Briefly describe the work you do.
I make drawings, paintings and sculpture which create environments that complicate notions of cultural value and the function of historic objects.I work in a visual style with the idealization somewhere between a graphic novel, and a stained glass window. This aesthetic helps evoke a narrative the viewer is often left to complete.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
The different forms of storytelling that I consumed as a kid really formed the way I work. The things I read, watched and listened to laid the foundation for how I would later express myself artistically. MAD magazines and watching Saturday Night Live taught me about visual humour and storytelling. I couldn’t get enough of either. Hip-hop music was huge for me as well. There was something beyond the storytelling and the beat in hip-hop that pulled me right in. When I could pick out some of the samples I would hear in a De La Soul song, something clicked in me that explained what I saw also on SNL and in the MAD magazines: you could use things that already exist to make something new.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio is where images and objects get made. Designing works, research, hashing out ideas with others, often happens elsewhere. Even when the inspiration happens in the studio, I will work them out in the world. I see it a lot like the NBA draft. When an idea or image is strong enough or comes up enough times in my sketchbook, it gets brought up to the big leagues in my studio. That “player” may become a star, or be a role player, I still have space for an idea to develop, but the basic refinement happens elsewhere.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Many of my friends are entrepreneurs. They are gifted with the ability to see what is needed in society, or where there is room for improvement. I think artists today also need to be entrepreneurial. There is a hat that I wear of the co-coordinator or facilitator, and bringing people together is something I hadn’t considered to be a part of art making. I find many artists to be introverted, and shy about promoting their own work. When I am excited about someone’s work, I have no problem with talking about their work and their stories wherever I go.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I feel like mornings for me are for micro-movements, small detail work. This would include writing, smaller drawings, and any detail-oriented work. Perhaps only my head and hands are fully functional at this point. After 1pm is when I would do larger scale movements, building things; tasks that would include my full body.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
5 years ago I was using text in my work, and I work very flat and quick.
I still make space for the kind of work that give immediate gratification, but more of my work now is larger and required more thought and planning.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I am a big fan of Kerry James Marshall’s work, but what has made a larger impact on me is his work as an educator. The way he speaks about the art world, educating artists, and the reason to make art is a continuous source of inspiration for me.
Chris Cran, Kent Monkman and Shary Boyle’s work had an early impact on what would be the major focus of my work. Their mixture of gravitas and humour in their approach history, culture and myth is something I keep striving for.
Artists who work in narratives that are often puzzling inform my work: Barnaby Furnas, Dana Schutz, and to some extent Mark Tansey. I’m drawn to artists and performers involved in storytelling and humour. I worked for a brief stint at Second City in Toronto. Mind you, I only worked in the box office, but there were a ton of funny, sharp witted, extremely clever people that I was able to meet there. I would often slip into the shows after my shift and sketch at the little bistro tables in the theatre. I’m dying to do a project with improvisers.
My wife, Phillipa Chong is a sociologist and studies value, evaluation and is working on a book about critics right now. The lens that she sees through always helps me think in a more refined manner about perception and inequality. She has probably had the largest impact on my work.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I’ve always performed in front of people. In grade school I performed magic, and told jokes, in high school I ripped off SNL sketches, and spoofed popular songs over the announcements. Then in university I worked as a motivational speaker, and then later travelled Canada and the US as a tour guide. For over 15 years now I have been teaching at the secondary and post secondary levels. People often forget that teaching is very much a performance. So when my images and objects aren’t in front of people, I guess I prefer that I am.
Adam Matak is an artist that exhibits in both private and public galleries and is collected internationally. He received his MFA from Tufts University in conjunction with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 2015. His work was used for Art Toronto’s (formerly Toronto International Art Fair) advertising campaign, he has been published in Art Works, a Canadian art history textbook, and reviewed by The Globe & Mail, The National Post, and the Boston Globe.