Interview with Matthew Grabelsky for his exhibition ‘Animal’

Thinkspace is pleased to present Matthew Grabelsky’s fifth solo exhibition with us ‘Animal.‘ The show features the largest collection of new oil paintings to date by the Los Angeles-based artist.

Grabelsky’s works depict his subjects traveling on subways, often nonchalantly reading magazines or newspapers, while the protagonists in these dyads are strange, quasi-mythological human hybrids with animal heads. In Animal, the artist’s subjects find themselves coming above ground and exploring city centers and expanding their world view.

In anticipation of the exhibition, our interview with Matthew Grabelsky discusses the vibrant LA art scene, subway reading material, and the influence of growing up in a creative household.

Do you have any pre-studio rituals that help you get into a creative flow?

Not really. I usually get up, take a shower, eat breakfast and am standing at my easel shortly after. Sometimes the work is slow to start and I find I get into a rhythm later on.

How much of the Easter eggs within your compositions are planned versus them coming to you while painting?

There are two phases to my painting process. The first part is the composition when I am figuring out what the overall painting is going to look like.

The second phase is the actual execution. The process of making an oil painting takes a long time. I am there with the piece thinking about it and looking at it over a period of weeks or months. As the painting develops, more ideas come to me that I didn’t think about at first. I will be working on the canvas and think: ¨Oh that would be fun, what if I add this to the scene?”

For example, in this show I have a painting of a monkey walking down the subway platform dressed in a business suit, eating a banana. While I was working on it I thought wouldn’t it be funny if I put a banana peel lying on the platform at a distance behind him as if he had eaten one, tossed the peel on the ground and grabbed another from his briefcase. It’s a small detail but I think it makes the story richer and funnier, and the painting better.

You grew up in a creative household where making a living as an artist was demonstrated to be feasible; at any point did you rebel against the idea of pursuing a career in the arts?

When I was growing up, making art was something I always did and loved but, honestly, I never thought about what my career would be. I didn’t rebel against pursuing art as much as I just didn’t think about a career at all. In high school I became interested in science through one of my uncles who was an astronomer. I pursued astrophysics in college and took art classes for fun. I was accepted into UCLA’s astrophysics graduate program and I deferred for a year so I could study painting in Florence. After a month living and breathing art in Italy I decided I wanted to be an artist and I’ve never looked back.

You’re piece “Here Comes The Sun” is your first piece set in LA; since you’re finally warming up to Los Angeles after eight years, what is your most and least favorite aspects of LA?

I was born in LA and often thought of moving back here. After growing up in NY and living and studying in Europe for 8 years it was time to come home.

The biggest draw for me here is the incredibly vibrant art scene. There are so many amazing artists working in Los Angeles. I bump into them frequently at shows, bars, and art supply stores and they keep me inspired. This community of artists is a great balance to the solitary life of spending many long hours alone painting in the studio.

What is the most challenging part about your characters exiting the subway?

The most challenging question is where are they going to go and what are they going to do. We’ll have to find out.
You will see several of the characters venturing out in my new show.

Aside from time and practice, what has helped you improve and hone your skills as a painter?

I have spent, and continue to spend, countless hours in museums in front of paintings, staring at them, analyzing and attempting to understand how they were painted. Then when I’m at my easel I experiment endlessly with my technique, working to understand and replicate what these masters were doing. Then I add the techniques that I find most useful to my repertoire.

What are three books you’d recommend for reading on the subway, and why? Where were you when you read those books?

I have read tons of books while riding public transportation in NY and the other cities I’ve lived in. Three of my favorites are: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust; Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman; Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. They are all creative, absorbing, and long so you will have plenty to read.

Is there an artist or piece of work that has made a significant impact on you? Has that work influenced your own artistic voice/style?

For technique and composition one of my top favorites is William Bouguereau. He was a wizard with oil paint and pictorial composition and I have learned a huge amount studying his work. For painting animals I look at Rosa Bonheur. She was one of the greatest animal painters during the 19th century. For concept and mood I love Arnold Böcklin. He painted characters from mythology in very wild, natural ways as if they were real characters who lived amongst us and who you might just happen to run across in your daily life.

Outside of painting, the next biggest influence artistically is film. My favorite film makers are Terry Gilliam, Guillermo Del Toro, and David Lynch. I love how they tell stories that contain fantastical elements but are set in the world we know.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – what are you doing to create a sense of normalcy for yourself?

The biggest thing that has kept me sane during this time has been working for this show. I have been painting for it during the whole pandemic. It has given me a sense of purpose and kept me from losing my mind.

If your body of work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and name of your pint?

It would be called Animal Dream and would be made with all the flavors.

Opening Reception Saturday, November 14th | Guidelines Below

We will be having a public reception this Saturday, November 14 from noon to 6 pm. No appointment necessary, but masks will be required at all times, and social distancing enforced. Entry will be limited, as we will be sure to watch capacity and make sure no more than a dozen patrons are in the gallery at any given time. We want to assure the health and safety of our artists, staff and patrons.

We will also be offering timed visits each Saturday during the remaining run of the exhibitions. A link to a scheduling platform will be on our site in the week ahead. Please let us know if you have any questions at all. Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to seeing some of you this Saturday.

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