Mister Mr: An Interview With Artist Matt Haber

Matt Haber  is an illustrator and painter originally born in San Diego and raised near lakes in the mountains of So Cal. This whimsical and mystical place has obviously inspired his art work.

One look at a painting by Haber and you feel like you were raised in So Cal. These days Haber spends his time in New York creating new work to pass on stories–a big part of his work. Haber took out time from his busy schedule to talk to Art Nouveau Magaine about growing up in San Diego, painting and more.

“Technology can’t take my pencil away”

Art Nouveau Magazine: How are you?

Matt Haber: Very good, thanks.

ANM: You were born in San Diego and raised near lakes in the mountains of So Cal how has this influenced your work?

MH: I’ve never really thought about this question. I guess it actually had a lot to do with my paintings; In my images I paint lots of forests and ocean/sea related themes like boats and surfboards. I used to always depict sea life out of water, often in the woods. I would say the biggest influence on my work is my parents; my mom is an antique dealer and my dad builds primitive American reproduction furniture. My mom still finds me vintage picture books and children stories/poems to surround myself with. I’ve had a lot of exposure to the highlights of past days.

ANM: When did you start painting?

MH: I painted watercolor when I was little and then later in high school I was very focused on art. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I actually began with life drawing and ended up in Animation at Disney in 1996. I didn’t take color and paint all that seriously until 1999 when a drawing teacher at Art Center College pushed me to pick up a brush. I wasn’t ready until then I guess.

ANM: Would you consider your work minimalist?

MH: Not really, I mean I don’t really consider that while I’m working.. I just try to go for balance, simplicity, story and beauty. Everything that is in one of my paintings completely belongs there and all elements are clues to the story being told. Much like what I believe you’re supposed to see if you were looking at a stage play.

ANM: Your bio reads you think, “mark-making and storytelling are the most important things we can pass on.” Why do you think that?

MH: Making marks, conveying images and telling stories are among the earliest forms of communication.  It’s an early instinct when you’re very young, to grab a tool, express ourselves with it and learn control.  My cousins and I used to all draw and paint together, but everybody pretty much stopped except me. Technology can’t take my pencil away, and I’d encourage drawing together and making up stories over sitting around watching TV any day. Storytelling is just great communication. I love how we can get better at it with age and practice.
ANM: Tell me about the process of creating a piece.

MH: It begins with a little spark of an idea in my head, I can see the composition, idea, etc. Draw some composition doodles. I then draw tighter versions of the characters and make a scale drawing of the painting.  I scan this and do about 2-4 color studies of the piece on Photoshop. I sit around and let the best one jump out at me.  Then I lightly transfer the drawing on panel and start painting, usually changing or adding colors and characters/narratives along the way if needed. I usually cross-reference older paintings I’ve done to look for answers to story problems and as a way to create a dialogue between paintings.

ANM: What mediums do you enjoy working in most?

MH: Acrylic on panel for the paint part. I love sanding layers of paint away for the background and to get light textures so backgrounds aren’t completely flat. I try to add elements of chance where I can in my process since it’s primarily controlled. Digital painting is a fun part of my process and I’m getting better at it, and just beginning to play with computer animation -but drawing will always be my first love.

ANM: Where do you see contemporary art going?

MH: That’s a tough one. Folk/Illustration work is making it’s way into museum collections and becoming mainstream it seems. Right now some artists are so ambitious that they have many different irons in the fire and they can’t be in the studio handling the work all the time -there is a limit to what one can do and the work always suffers for it. Many artists in the upper echelon are way too reliant on needing armies of assistants to complete their vision. There’s a thin line between an assistant helping the artist with painstaking laborious tasks and the assistant creating the entire piece while the artist gets supreme credit -i don’t care if they call it ‘conceptual.’ I’ve always responded more to warmth, honesty and self-discipline in art than anything else. Anything with a touch of youthful imagination, hand-made and thought-provoking can catch my attention.

ANM: Tell me how staying in New York influenced your work?
MH: So many characters pass by you in NY on a daily basis, it’s hard not to stay fascinated. The art scene is more than healthy in galleries and museums and there are many motivated/inspiring artists here although it’s hard to work with all the distractions. I actually never planned to stay that long, but it’s been about 3 years now. When I first arrived my work went through many changes and was very unsettled for a while because of NY itself. I slowed down a lot with doing shows and just focused on the work and learning as much as possible from friends and colleagues. I’ve always been pretty happy with what I made, but right now I’m back to an ‘excited’ place.

ANM: What statement or statements if any are you trying to make with your work?

MH: No statements. I’m just uncovering a world I see and hoping people get the work. I’ll better explain the ongoing painting narrative one-day.

ANM: What’s next for you?

MH: I just finished working with www.bldgrefuge.com on a 9 color silkscreen. I’m also doing a large-scale solo show in the winter with BLDG. I want to get to Europe and show by next year. I’m working on my first picture book as well.

ANM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

MH: Thanks for checking out my work! Go outside and play.

For everything Matt Haber click here.

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