Interview with Matt Irie


Neoteric Art: You have your hands in so many different types of work: painting, drawing, sculpture, collaboration, video and performance. Do you approach each medium the same or differently?

Matt Irie: I think my approach is consistent throughout these various types of work. The only reason I tend to jump around is that I work with the medium that best fits a given idea. All of the work comes from a similar conceptual framework. Lately, I have been focusing most of my attention on a series of paintings, but I have other projects that I am working on concurrently as well as a number of ideas I wish I had more time for. Aside from the fact that I am more involved with the paintings at the moment, it would be hard for me to say if I am more interested in one mode of working over another.

NA: Let’s discuss your painting in more detail. What is your thought/work process when starting a new piece?


MI: The paintings grew out of two installations Dominick Talvacchio and I created in 2006 and 2007 where we covered the walls of the exhibition spaces with vast numbers of paint drips all appearing to drip up the walls rather than down as one would expect. After engaging with this process I decided that I wanted to explore the kinds of paintings I could make with isolated paint drips. From the beginning I have been drawn to the juxtaposition between the illusion of spatial depth and the hyper-physicality of the paint drip. When starting a new painting I generally decide on a color scheme and then proceed one drip at a time, at first randomly and then in an action/reaction manner.

collabNA: Elaborate on your collaborative work with Dominick Talvacchio.

MI: Dominick and I began working together on a series of performances in 2002, shortly after I finished graduate school. After completing the first performance piece, we were invited to do another. Following that, we sort of fell into working together somewhat consistently for the next eight or nine years. Though our work together has taken many different forms, I believe what connects the work is our belief that many perceived impossibilities are illusionary and that by exposing the instability of assumed realities, the idea can arise that anything is possible.

NA: You received your MFA from Northwestern. How was your overall experience and what are some of your fun and interesting memories?

MI: Northwestern overall was great. I was fortunate to be able to work closely with artists and faculty I admire such as Jeanne Dunning, William Conger, Judy Ledgerwood, Ed Paschke, James Yood, Dan Devening, and many others. I came into the program making paintings, but got into the program for the conceptual work I was doing at the time. I actually find it somewhat amusing that I have managed to circle around and effectively trick myself into making paintings again.

I have a number of fond memories of Northwestern. However, the best memory I have is of my final critique before our thesis exhibition. For that particular critique I wrote a guerilla musical about a pair of paintings I would be presenting. The musical suddenly erupted a few minutes into the critique. I had a keyboardist hidden in plain sight among the students and faculty (our crits were open to whoever wished to attend), with the keyboard under a pile of coats. Two actors were also seated in the crowd and four additional actors were outside the critique space ready to burst in singing on cue. The lyrics I wrote for the musical explored what I imagined would be the positive and negative ideas the faculty would have about the paintings and about the musical within the critique. Essentially, I created a musical which critiqued the critique and everyone involved. It lasted about 25 minutes and ended with all the actors and myself holding hands and singing about art.

NA: You live and work in the Chicago area. How would you describe the Chicago art scene?

drawingMI: Improving? I was excited to see a number of better-known artists exhibited at the galleries this past September. It would be nice to see Chicago get more exposure in the international art magazines and for it to become more of a hub for contemporary art. Perhaps we need a major Biennial?

NA: Discuss some of your upcoming shows in 2011.

MI: In January I will be showing new paintings at the Arrowhead Gallery at Waubonsee Community College as a part of a two-person show with Mark Arctander, with whom I teach at McHenry County College. In the summer I will have two solo exhibitions which will be up about the same time. One exhibition will be at The Wright Museum of Art in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the other will be at Ebersmoore in Chicago. Further on in the fall I will have a drawing in a group exhibition titled Write Now at the Chicago Cultural Center.

NA: You have also been a long time member of a rock band. Does music influence your visual art?

MI: I don’t think the music has influenced my visual work directly. However, there are certainly connections. Both practices involve abstraction and in each I seek to move beyond what has been done before. Nonetheless, I have always thought of my work with the band and my work with the visual arts as being two separate trajectories.