Briefly describe the work you do.
Using place and everyday objects as inspiration, I investigate un-intentionality, residue, and the unconscious products of modern life. Photography is often a good tool for this work because of its capacity to render detail and its complicated relationship with truth. I am interested in the surface of the photograph and the image as a problematic representational artifact.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I first became interested in photography in high school, spending hours in my bedroom studio using a Rolleiflex from my grandfather and working intensely in the darkroom. The technical challenges of using slow film and a handheld light meter kept me busy for several years. In college, I became interested in painting and sculpture and ended up working in installation for my thesis, inspired by Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Richard Serra. My other heroes at the time were Mark Rothko, Erik Satie, and J.D. Salinger.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
The importance of having a dedicated space, any space, to make and think about work is vital. I find it much easier to clear my head and get to work when I can be alone and separate myself from the ever-growing list of responsibilities and distractions. I schedule time in the studio and try to focus myself to go even when I don’t have a specific idea of what I will do. This is not always easy.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Like many people who have studied art academically, my understanding of the field has changed dramatically over the years. The idea of being an artist seemed glamorous and romantic when I was younger, but now I find that it really means being the person who is caught staring at a lump of gum on the sidewalk while everyone else is purposefully walking by. There is an attention to the world that is awkward and always present. This attention can feel like a gift and also it can be exhausting.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I’ve always been a night owl. I enjoy the sense of seclusion and privacy at night, and the feeling that there is no time limit.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Certain themes and ideas recur and sometimes it feels like nothing has changed in years, but when I look at the work I see a gradual drift toward more formal and abstract ideas. I try to be very aware of the conceptual underpinnings in the work, but my process never starts there. I always begin with the immediate, the physical, the thing itself and then end up reflecting on what happened.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
The most significant influence in my artistic life has been from my teachers. Of course, there are too many to name and there are also the artistic and theoretical influences, both personal friends and artists from history. But I feel like it is appropriate to acknowledge the educators in my life like Paul Ford, Walt Pinto, Adrienne Salinger, Steve Barry, Elen Feinberg, Jan Estep, Chris Larson, and Jim Henkel, to name a few. I would not be who I am as an artist or as a person without these people.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
In most cases, the life of an artist is a hybrid life professionally. I teach, I do commercial work, and I make art, so I already have occupations outside of strictly being an artist.
Andy Mattern is a visual artist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His often mundane subjects observe the unwitting collaboration between people and the built environment. His photographs and drawings cooly investigate the artifacts of unconscious actions in public spaces. Without focusing directly on people, but instead the traces we leave behind, Mattern puts an undue emphasis on the unintentional aspects of our experience. Visually, his work employs a minimal aesthetic and operates between abstraction and hyperrealism, problematizing the document and pointing to the limits of human control over our environment.
Mattern’s work has been exhibited at Photo Center NW, Box 13 Artspace, the Lawndale Art Center, DeVos Art Museum, Okay Mountain, Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Prøve Gallery, and the Peri Centre for Photography in Turku, Finland. His work has been published online at Fraction Magazine, Humble Arts Foundation, and numerous blogs such as iheartphotograph, Conscientious, and FlakPhoto. He has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Art Shanty Projects, and Springboard for the Arts. His work is included in the Tweed Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
Andy Mattern holds a BFA in studio art from the University of New Mexico and an MFA in photography from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He currently teaches photography an an adjunct lecturer at the University of New Mexico and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.