"It really is about a balance between insanity and refinement."
Matt Ross' paintings inhabit a space of beautiful chaos. We've bonded over our Orange County upbringings — I was initially surprised that someone from the OC (oppressively organized suburbia) could embrace the hectic to the extent that Matt does. Which is not to say his paintings lack structure or rules. In fact, they seem to be a map of something abstract, something that could only be expressed through paint on a canvas.
Ross recently relocated to L.A. after several years of success in New York. Since then, he's remained a part of the art world while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of what it can look like, participating in unconventional events like a desert art festival and hosting open house time in his Lincoln Heights studio. He will be attending residencies in Germany and Amsterdam in the fall.
We caught up on his influences, inspirations, and where his art is headed next.
You have a very specific aesthetic (your work reminds me a bit of Cy Twombly's). Are there painters who you feel inform it in some way?
The work of Cy Twombly has definitely left me a state of awe. There is absolutely no disconnect between his brain and his ability to transpose that into form, there's a gateway for his subconscious to come flooding out. I can relate to that, there's a sense of guided aimlessness. Another influence of mine is the great Jimmy Page. He used to say when asked about his technique: "technique doesn't come into it; I deal in emotions", the work I create is definitely through more of an emotional approach than conceptual.
Tell us a bit of your process. Do you have any rituals in the studio?
I like working on multiple pieces at once, having tons of canvas and paper around me that I can alternate between. I usually will paint about 70 percent of a piece very quickly, and then the last 30 percent is an extended period of adding, taking away, yelling, wanting to destroy it, and then somehow figuring it out in the end... sometimes not.
How has your work evolved over time? What do you hope to communicate with it now?
I think in the beginning I was really focused on maintaining a strong sense of minimalism in my work. I still embrace negative space, but now, the direction for me is trying to find a deeper balance within chaos. When I look at my work - it really is about a balance between insanity and refinement - If I add something that intensifies the piece I like to balance it with something more neutral and subdued.
In addition to painting, you work in other mediums, like building and welding. Do you see these as artistic endeavors, or as craftsmanship? Is there a distinction?
Both. I think carpentry and welding are two of the most admiral and pure professions. Its going back to basics, its what this country was built on. I was drawn to that type of work because its a no bullshit, no ego, get it done kind of mentality. Your worth and reputation are purely based on skill, not these sort of classist, elitist ideals of what gives a person merit. Welding and fabrication is an escape from a world that I'm terrified of in a lot of ways. Bottom line - If you can TIG weld brass like a master, you are as cool as it gets in my mind.
What are you working on at the moment?
I moved into a new studio a few months ago in Lincoln Heights and it's given me a chance to really expand - I've started doing works on paper, as well as a variety of very large and small canvas pieces. I'm doing residencies in Berlin and Amsterdam in September and October so lately I have been focusing and planning for that as well.
Where would you like to see your career go from here?
I'm happy with where I'm at right now and I can't remember the last time I said that, if ever in my life. I'll continue to work out this confusion that runs through my mind and onto the canvas. There's a lot of ideas for sculptures that I want to make. I just work towards a career that will allow me the freedom to have time and work on the things I love.
You've worked as an artist in both NY and LA. What are the main differences? Where do you prefer to live and work?
New York City is mean, expensive, totally unforgiving, fast, relentless, insanely fun, debaucherous.... I could go on. Making art in New York is inspiring because you're surrounded by endless amounts of sensory influence but it can also hinder your ability to tap into that space you need to be in to create. That being said, there's an incredible amount of talent, and a lot of inspiring lost souls who are trying to make it happen and could care less about what anyone thinks about them. I dig that, and will always be connected to that city. I've only lived in LA for three months so I'm still it figuring it out.