Matt Neuman

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I was born and raised in Vermont. I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but my studio space is actually up in the Bronx.
What’s your favorite part of living in Brooklyn?
Brooklyn feels more and more like home every year. Greenpoint in particular has a great community of artists and creative types of all sorts. I like that I get great access to all the lifestyle stuff (food, entertainment etc.) but I also love the industry presence there. Walking through the neighborhood I get to peer into open bay doors where fabricators are working away on everything imaginable. Greenpoint is full of capable craftspeople and is a neighborhood that suits me well.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have been working under the umbrella of geometric abstraction for many years now. I like to work through iteration as opposed to open and shut bodies of work that don’t leave a thread with which to move forward. There was a major change a little over year back. I think about this most recent development like an axial shift in how geometry functions within the composition. Older works always had a center point from which visual energy could radiate outward along the X and Y. This new body of work functions along the Z-axis; activating the space between the viewer and the artwork. Just like an origami crease pattern that implies a hidden physical reality lying in wait, these works use line and color to suggest a willingness for the picture plane to shape-shift and fold into an unknowable yet somehow tangible secondary form.

This past year I have focused on small works and increasing the visual vocabulary within a group of ideas. I’d like to explore compositions based on classic “impossible” geometries. Geometry is one of those universal languages we can all associate with. I’d like to see what happens to the way we relate to shapes when they contain inherent contradictions.

What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
I’m constantly drawn to the idea of infinity. It’s the single most humbling concept recognized by the human mind. I’d love to be able to imbue my works with just a touch of that feeling I get deep in my core when I’m able to step so far outside myself that the weight of the infinite sinks in. As a natural counterpart to the infinite, I think about the finite as well; about self-contained systems built of parts but able to find resolution. Then there are a bunch of semi-related words and themes at that resonate and become part of the feedback loop: physics, time, space, energy, origami, transformation, etc.
Why did you choose to work with print?
I found printmaking late in my MFA years. I was focused on painting but ultimately bored by the endless brush and canvas connection. I started following materials instead. I ended up making wooden surface “paintings” in low relief. The surfaces sort of begged to be printed from because they were a lot like relief printing blocks already. Painting brokered my transition into woodcut print. It’s now my primary focus.
I like to work through iteration as opposed to open and shut bodies of work that don’t leave a thread with which to move forward. — Matt Neuman
How did your work as a painter inform your work as a printmaker?
Painting and printmaking are in constant conversation in my studio now. There is a wonderful call and response that takes place when I use both mediums side by side to express one central body of ideas. Like using both hands to examine and understand an object, I use painting and printmaking to pass concepts back and forth as I explore them. And like each hand, each process works both independently and as part of a system where the motions of each are greatly affected by the other. I approach printmaking like a painter, inking fast, making marks, and throwing color around without concern for cleanliness or perfection. Through print processes I am able to then impose a certain mechanical precision on an otherwise very fluid and painterly process.

Alternatively, my painting has adopted characteristics of print. Just as in printmaking where I control composition using printing plates, in paintings I rely on woodcraft to built compositions into the works before considerations of color and surface come into play.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I like to work a pretty consistent 10-6. I usually like to start with a little straightening up. It is obviously a necessary piece of maintenance but also functions to get me back in touch with all the open threads from the previous day. If it happens to be a printing day, it’s easy to get lost in the process. I can spend hours on end rolling inks and stacking colors without suffering the fatigue of repetition. I like to end every day if possible with some new finished work. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s an ongoing goal.
Like using both hands to examine and understand an object, I use painting and printmaking to pass concepts back and forth as I explore them. And like each hand, each process works both independently and as part of a system where the motions of each are greatly affected by the other. — Matt Neuman
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Separating good ideas from the rest is the hardest part. I’m constantly striving to make better work. Better means different. But different how? Different why? What changes are required in the work and in myself to become a better artist? These things are hard.
To what extent is selection a part of your process?
There are lots of opportunities throughout my process that involve selection choices. I don’t know how different it is than plain old decision-making, but color selection comes up very frequently with print projects. Pretty much all my work involves stacking layers of color and it doesn’t happen randomly. Maybe I have something like a cerulean on my printing blocks with a stack of 25 works in progress that could take it. Which print in progress cries out for this blue? Which of the works will it bring into balance? Which ones will it destabilize? Color selection for me is what separates a successful print from the rest.
With that in mind, does chance play heavily in your practice?
My compositions are largely predetermined in advance, but color handling is always fluid and does often rely on chance. I like to drift through color combinations and discover relationships that really sing. The larger works rely even more on chance. I’m often working with a modular unit that repeats and connects to build out compositions from many printed parts. The process of arranging parts on the table is very fluid and usually results in a finished piece I did not expect or plan for at the outset.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
Spontaneity plays only a minor role for me. My processes are thought through and fairly mitigated by an established set of actions that advance any work in progress. At times I’ll feel the need to cut up a bunch a prints and use them to make collage works. I usually stick the plan but I’m always willing to break off in pursuit of an idea that strikes hot.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
Time and tools. I need long uninterrupted periods of focus combined with a wide array and tools and machines at the ready to support process.
What’s one tool you couldn’t live without?
It’s not the first time I’ve said this aloud: I don’t know how anybody lives without a table saw.
Is there any artwork on display in your home or studio?
My wife and I have definitely become art collectors. I’m around my own work in the studio every day so mostly I try to keep my work out of the house. I hang works by friends and peers. We’ve got works of all kinds: realist, abstract, found, reclaimed, painted, drawn, etched, wood, stone, serious, playful. We don’t have a “style” around us. We just fall in love with individual works for individual reasons and let the variety enrich our lives.

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