Twenty Que With J. Matthew Thomas

By Erin Currier

The appearance of J. Matthew Thomas on our Earth is a rare and fortuitous event, akin to a special comet or eclipse that occurs once every 500 hundred years or so. He is the DaVinci of our day-and-age, a true Visionary bringing together community, education, environment and art with international events such as the PASEO, programs such as Studio TAOS and Pecha Kucha nights. His tenure at the Harwood Museum in Taos has seen him at the curatorial Vanguard in featuring previously unknown or undervalued works by Women, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented artists.

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J. Matthew Thomas for New Mexico Magazine, Paseo director, architect Taos.

Thomas goes far in putting forth the work of others, yet his own visual art is aesthetically dynamic and intellectually engaging enough to warrant solo exhibitions in international museums and to have critical treatises written in its name. As an artist, he is experiencing growing recognition and acknowledgment: a highly successful group show in Manhattan alongside other Modernist greats such as Agnes Martin, Ken Price, and Larry Bell; followed by prestigious Residencies in Finland, Vermont, and another at the Santa Fe Art Institute this Spring.

“Artist,” however, is but one facet of the prism-like Thomas. Urban Designer, Architect, Educator, Professor, tireless Community Organizer, Museum Curator, Creator, Maker, Baker, Burner, Midwest-born, of Arab descent, Queer, alternately having resided in New York City, Beirut, and Taos, New Mexico; Thomas himself is as multilayered as his exquisite repurposed artworks that are painstakingly built, sanded, and smoothed to a profoundly beautiful and subtle patina.

Thomas’s remarkably expansive life has informed and inspired his visionary artworks, as well as the curious and disciplined practice by which he creates them: from the sacred geometries of Middle Eastern architecture to the hardworking and humble nature found in generations of Midwesterners; from the centuries-old sustainable use of materials close-at-hand by Indigenous and Hispanic artists and craftsmen of New Mexico to the eco-conscious concerns and anarchic ethos of communities living off-the-grid in Earthships and other structures on the Mesas in Taos and in Black Rock City; from the classrooms of Columbia University to the bullet-riddled streets of Beirut and to the courage and concerns of the LGBTQ Movements. Thomas is an itinerate Observer, quietly and respectfully integrating his lived experiences and each new encounter with various phenomena into his work, while at the same time positing a viable path forward for our shared future. In the words of art critic Anthony Hassett, “Thomas’ work succeeds in making the viewer feel directly and viscerally that which is playing out on a larger scale globally. The efforts of Man to impose his artificial, linear structures of order and predictability upon a planet and its populace, that is in itself a wild and disordered and unpredictable thing. Herein lies the tension, and exquisite poignancy, of Matthew Thomas’ work”.

My 15 year+ friendship with Matt has been an honor and a delight — as will be sharing his insightful responses with you, the Reader, in this second installment of Twenty Que:

  1. Were you born an artist, or did you become artist, or did you make a conscious decision to be an artist?

My mother says that I told her I wanted to be an architect before I even knew what it meant. So as far as I can remember I was drawing, painting and building.

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All paintings, J. Matthew Thomas

  1. What was the very first work of art that you can remember having created?

I’ve been making and creating since I can remember. The point at which we start calling it ‘art’ is always a great conversation.

  1. What was the trajectory that led you to the work that you are creating now?

After completing a degree in architecture and relocating to Taos I began renovating at 100-year-old adobe. The materials exposed in the renovation process revealed a sense of time and land, decay and chaos. Using the tools of the architect I started down a track of work that continues to intrigue me.

  1. What drives and compels you to make art?

I’m a maker and a doer — I can’t stay idle. I create to dive into my thoughts as much as to get out of my head. I’m continually fascinated by the act of creation and the act of destruction.

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  1. As an artist, what do you find to be most challenging?

As a multidisciplinary artist I’m constantly challenged by labels, categories and expectations.

  1. Most inspiring?

I’m continually inspired by other artists, architects, filmmakers, chefs, musicians, writers and researchers.

  1. Who are your favorite artists in history?

Leonardo da Vinci, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Paolo Solari, Buckminster Fuller

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  1. Who are the artists working today that you are most excited about?

Jordan Nassar, El Anatsui, Mark Bradford, and Studio Drift.

  1. Who are your heros?

Theaster Gates, Lucy Lippard, Samuel Mockbee

  1. What qualities do you admire most in a human being?

Honest, uninhibited, nonjudgmental, and a good listener

  1. In yourself?

Patience

  1. What quality troubles you most in your fellow humans?

Greed, shame, and anger

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  1. What quality would you like to change in yourself?

Self-judgement

  1. Five people in history you’d most like to invite to dinner–

Leonardo da Vinci, Sol LeWitt, Gertrude Stein, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Buckminster Fuller

  1. What are your favorite books, films, music? Have they influenced your work?

I will always remember the first time I experienced Koyaanisqatsi in my freshman year of college: My little midwestern mind was blown: Art, culture, pattern, time, beauty and ugliness. That’s the composition I strive for.

  1. Do you consider the above genres to be “Art”? Why or why not?

I believe all acts of creation are art. If you feel moved to create something, it’s art.

  1. What is art’s place in spiritual & social transformation? More specifically, your art’s place in it?

To create, or witness creation, is to in some shape or form, be transformed. If my work is included in this revolution, I’m grateful.

  1. Do you believe in God? the Gods? Gaia? A Higher Power?

I this moment, no. It’s hard to believe in much right now. I do believe in the capacity for love and compassion, but in the end we are just a bunch of animals running around seeking safety and security.

  1. As a human race, where are we headed?

To a wonderfully complex pitfall of angst and consolation.

  1. What’s it all about Alfie???

Is this what people said before we had Siri?

@riotmaterial

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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