TRAPPING TIME: A conversation with artist Matt Miller
DECEMBER 18, 2013 12:08 PM
WORDS / MARTY SHUTTER
PHOTO / COLLEY BAILEY
Matt Miller is an artist who almost fell deeply into the calculated world of money. He was nearing college graduation, studying finance and preparing to become an investment banker. “I think that was just the world trying to shape me, then at some point I was like, man that just feels wrong.” Soon thereafter, Miller said he was “painting more and more while I was in school, kind of secretively turning my garage into my studio, and that’s what I did during college for about two years. My friends hardly even knew.”
He has since traded the garage for a large studio off of Fayetteville’s square. Once a secretive painter whose works even close friends weren’t aware of, Miller is now one of Fayetteville’s most prominent artists. His murals can be found throughout the city, and in the studio, his paintings cover nearly two floors of space. The work is energetic and colorful. Abstracts balance color and texture and animal portraits imbue subjects with human curiosity and prankery.
The second floor of the studio is a long-board shop, with people coming and going throughout the day to gear up for rides around on a Fayetteville hill. We sat upstairs on couches surrounded by guitars and talked confidence, artistry and inspiration.
IDLE CLASS: So, what was the decision like to abandon finance and pursue your passion full time?
Basically there was a definitive decision. I don’t know if I wanted to do this investment banking thing. For a split second, I was like, just go make a bunch of money, just do it, learn that side of the world, and then become an artist. My little brother put it to me in a very simple perspective, and said, ‘Look man, say you go do that, and you spend 85 percent of your time, and you spend 15 percent of your time, assuming you have the energy to do it, as an artist, or creating art. What are you, and what will you become?’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ That answer’s simple: I’m supposed to be an artist. That’s what I have to do, from then on out I knew that that was the direction, that no matter what happened, it was gonna work out.
Miller had saved up enough money to live cheaply for a few months, so he started sharing his work and pretty soon had a show, and soon after started selling pieces.
And that bought me more time. So I viewed money as buying me time. I still view money that way, cause I’m still on this ride, I’m still riding this wave that’s just continuously going and if it ever does break completely, you know, I’ll figure it out.
IDLE CLASS: What do you trace your artistic impulses back to?
I remember in 3rd grade getting in trouble for some art that I did, which was these mice that had knives and they were running around. It was kind of weird, but I thought it was awesome and my teacher was like, ‘This is scary,’ and I was like, ‘It is?’ I was just doing some mice with some knives!
IDLE CLASS: What did it feel like to get caught? How did it change art class for you?
I was kind of like, ‘That’s funny.’ I can get this shock factor that isn’t even real. I didn’t intend that at all, but they’re perceiving it to be something that it’s not at all, and that was interesting to me. They freaked out over something I was just having fun with.
IDLE CLASS: How does an artist build confidence? How did you? And what would you say to someone who has just embarked on a new endeavor, like you did, someone who has decided to pursue a passion and suddenly finds themselves at the feet of a brand new world, untrained and anxious yet determined?
My answer to that is to not worry about the technical side of it and to allow yourself to explore, and see where that takes you. My confidence came from naiveness and not going to art school. It came from freedom and a desire to create. It came from a place of ‘this makes you feel productive, this makes you feel good about yourself, this makes you release those emotions that you need to, it’s a meditation, you have to do this for your health more than anything.’ So if you do it from there… your intention is to be healthy. And if that is your intention, then no one can ever turn you down from that. No one can ever knock your confidence, cause you have to do it. As an artist, you constantly deal with insecurities with your work and insecurities of just like that question of what you asked earlier.
IDLE CLASS: How do you not feel like a fraud? I’ve spoken with many artists, of every experience level, and yet deep down it’s almost as if none of them, even the most outwardly confident, are completely comfortable with their work.
You stay right above it. That devil on your shoulder is there all the time. And it pushes you to keep going, and you do become a fraud if you don’t. So you just have to keep moving, you build confidence through action.
IDLE CLASS: What brings you to the canvas?
It usually has to do with the energy that I’m feeling that day. The energy that I woke up with and kind of where I’m at mentally. Reading a lot, listening a lot and just searching for the truth of humanity and stories of people that are inspiring to me. I just wanna portray a concept that’s in my head at the time, and I need to get it out of me and I need to express it.
IDLE CLASS: Any tricks to get yourself into that mode?
Sometimes you have to find it. Sometimes you have to fiddle around and then all of a sudden you’re in a project and you didn’t mean to be. It’s just moments of being tapped into that flow of life.
IDLE CLASS: Mark Twain says something like this of creativity, ‘If the tank runs dry, leave it alone, it’ll fill itself back up.’ To fill that tank back up, you have to know what that is that makes you full. And so is that nature? Is it running? Is it reading? Is it music? What is that that fills you up?
You have to go explore life and be in tune with your friends and your people, or maybe you need some self reflection, but you need to find that balance that puts you in that relative flow that allows you to tap into the source which is your creative realm, and then be the filter, you know? You have to be open to tapping into that, you have to set yourself up for it almost.
IDLE CLASS: So we’ve gotten you to the canvas. Is there something about visual art, painting, that you express more than you do in other areas of life, or in other artistic endeavors?
What happens more when I’m painting, it’s a feeling of personal progression and productivity. Subconsciously taking in all the situations that I’m going through in a particular time, so it’s almost like trapping time, it’s almost like trapping a space in time in which you existed. Whether you see it or whether the observer sees it in an objective point of view is almost irrelevant. All the emotions, all the happy feelings, the negative feelings, all the literature that you’re reading, that is in that (the work)!
IDLE CLASS: So it’s important to you to capture, where do you think that comes from in you, that drive to record in such a way?
My girlfriend and brother were talking about that the other day. John was like, ‘I’ll be talking to him (Miller) and he won’t remember like an hour later. (Painting) is a way for me to remember literature from four years ago. Someone will come in and go ‘what’s this about?’ And I’ll go, ‘let me tell ya.’ And we can dive right into that human conversation instead of just being like, ‘well, hi nice to meet you.’ Each piece is a window into that human conversation for people outside the studio that come in.
IDLE CLASS: Tell me more about the studio.
The studio is meant to be a place of creativity and positive energy and just human conversation. It’s really become this creative hub where artists will come and be like, ‘hey I’ve got this idea,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah! Let me help you do it, or what do you need help with? So the idea is, when you go into an art gallery in a big city, or when you go into most galleries, you almost feel like you have to clench up, and be like ‘Ok, I can’t touch anything and I can’t talk to this person,’ and you feel kind of tight, and you’re not open. I want to be the absolute opposite of that, I want art to be accepted, or I want art to accept people.
I feel like a lot of people are scared of it, and there’s this boundary and they just don’t deal with it, or they don’t experience it, so I want to be completely different. It’s also just like a piece of art, it’s a process, I don’t know fully what this place is, but I know it feels good and it feels right and it’s got good people involved and good people attracted to it. I feel like there’s a positive message there, and do I know what that is? Not necessarily. Do I feel like I’ll find it? Yes, and I feel like I’m on that path to find that, and I feel like I’m creating it daily with just the human interaction that I have and the the perspective I get just from conversations I get into because of the art, and that’s what it’s for.