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Mark Sean Orr
|Artist Matjames Metson - Resurrecting Ghosts
"I work directly with time, memory, and ghosts."~MatjamesMetson
by Mark Sean Orr
March 31, 2014
The art of Matjames Metson has been categorized as folk-art, assemblage, nostalgia, and as Americana. It's
been described as dark, outre, chaotic and "lost" among other things. His work has been compared to the
likes of H.C. Westermann, Joseph Cornell, George Herms, Robert Rauschenberg and other assemblage
I would agree with nostalgic Americana with a haunting feeling, but not dark and definitely not chaotic. I think
what Metson is doing is unique, especially when you consider he is creating this art in Los Angeles. Metson's
choice of materials to use in his art include old wood, pencils, vintage photographs, old buttons, stamps,
pocket-knives, tape measures, nails, pins and more. He has created fantastic creations that to me are
straight forward pieces of finely sculpted art that use geometrical and architectural design mixed with articles
from the past that once served useful purposes in people's lives many years ago. I like to think he is keeping
history alive. We may not know the people in the photos or when and how the articles were used, but we
know they all had a life and therefore hold memories if only in anonymity now. They now live again through
Metson spent two decades in New Orleans including the time when Hurricane Kartrina hit, and for 8 days
after during those hellish times in Louisiana. He has had to overcome much adversity in his life. He ended up
in Los Angeles and after a brief struggle became a well known and respected artist, reconnected with his 16
year old daughter and found the love of his life. In his own analogy he had to figure out how to climb a ladder
with the bottom rungs broken. This he has successfully done. I'm a fan of his work and think it is refreshing,
and so far removed from the pretentiousnesss that a lot of contemporary art has become that it stands out
far above the rest. Metson doesn't take the road more frequently traveled of shock and awe. That is part of
the appeal. I think it is now becoming en vogue to not be en vogue....but I also don't think he cares one way
or the other. And that I feel is admirable.
But what is the thought process in the mind of artist Matjames Metson? Hopefully we will have a better
understanding of this in the following interview I conducted with Metson on March 31, 2014.
Hi Matjames...thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!
I love your work and am excited to find out more about it, and you.
Without further adieu......
Where/when were you born and what was your introduction
I was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1971,but we didn't stay there long.
We as a family didn't really ever stay in one place for very long.
We had a pretty nomadic life really but we did have a home base
in up state New York.
My parents are artists and educators who hung out with like minds,
so my introduction to art was from the very beginning.
I kinda never knew anything other than art….art, bicycles, camping
I love the work you do now, is that the type of art you've always
been drawn to?
My materials do vary quite a bit. It changes by what I am able to gather.
The one thing that does stay the norm is the photos that are in nearly
every piece. There is a long history with myself and the photographs
that goes all the way back to my childhood. Actually, most of the
materials I use do.
What was your inspiration to take old photographs, cigar boxes,
buttons etc.....to create art? Had you seen any art like what you do now before you began?
I haven't really seen any other work like mine There are certain similarities here and there but nothing that is
parallel. I don't really feel as if I am very influenced by many other assemblage artists…maybe few artists at
all. I look at it as more architecture and history.
How did you end up in California and do you plan to stay there?
I ended up in Los Angeles, California after I was displaced from New Orleans by hurricane Katrina…I got here
with two dogs. Thats all. I lost every thing else. I am staying here no question at least for the foreseeable
Do you categorize your type of art or does that matter to you? (Folk Art, Americana etc?)
I try to avoid being categorized with art titles. I feel as if the title of fine artist works perfectly well. I am called a
found object artist even when there are no found objects in the work, I am called a folk artist, and that I just
don't really understand. I am called an assemblage artist. But I have an equal if not bigger body of work as a
graphic novelist so its tricky. Fine artist will do.
Do you have any nostalgic feelings about your art or feel any connection to the people in the
photos and the items you use?
I suppose that I do have a nostalgic feeling about my own work …how can I not really. My main art supply is
nostalgia, melancholia, homesickness and ghosts However, when the pieces go away to collectors, I do not
miss them. I do not even miss the vast unthinkable amount of work that I and my collectors lost to the storm
and following floods. They served their purpose and now they carry on.
So where do the photographs come from? Are they relatives? Do people give you old photos? Are
you interested in who the people in the photos are......and also the history of the objects you use
or are they just part of the process?
The photos are all unknown. I'll never be able to find out who they are. Even when the names are on the back
I ignore that and let them roam in my provided purgatory that offers more than the abyss. Since I was a kid I've
been finding photo albums that go from tin types to Polaroids. I fish them out of the trash or junk shops. I feel
like I am rescuing ghosts.I think I am doing the right thing. The faces themselves do the rest.
Well yes....I think by saving them from being trashed you are doing something amazing...allowing
the photos and objects to live on trough your art!
You mention homesickness.....where is "home"?
Well I am home sick for both the town i grew up in, in upstate New York. A picturesque hamlet in the
mountains. It's where i first found the photos and also the place I found the first object that I now use as my
language. These are now, not found objects at all. Once yes..now no. It would be great it all this junk I use was
easy to find but no, its hard to find and has been getting more and more expensive. Pocket knives, buttons,
pocket watches etc. You know my work and the objects I am talking about. So because of the cost and
availability I am using fewer and fewer objects. My solo show hanging now, "A Better Home for a Quiet Wolf "
has very few language objects. No knives, no watches..just photos, old ephemera, buttons, poppy and
mustard seeds. I am also homesick for New Orleans. Sure!
I did live there nearly 2 decades but the place has changed too much for me to go back to.
You make a variety of sizes of art with different levels of intracacie....what do some of your smaller
pieces sell for and what about the large pieces?
The small pieces right now are what really sells because thats my present collector's interest. But for me the
larger works are so much more exciting and challenging. All artist struggle with finding homes for their larger
work. Thats why I like doing chairs. I make very elaborate chairs that are solo, complex and require only room
enough to stand.
What is the significance of the numbers and words used in your art?
The words are often generated through both chance and my own form of W.S.Burroughs cut up method. All
the words are there..they come with the ephemera. They just line up as they do, suppling a kind of deliberate
randomness. The numbers…I can't tell you.
I read that you are also a writer....can you talk a bit about the books that you have authored?
Yes I do also write. I do comics/graphic novels but I have also written two novels largely unseen and
unpublished. Currently I am working on a book of my very detailed and strange dreams.
That sounds very interesting! Do you have any favorite artists of all time...or contemporary?
I don't really have any favorite artist, at least not any I have found yet. I have peers whose work I do like a
great deal. I suppose I could make a list some day.
What advice would you give to upcoming artsists about the difficulty of "making it" in the art world?
Look, as far as the making it in the art world. First you must be willing to work 45 times harder than you ever
had considered. You have to work at perfecting exactly what it is that you do. You must be able to make 150
different pieces that all look different from each other but still look very much like you made it.
The rest is dumb luck.
Thanks for your time and thoughtful and honest answers. I really appreciate it!
You can follow Matjames Metson on Facebook at:
|One of my favorite pieces by artist Matjames Metson.
Photo by Mat Gleason
|Artist Matjames Metson
Photo by Mike Street
|Photo by Eric Minh Swenson