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Matt Gondek: Artist Advice #1

What was the process like from going from a  digital illustrator and working for a company to working for yourself? 

MG:  Well between that I owned a boutique in Pittsburg that sold clothing and my own artwork.  It started it because I hated being a digital illustrator, working for other people.  The store didn’t work out and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I kinda just started painting to try something else.  There wasn’t any one thing, I just found out that I really enjoyed painting.  Working digitally you don’t make anything tangible, it doesn’t exist.  What I like about painting is that you can make something tangible, hand it to people, you go and buy paint, get paint all over yourself and all that good stuff.  It was a natural progression in that sense. 


As a self taught artist what are your thoughts on going to art school? 

MG:  I don’t know. I interview a lot of artists, I have a podcast called Clean Break Podcast.  I interviewed over a 100 different artists now and only a handful of them went to school.  I’m 37 and when I was 19 there wasn’t youtube or anything, you couldn’t hop on the internet to learn.  I went to school and they taught me how to use photoshop and illustrator.  If you are trying to be the kinda artist I am, I don’t necessarily know if you need to go to school for art anymore.  I guess the only reason why you would need to go to school is if you're not the kinda person who is self motivated.  Obviously, if you go to school they force you to do things.  I don’t think you need it anymore, it’s also very expensive.  


What was your first mural? 

MG:  I started painting on my garage door  in Pittsburg.  It’s actually my most well known image, the Homer Simpson exploding head.  There’s a magazine called Complex and for whatever reason they found it and posted it on their website.  This really popular singer saw it and had me do some album work for him.  That spring boarded the whole deconstructive pop art thing I was doing.  


How did you come about the explosive deconstructive pop art style? 

MG:  I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was like 4 years old.  How it all happened was 7 or 8 years ago I was doing a commercial job where I had to draw Mickey Mouse in a bunch of different ways, like a 100 ways.  Eventually some of the drawings were of him getting poisoned, ran over, one of them was his head blowing him.  I had all these drawings and I sat on them for two years and then when I started painting I didn’t know what to paint.  I randomly grabbed one of those Mickey Mouse drawings and it was the one of his head blowing up.  It was completely random.  I did that and I posted it on instagram and everyone said it was really cool and I enjoyed painting so I thought maybe I’ll do an art show of just a bunch of characters with their heads blowing up.  I have a bar in Pittsburgh that showed art on their walls and I asked to do a show and I did like 8 or 9 of those head exploding paintings.  


Do you have a favorite character to paint? 

MG:  Donald Duck, I like his color palette, the way he acts and the shape of him.  I just think he’s fun to paint.  


Is there something you know now that you wish you knew when starting out? 

MG:  That’s always a loaded question, but no I don’t think so.  I think that everything I know is that I had to do it myself and all the bad things that happened was because I did them wrong.  You just have to do a lot of stuff and see what works and screw things up and then see what you do right. 


You have to just make the mistakes yourself and then learn from them. 

MG:  Absolutely.  


Did you feel pressure to find a “thing” as an artist and do you have any advice for artists trying to find their voice?   

MG:  I did yeah.  The first 7 or 8 years I was just a freelance illustrator and I was doing anything I could to make money.  I used to work at a call center for car insurance and I hated it obviously.  When I started doing freelance illustrator it was random stuff and it wasn’t a lot of money, but I didn’t have to work on car insurance.  It wasn’t until I found my niche which is the deconstructive pop art that things really started.  I think that because there is so much art out there when you find one thing people will remember you better.  If you do a flower painting and then a mickey mouse painting and then a clay pot, people will be like oh that person is an art, but they will forget about you because you are doing too much.  I always say that it is important to find a thing that you do and do that well, like a little niche thing.  There really aren't any tips for finding that thing out because like I told you mine was completely random.  I started painting out of depression and boredom and I discovered I liked painting and the head exploding stuff was completely random.  It is also important to find something that is yours and you enjoy doing.  A lot of younger artists will find someone like me and be like even though I found out about Matt a month ago he probably flipped a switch and they don’t realize it took a lot of time.  I think that younger artists will see that and try to replicate what I’m doing or what someone else is doing and they won’t get the same results.  The only reason why I’ve been doing this for 14 years is because I love what I’m doing. 


Do you have only advice on how to navigate art in COVID? 

MG:  I have a team of people that would help me with my work and that got drastically cut so now it is just me and my assistant.  I’ve been spending a lot of time alone and in my free time building out my social media.  I made really quality posts for instagram and in like three months I got like 100,000 new followers because I was really trying.  Reason being is that someone like me has shows that exist in a physical space, but there are no shows right now.  I couldn’t go out and network so I figured I would divert all my intention to social media because everyone is on their phones right now.  Maybe younger artists can’t get a show at a gallery, but I have a friend who set up a show in his garage and went on IG live and talked about the paintings.  Just get creative.  


How did you come up with the Clean Break Podcast? 

MG:  I’ve been doing podcasts for the last 20 years and I used to do one with my roommates just about bullshit and I started recordings about advice for artists because I don’t think there’s a lot of practical advice out there.  A lot of the advice I find are very stuffy old school methods of painting and how to exhibit and I just don’t think it really applies these days.  I live in Downtown LA and there’s a lot of creatives that live here or are coming in town and a lot of them would come by my studio.  It started off pretty scrappy, just drinking and bullshitting.  We really refined it down to have someone come in and give advice, how did they get started, how did they set up their website, how do you ship out?  That stuff is online, but when you hear it from one of your favorite artists it rings true a little better.  


How would you suggest best navigating the relationship between art and business? 

MG:  Good question. I think that a lot of people look at art as this real hippie dippie looks at me. I'm a creative type of thing.  If that’s the kind of person you are and that’s how you use art, for therapy or self medication that’s great.  If you are trying to become an artist that makes money, has a business, and supports yourself through art you have to treat it like a job.  I’ve always done that since day one.  I have hours, I work 9-5 on art.  All my emails I handle very professionally, how I present my work on social media and how I discuss my work I do very professionally.  You have to really do that.  When I post a painting, I post the dimensions, what the materials are and how you contact the person who is selling it.  I don’t write. I was so free willed this day and I love everything, that leans more into the hippie stuff.  Imagine going to the grocery store and trying to buy eggs and instead of a price tag it says these chickens had a nice life and the farmer was happy, but how do I buy these eggs?  I’ve always treated my art in that way.  


What do you think the LA professional art scene/ community is like now compared to when you started? 

MG:  I’m from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania which is a much smaller town, blue collar and there is nothing wrong with that at all.  But, when I lived in Pittsburg it was such a smaller pool of artists and the apex goal of myself and my peers was to simply make enough money to survive.  In Los Angeles my peers and I are conversing about how to achieve much more.  How do we have a show in Paris? How did you make that 10 foot tall sculpture, how did you ship all this work to Hong Kong?  Not that we are trying to be more douchey about it, but because there is a bigger pool of artists it puts you in a mind frame to achieve more.  So that’s the biggest difference from where I am to when I started.  


DG:  In LA you realized that the ceiling could go higher in terms of where you could take your art. 

MG:  Yes, that’s what I mean by that. 


Do you think that the street is the new gallery in a sense? 

MG:  No, not at all.  I think that people that aren’t familiar with me call me a street artist. I’m not.  I spend 95% of my time in my studio making contemporary pop art for galleries.  But, people think that street art is cool and for me it is a nice release to go outside.  Depending on the type of artist you are, yes the street can be the new gallery.  If you are 19 years old and no one is talking to you yet a great way is to just get out there and put a billion stickers with your instagram name and paint murals and go out.  It’s a good way to get your name out there and proves to the world that you are taking what you are doing very seriously.  It helped my career immensely, like I said I started by painting murals and putting up stickers.  I don’t think it’s the new gallery, but it depends on where you want to take your career.  I know a lot of artists that, myself included, that started doing stuff outside, but as we got older started to focus more on the fine art and gallery scene.  I’ve also seen artists do the exact opposite, there’s no right or wrong answer. 


How would you suggest approaching galleries about getting a show? 

MG: I have a friend named Greg Mike, fantastic artist, who actually owns a gallery called ABV gallery.  He gave me some great advice and said if you are good enough the gallery will find you.  That is the truth.  I think the thing a lot of younger artists don’t realize is that if you own a gallery you have rent to pay and bills and it is a business.  You can only put so much art on your walls and so much time promoting the art in your gallery per month.  What galleries try to do is find short bets, either insanely talented artists or an artist that has a long history of selling work.  A gallery can then take the artist in and elevate them and it becomes a mutually beneficial thing.  Just make your art the best you can, put it online, start selling and overtime a gallery will take notice.  The worst thing you can do is email every gallery on earth.  A lot of artists have  a chip on their shoulder because the gallery doesn’t respond because they get thousands of emails every month. Just make things the best you can.     

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