Posted: March 10, 2011
Interviewed by Chris Richards, December 2010
Matt Gauck is an artist based in Portland OR. Matt draws and paints with a DIY perspective, uses second hand materials, bikes a lot, and his personal lifestyle choices & beliefs can be found amongst the images he produces. In addition to his own artwork, he has worked with bands, friends, and non-profit organizations on a number of album covers, t-shirt designs, logos, and flyers. When not drawing and painting, Matt can be found working with Microcosm Publishing. We are excited we were able to interview him!
Greetings, Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what you do?
My name is Matt Gauck, I draw and paint a lot. I prefer pencils and oil paint over pens and acrylic. I also ride my bike a lot.
What Goals do you have with your art and its impact on the world?
I’m not sure I have “goals” necessarily, but I think I put a lot of hope into all my artistic efforts. That hope centers around critically thinking about situations, and developing unbiased conclusions for yourself. It’s a lot to ask of a painting to do something so monumental, so I really aim to simply inspire hope, inspire change, or just to invoke a thoughtful response. If I had a goal, despite how impossible it seems to accomplish through art, it would be to encourage everyone to break from their tradition, and to draw their own conclusions about everything – diet, what ‘facts’ are, how we should live our lives, etc.
What message or messages are you trying to instill in your audience?
Above all, hope. I think my ideal painting would center around a ‘depressing truth’ about reality, say, animal exploitation, but then provide a small window out of that, the proverbial “one day we’ll get there…” sentiment. I feel like artwork that focuses too heavily on one side can produce a negative effect, where the burden is too great to deal with. I remember seeing Sue Coe’s work years ago when I went to see her speak, and the net result was me thinking that it was basically impossible to end factory farming in my lifetime. Without that 1% of hope, it’s just pure depression.
You’ve done artwork for the CLDC, a non-profit organization, does your artwork allow you an access point to involve yourself in bigger projects or organizations?
Easily one of the best parts is getting to help out like-minded organizations through OTHER like-minded organizations. I still get really excited when shirt printers, or vegan restaurants or activist organizations will get in touch asking about artwork. It really makes me happy to help out when I have a rooted belief in the cause. My tagline should be “I always have time to help out rad organizations”, since I typically get asked for shirt designs or flyers when I have 10,000 other things to do that day.
What first led you to the decision to utilize your gifts as an artist as a tool for expressing your personal views on environmental, social, and/or political issues?
Ever since I was drawing I’ve been expressing my views on issues – and, through whatever process we each go through to become socially aware, I simply starting expressing myself through my artwork. It’s extremely hard to develop complex feelings about things that you can’t simply go “fix” or change with a button…I remember learning about Kent State back in my high school sociology class and feeling SO burdened to do something – but completely unsure what. I mean, you can’t just go throw bricks at police cars and expect it to translate, right? So naturally, this build up of anger and frustration found it’s way out through personal expression. Furthermore, there’s this idea in any movement that ‘all types’ are needed – people to organize, people to do bake sales, people who can mask up and carry signs…everybody, and it’s nice to know that drawing and helping do art and design work, even if it’s just for fliers, actually IS helping. That’s one of those things I tell younger activists – help comes in all forms.
Ideally, what experience or impact would a viewer take away from your art?
Sort of like I said before, I want people to walk away with ideas of their own. It can be about anything, but inspiration to start projects of your own is my ultimate goal – seeing friends of mine go away on long bike trips, quit their jobs to work for themselves (no matter how financially ridiculous it may seem), start their own campaigns against social injustices…Anything I can do to impact a positive change in person is what I will forever strive for.
Do you have advice for other writers, musicians, or artists who are creating politically focused art?
Go with what speaks to you. Trying to tackle everything simultaneously is not only impossible, but impractical as well as extremely tiring and frustrating. I mean, there are a LOT of problems in our culture and our world right now, and addressing them all is difficult. I say, narrow the scope to begin with, and then maybe widen out in time. I also think better artwork comes out of personal experience, and it has a much greater impact that way. If you’ve been arrested once, and spent 11 hours in jail, maybe doing anti-prison centered art isn’t the BEST use of your life experiences. I just think you should start with what you know, what matters to you, or what surrounds you, and branch out from that point. The end goal in all of this, the ‘enlightenment’ phase, is coming to understand that social justice is all one huge movement, and all sub-movements are intertwined…but you have to learn that. Well, I did.
What personal lifestyle choices have you made which reflect the views and opinions expressed through your art?
I’m extremely against consumer culture, which shows in a purely tactile way – all the paints I use (all oil based) are inherited or purchased from thrift stores or second hand stores. If the necessity for a certain new color comes up, I will always get it second hand.
I’m very…what’s the word…handy? DIY? Mcgyver-influenced? One of those…Beyond that, I’m vegan, and I would technically fall into the textbook definition of “straight edge”, though you’ll never see me punching my friends at shows. I made that latter choice for personal reasons, not social ones. I also got a vasectomy.
Is there any hope for success?
Haha…that’s a good question…I’m too hopeful of a person to say no to that, but in darker moments, typically when I finish books about older activist’s lives, older movements, etc…then I get a little back-and-forth about it. Overall though, I do have hope. Maybe ‘success’ is the word that needs a clear definition. I’m quite happy to fight the small battles for now, and we’ll deal with a world without police, prisons, factory farms, world trade, abuse, and pollution later. My personal catchphrase is “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there…”, and I think it applies to this, too.
How important do you feel it is for artists/writers to communicate and discuss these topics and themes via their art and writing, as opposed to spending their time developing sustainable personal practices? Can you do both?
You definitely need both – otherwise, if you’re writing and painting about a better world, but not actively trying to get yourself closer to it, then you’d be missing your OWN point. In my life, one has come out of the other – I paint because I like to paint, but the messages within those, the subjects for drawing, they stem from the life I’m living, or trying to live. To me, the two mirror each other closely.
Given that your art is primarily visual, what devices or techniques do you use to communicate your message(s) non verbally?
Within painting, I feel like I have a fairly mechanical mind – I build a lot of things around our house, take things apart to fix them, that kind of thing. Anyway, because of that, I use a lot of imagery like strings, pulleys, things that have a set motion to them – I try to paint the moment right before movement, or something like that…It’s hard to verbalize, but I feel like most of my work creates a situation with something ‘off’ about it, and the meaning is found within the contrast of those two things.
To learn more about Matt and his creations, please visit his WEBSITE: http://mattgauck.com/