Matt Thomas: Guarded Wisdom

Matt Thomas

Artwork’s Title: Guarded Wisdom

Materials Used: Acrylic, oil, oil pastel and sand on canvas

Studio Based: Toronto, Ontario Canada

Matt Thomas, Guarded Wisdom, 16”x20”x3/4”, Acrylic, oil, oil pastel and sand on canvas, 2021

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

The process varies from painting to painting. I like to keep things interesting for myself so I try not to fall into one process. My moto for both painting and life is, “show up, trust your gut, and go one step at a time.” For the longest time, I was making completely abstract work, so I typically just start without any idea in mind, letting the dialog between me and the painting unfold. Within the last couple years, images have started to appear in my work through that process, and the work has gotten more and more representational. I didn’t use to have a drawing practice when I was making abstract paintings, but I’ve started drawing again, and now I’m experimenting with how the two practices can coexist.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

No rules whatsoever.

How did you come up with the new painting idea of “Guarded Wisdom”, (2021)? Is there any story behind this work?

This painting started just as some scumbly fields of colour, I kind of started with an abstract composition and then over the process of a month or so each of the images kind of revealed themselves to me. There’s kind of this process of looking and considering and feeling out decisions before making them, making sure they feel right before acting. The images come about in the same way as an abstract move would, I kind of see it in the painting first, and then I feel whether it would be right for the painting, and now I’m also researching the symbolism around the images before putting them in because I often find that helps me figure why/ how to paint them.

Could you elaborate please about the representational symbolism involved in your recent imagery? Which are the most fascinating attributes that make you incite them in your work?

I find the process of finding the images through the making is really one of self- reflection, it really teaches me something about myself at the time of making and where I’m at mentally/ emotionally in my life. For this piece, the central circle acts as an emblem, the circle is symbolic of a halo that represents the sacred, the umbrella is a symbol of protection, and the flames are a symbol of a kind of stoic drive towards a goal. The dark forest is this sublime unknown terrain one has to navigate, and the moon is this outside force that stirs emotional reactions to try and waiver us off our path. The title ‘Guarded Wisdom’ comes from the idea that I’m trying to protect my own inner mindset, (the wisdom I’ve gained through experience, reflection and personal work) against the many outside forces trying to waiver me from my path. I feel like I could write a whole page about this piece, I’m just kind of scratching the surface, so some of these descriptions sound kind of vague, and the way I’m talking about the symbols is just my own interpretation for myself based on the research I’ve done based off of various cultural interpretations combined with my own personal reading.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you always come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning?

Yeah, most things come about through the making, but right now I’m actually experimenting with making a painting from a drawing, or going into a painting with a certain idea in mindahead of time. I’m liking the surprises and challenges that it’s presenting but things kind of always point back to the “show up, trust your gut, go one step at a time” thing, which often coincides with “forget your ideas.”

In your recent body of work, various shapes of circles seem to be evident in most of your canvases. Do they have any additional meaning for you?

Circles can represent a lot of things. I use to use them a lot in my abstract paintings, so they’re still showing up, sometimes as a moon or a sun or just as a compositional element. It really depends on the painting.

Large or small scale canvases dilemma; are there any kind of standards that drive you to decide which surface length is better fitted for your final painting visualisations?

I kind of see the scale of the painting, as well as the surface(i.e. canvas, cotton duck, burlap etc), as another thing I have to feel out and consider before acting. Scale decisions are very intuitive. Recently though, I have ideas I want to explore on certain scales/ surfaces. 

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

I don’t know if there’s a best way, but I like the idea of a show that groups together smaller works that speak to each other, hung with much larger work with lots of space in between. The showroom style has its benefits too but I typically feel more impacted by a show that’s hung in a unique way.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

So many. Historically I’ve been looking at the symbolist painters recently like Maurice Dennis, Odeon Redon, Eduard Vuillard, and Leon Spilliaert. Contemporary painters I would say Ted Gahl, Sky Glabush, Justin Caguiat, and Maja Ruznic. These are just some of the first that come to mind.

Do you ever wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?

I typically work the painting through with acrylic until all the problems have been resolved, sit on it for a week or so and then add finishing touches with oil pastel and oil paint sometimes textured with sand or chalk as a finishing touch. I really love exploring surface quality in the final stages of the work. 

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I was working out of my bedroom for the longest time, it was essentially a studio, it was fairly large and I would just put my bed up against the wall during the day to work. I recently moved to downtown Toronto and have just found lovely studio space in liberty village that I’ll be sharing with one of my colleges. It will be nice to separate my home and studio life for a change.

Which are your plans for the near future?

I was actually about to do my thesis for undergrad right before the pandemic, I had finished everything else and was going to dedicate the whole year just to my thesis. The thesis program at OCAD is where you get your own dedicated studio space, 24/7 access to all the facilities and then there’s the graduate exhibition where a lot of people get awards and opportunities and its basically what you’re working towards for your entire undergrad, so I’m trying to finish right, not over zoom with a virtual exhibition or something. They still haven’t told us what’s up for thesis this year so I honestly have no idea, but otherwise I’m just trying to get my studio going, keep pushing my painting practice, and hopefully try to organize some DIY shows with some of my colleges.

Additional Paintings

Matt Thomas, The Crow Keeper, 16”x20”x3/4”, Acrylic and graphite on canvas, 2020
Matt Thomas, The Ebb and Tide of Our Nine Lives, 48”x48”x1.5”, Acrylic and graphite on canvas, 2020
Matt Thomas, Moon Mirror, 8”x10”x1.5”, Acrylic, oil, oil pastel and sand on canvas in artists frame, 2021

All images courtesy of the artist


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