Matt Sesow lives and works in Washington, DC. He paints prolifically and spends half his week in his studio, working, living and sleeping, and the rest of the week with his wife Dana Ellyn in her studio two miles across town…
In 1985 Matt was awarded a scholarship by Mensa to do a BS degree in computer/software engineering in Oklahoma. He then moved to Washington, DC, to work for IBM as a software engineer. To impress a girl and to get in with a cool crowd he began painting, working on pieces in the evenings and weekends.
Matt, it took you two years before you showed your artwork publicly, but in 1995 you sold 14 paintings on the streets of Georgetown. Including some to an art agent who took you on and signed you up to an exclusive five year contract! You’ve been an emerging artist since then and have worked full-time as a painter since 2001. When during this time did you get your studio?
Hi Caroline, yes, I had an art agent from 1996 until 2001 and that helped me greatly to become established amongst the collectors of folk and outsider art. I bought my current studio and living space in 2001 and, like you say, I paint and live in it 3 to 4 days a week and the other days I spend with my wife in her studio about 2 miles away, near the White House.
The studio is approximately 600 sq. ft. in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood of Washington, DC.
On Sundays through Thursday, I wake up there in my studio bed. The place is completely covered in paint and everything has some paint on it.
I refer to my studio as my ‘trauma cup’. It is the place where all the bad things and all the energy should stay, stay contained. It is where I create most of my paintings.
I typically wake up at 6:30 or 7am each day… I listen to c-span as I have my coffee and an egg. Around 7:15 I FaceTime chat with my wife from her studio downtown. Then, I either run to her to go to the gym or we run to meet up and do grocery shopping. If I’m hungover from the previous night of painting, I might skip the gym. But I can always run, even with a headache. And I can always paint with a hangover. Some of my best work is from a hangover.
I am showered and ready to paint by 10am each day… I listen to audio books, podcasts, Democracy Now, Alex Jones, RT, Joe Rogan, punk rock, and ska. I eat a portion of food/soup that I prepared on Sunday and is meant to last me the 3 to 4 days at my studio (spinach water or broccoli water). My paintings are usually completed by 8pm… I take pictures using my good camera, then I post them on my webpage, instagram, and facebook. Then it is time to shower around 8:30pm and some food (usually a popcorn dinner). Sleep or pass-out by 11pm.
Having such a prolific, non-stop thinking nature, plus being married to a fellow painter do you ever switch off?
I guess I never switch off. I think when I hear ‘switch off’ I need to ‘switch on’. For me to unwind, I go to the gym or I run. One of the keys I credit to my energy to continue with my prolific nature is my diet. I am vegetarian. Been one non-stop since 1996. I went vegan for about 6 months but I found that I gained weight. I am going to be vegetarian now for the rest of my days, but I’ll be a vegan consumer (no leather, etc. as best I can). My wife Dana Ellyn is a vegan and she doesn’t have the weight gain problems that I had.
Above: Matt and Dana in vegan tapas bar CatBarCat in Barcelona during his exhibition there last month
Dana and I continually push each other and we are very competitive about the art. She is great at what she does, so I am happy for her to succeed and she works harder than I do. It’s pretty awesome. When I spend days with her I typically don’t paint, instead I work on interviews, my web site, or other non messy painting stuff.
Above: LOVE BIRDS a collaboration between Matt and Dana as part of the DEFILED series 2013
Do you make preliminary sketches, Matt?
I tend to sketch out much of the iconic drawings I do before I put them on the canvas. I am currently doing a lot of sessions of ‘drink and draw’. I carry a pad of paper and good pens/ink with me wherever I go. Tomorrow I am called up for jury duty, for sure I will sketch and document my experience!
If you see my studio, it is really a ‘happy mess’ for me.
Right now as I am typing this, I am in a small corner that I set up near a window where I can look out towards the National Zoo and not see any of my paintings. It’s Sunday and I am watching people on their porch at an adjacent building reading books. I think I am ‘switched off’ right now. Thanks!
Matt, thank you so much for sharing with us. It’s been a real priviledge having an insight into your life and I wish you all the very best for your upcoming exhibition in Crusilles, France. Let’s sign out with the lyrics and sounds of one of your favourite songs, Celebrated Summer by the fabulous Husker Du…
Somewhere in April time, they add another hour
Just when I’m ready to sit inside, it’s summer time
Should I go fishing or get a friend to hang around
It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around
And getting out of school meant getting out of hand
I summer where I winter at, and no one is allowed there
When summer barely had a snowball’s chance in Hell?
Yay! Can’t keep still to that! fantastic…
words: CAND JUSKUS and MATT SESOW
images: MATT SESOW