By Harry Banks
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Ten years ago, when Matthew received his degree, his professors joked that at the rate he was going he’ll produce tons of it. The house he lives in now is full of it. It, being the body of work he’s created since graduating from college. Mountains of objects taking up space, which makes hopeless the very idea of walking a straight path from one area to the next. Stacks of matted drawings, stacks of framed lithographs, canvases stacked together leaning against walls. Several neat stacks of works on wood scattered throughout the apartment. Small sculptures and ceramics pieces number well into the hundreds. Piles of destroyed and unfinished work on paper (that may never be finished) littering the carpet on every available square foot. Art books and art magazines are so abundant in their stacks as to make a small library. Hundreds of unpublished short stories, essays, art reviews and articles that he’s written, in perfect stacks on the kitchen floor in the breakfast nook. Three novels in progress strewn across the living room floor in a fit of frustration. 2,000 copies of Art Ho, a photocopied graffiti art magazine that he edits, are in psychotically-neat stacks of 100, sitting near the front door, ready to be delivered to coffee shops and record stores. The icing on the cake are vices of pop culture: hundreds of 12-inch hip-hop records from the 1980s, thousands of CDs and tapes, hundreds of music and subculture magazines, hundreds VCR tapes.
Matthew feels like his work and interests are crowding him, like a part of himself is taking up his space. The basement and attic are off limits to him. The Smiths, the nice, middle-age white couple that he rents the house from has tons of objects and memorabilia, ranging from old Polaroid pictures to archaic television sets to unused exercise equipment stored in both spaces. As if to prove a point, the Smiths keep padlocks on the doors to the attic and basement. “Like I’m really going to rummage through their things and steal shit,” Matthew often says to friends.
The extra bedroom that he wanted to use as a library and study is overrun with thousands of dollars worth of art supplies, hundreds of pounds of art paper, and boxes of found objects that he’s collected the past ten years. The bedroom that he sleeps in is no better. He’s got mad gear. Clothes and shoes and boots are all over the place. Matthew is a young man who believes in staying on top of the latest trends in hip-hop fashion. He has some of almost every name brand littering his room. JNCO, Kikwear, FUBU, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Nike, Puma, Lugz, Airwalk, Pure Playaz, Karl Kani. Matthew barely has enough space to move his long body around in his bedroom. And the idea of having one of his girlfriends spend the night is not an option. None of his girlfriends like coming over because the house is too cluttered and the limited space makes one feel crowded.
Chico, a close friend of his who does graffiti art once told Matthew that the inside of his house is beginning to resemble some sort of conceptual artistic statement.
“Word?” Matthew was amazed that Chico saw this, because he
had always thought his house looked like a salvage yard.
“Yeah, man,” Chico began in that Puerto Rican b-boy by way of
New York City dialect of his, “Maybe you should pretend this whole
shit is a gallery and have an art opening one night.”
“Yeah,” said Matthew. “I’ll title it Consumed By Self,
and the spectators will get a first-hand look at what a struggling
artist lives like.”
Having no place to produce art at the rate he’d like to is frustrating. Matthew has one easel set up in the living room, and another in the dining room, which means working on two paintings at a time. He’s used to working on ten or twenty paintings at a time, and this working on two at a time makes him feel like he’s not accomplishing anything. The solution to his problem is studio space, lots of it. But the $9-an-hour job he has at a bakery doesn’t provide him with the necessary dough to rent studio space anywhere. The $525 a month he’s paying the Smiths is killing his budget as it is.
Matthew has been living in this house for six years now. Before moving into the house he lived in a tiny studio apartment and was part of an art collective that shared a cavernous loft as an art studio. This arrangement lasted but a year- it didn’t take long to prove that eight artists, although close friends couldn’t share the same space to create works of art. The art studio became trendy, too many strangers showing up at all hours of the night, too many parties. Rock bands showing up and performing impromptu gigs for free. Lonely poets, in search of attention giving readings of their work. People got on each other’s nerves, harsh words were said, friendships were broken, and the moving out of things began. Matthew was one of the first to leave.
He needed to hang on to his money for as long as possible, so he moved out of his apartment as well, put his things in a storage facility, and found a cheap motel room out in the country. He limited himself to one meal a day. Then one day, after living in the motel and eating fast food for three weeks, Matthew happened to be driving down the street when he saw a FOR RENT sign in the yard of a modest, bungalow-style house. He pulled the car into the driveway and dialed the number listed in the white space of the sign. He got excited about the possibility of living there and using the basement as an art studio. So he called Mr. Smith, they met, Matthew was given a small tour of the house, and then got disappointed when Mr. Smith told him that they were still using the basement and attic for storage. He went ahead and signed the one-year lease anyway, because he was getting tired of living in that dingy motel room, and was desperate to find a place he could call home. He figured he would eventually find a small, low-rent art studio somewhere.
Matthew never appreciated the large amount of space he had in that loft until he moved into the house and had to spend an entire month unpacking his huge collection of whatever, literally having to search for places to put shit.
It’s been a decade since Matthew received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, yet he’s so far away from reaching that level of artistic professionalism that he’d like to be at. Since moving to Kansas City eight years ago Matthew has been trying to get representation from several local galleries, but they don’t seem to be interested in his Neo-Expressionist vision. And the major galleries in New York and San Francisco often return his slide portfolios without comment.
Matthew has enjoyed small successes since being out of school.
The prices of his canvases range from $500 to $10,000, and occasionally
he’ll sell one. One year he sold two paintings for $5,000 each. These
small successes is what makes it possible for him to spend big money on
his wardrobe, art supplies, records, and books. But unless he can sell
twenty or more paintings a year, he’ll never be able to make it
financially as an artist.
All Matthew can do is hope to be represented by a major gallery
some day, sell his work, and from there maybe all of his artistic dreams
will come true.