…for a minute there, I lost myself….” So I’ve just gotten around to being able to seriously get back in the studio and entertain the idea of getting my work out there again. For now, you can see my work online at my website, or on social media, or if you’re daring, sojourn out to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and look at a few paintings my gallery there has on their walls or in storage. Or if this article gets out in time, I will have work up on a billboard in Culver City near Adams and Fairfax. I’m sure your 5 pm commute will allow you to stare at it for at least 10 minutes from your car window.
As far as support? Well hell, if any blue chip gallerists are reading this right now, give me a call! Otherwise, I’m sure there’s an app you could direct deposit into my bank account, or just old school it and ask me to sell you something out of my studio 😉
- Website: matthewpenkalastudio.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: maushoo or matthewpenkalastudio
- Twitter: maushoo
All photos by Matthew Penkala