Artist Spotlight Series: Rob Matthews

I am thrilled to introduce you to another talent this week in my Artist Spotlight Series

Enjoy getting to know

Rob Matthews

Nashville, Tennessee

What is your training? 

I received my BFA in painting at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and my MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

What inspires you and your designs?

Current events and how they tie into a longer historical thread. Most of the time my work gets driven down a few layers removed from the immediacy of the news and turns into an allegorical interpretation.

What is your favorite piece? 

I get protective of some pieces that go out to 4-5 exhibitions and don’t sell. They return and I pet them and say, “That’s alright, little guy, you can stay with me forever.”

There is a larger painting called The End of Time that I made a couple of years ago that brought a lot of disparate ideas together for me into one cohesive piece and placed me on firm ground with the confidence to move forward in a somewhat new direction.

How has your area influenced your work?

My life as an artist in Nashville functions differently than when I lived other places. Now it’s more about the deliberate isolation of the artist at work in the studio. I engage in narrative both directly and indirectly in the work so it’s nice to be back in a part of the country that is steeped in the concept of storytelling as a source of instruction or passing of knowledge.

What is your favorite restaurant in Nashville?

With the number of dietary restrictions that come with middle age, I like The Wild Cow vegetarian restaurant.

If you’re looking for a trendy spot or a place that bills itself as haute cuisine then I’m not the guy to ask. I drive out to Hendersonville to El Grullense Taqueria for tacos to “cheat”. When you have a young child, it’s more about the places you have on a list to try one day rather than what your favorite place is right now. Ask me again in a few years.

What is your favorite cocktail?

Straight whiskey or gin. I don’t know if I’ve had a cocktail other than an Old Fashioned. If you pursue that fact to its logical end, an Old Fashioned is both my favorite and least favorite cocktail.

How do you balance personal life and work?

I don’t. I get up at 5:45 and go to sleep at midnight. I go nonstop at everything both personal and work-related all day until it gets late into the evening and then I go to sleep and do it again the next day. Sundays are immune from all of that though.

Dream trip?

Spain. I have never seen Picasso’s Guernica or Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Maybe they shouldn’t allow you to get an MFA in painting unless you go see those first.

Dream commission?

A small chapel. Matisse set a high bar though.

Your favorite host / hostess gift to give?

Despite being raised by people that understand proper social graces, I am horrible at this. I play it safe and stick to red wine. I once gave a guy a box of truffles and he looked at me like I had reached back through time and offended his entire bloodline.

Who is your style icon?

I’m not stylish. Most of my major life decisions have been made by asking the question “Can I wear jeans to this?” I’m a skinny guy so if style registers in me then I am probably looking at another skinny guy that is dressed well. Bob Dylan circa 1965-66 and, with some tailoring and a beard trim, I like Bob’s look in the Traveling Wilbury’s “Inside Out” and “She’s My Baby” videos. Also, current day Nick Cave (the musician not the visual artist). I don’t have the swagger to leave as many shirt buttons open as Nick though. Beyond their wardrobe, they are both artists that constantly mine the past for inspiration, which puts them at odds with a world around them that doesn’t seem to value history. I like people that look back to push forward.

Your favorite up and coming artist?

It’s kind of a loaded question for an artist to answer. I wouldn’t want to label someone “up and coming” even as a compliment because that person might see themselves as beyond “up and coming”. Someone called me an “artist on the rise” after I’d already been at it for 15 years and shown at the Smithsonian. It was one of the few times that I didn’t let it slide. I lit into them in an email that I still regret sending.

 What is your most treasured possession?

Our kitchen table. I grew up eating at it and now it’s in my house as an adult. We’ve been through a lot together. I’ve included it in a number of drawings and paintings as well.

What are you reading?

How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K.A. Smith

If I make it through a 160-page analysis of A Secular Age, then I might try the actual 900-page book.

What are you listening to?

A cellist/composer, Ernst Reijseger. I’ve been listening to his score for a movie that I haven’t seen called Walking Out.

Other than that, I have a lifelong love for Janet Jackson and the new Kelela album reminds me of her. An electronic artist named Skee Mask’s Shred album is my late night studio soundtrack.

What are your favorite blogs / publications?

I gravitate towards websites that publish infrequently. That could mean once a day or once a month. That way it doesn’t feel like a burden to keep up with them. Other than that, I’m not a news junkie but I try to keep up.

Videos from the Louisiana Channel 

A look at his diverse portfolio…

Follow Rob on his website and Instagram

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