There are artists who live in their vans. There are artists who get some of the biggest gigs in town. And then there is Matt Brown.
Brown, is a little bit of everything. He seems as comfortable digging through scraps of metal alone in a basement as he does having his work displayed in front of hundreds of people at a conference. “I can run in a lot of different realms of society,” he said.
As Sacramento’s new wave of young artists fights for space in the city’s culture, Brown seems to be everywhere. He’s a photographer, a painter and a maker of robots. He does downtown murals, hip restaurants, alleys and one of the region’s biggest musical festivals.
On Friday, he created a video backdrop for a ballet performance at TEDx, a one-day event at the Community Center Theater where local innovators and techies exchanged ideas. An hour later, Brown was working in a dark computer room at Hacker Lab, the midtown coworking space that’s an incubator for artists and startups.
He was putting together the drawings and budget for a 10-foot robot suit he plans to build for this fall’s TBD Fest, the huge music festival in West Sac. Someone is going to walk around in that suit – maybe Brown – and interact with concertgoers. Brown’s thinking about creating two little aliens in the robot’s head whose mouths would move when the person inside the robot suit talks.
Brown’s work has appeared on other notable platforms. He and fellow artist Jason Bove painted a large mural at the corner of Eighth and K streets two years ago. Brown also helped curate the art for downtown’s Blackbird Kitchen and painted a mural near his photo studio off S Street in midtown. He had another painting on the 700 block of K Street.
state workers. He’s lived on a ranch in Clarksburg and at a monastery in Sri Lanka. Other home addresses for Brown have included a van and the basement of Blackbird.
It seems like Matt Brown has a hand in just about every creative endeavor in Sacramento these days. Whether it’s partnering with the supergroup Crosses—members include Deftones singer Chino Moreno, Far guitarist Shaun Lopez and Chuck Doom—on its ethereal video for “The Epilogue,” collaborating with Carina Lampkin on large-scale outdoor projection pieces at her Blackbird Kitchen & Beer Gallery eatery or creating visual elements for local haunted houses, the Matt Brown aesthetic has permeated nearly every sector of the city’s creative community.
Brown’s art is complex. His work straddles the line between the surreal and the familiar. Previous projects have included eerie projections of fire and animals onto old, dilapidated, sinister-looking barns and minimalist renderings of one of his trademark calling cards: a painting of a small brown boat that boasts a simple white flag on a sea of varying striations of blue hues. One such piece even made it onto the wall of the Solomon Dubnick Gallery where it hung next to works by Wayne Thiebaud and Gregory Kondos.
As he juggles multiple projects while looking for new mediums such as a robot lab where he tinkers on animatronics, Brown seems to be in constant motion. It makes for a frenetic pace. Still, Brown’s creative spirit isn’t waning. Instead, the photographer-projectionist-painter-sculpturist says managing several undertakings is just a part of the creative process.
“I like throw myself into the situation and I’m looking around at everything and I’m going, ’Oh, fuck this is going to be so shitty,’” Brown says by way of explanation. “But I keep working at it and it gets a little bit better and then a little bit better, and then it turns from me being superdepressed about it, saying, ’This is totally impossible,’ into ’Oh, this is cool.’”
Making a name as an artist is one thing, but making a living is an entirely different beast. Brown knows success doesn’t happen overnight but, he says, the work is pouring in. Upcoming projects include creating a performance venue in the basement of the Warehouse Artist Lofts building, as well as making more videos for Crosses and a string of other bands.
For many, working at such a maddening pace would be overwhelming, but the creative multitasker says he manages with support from the likes of Lampkin and TBD art curator Seumas Coutts.
For Coutts, it’s Brown’s artistic voice and impact that compel him to help the artist reach a bigger audience
“Scale, mass, energy, are all of the basic things an artist has to [convey] in some way,” he says, adding that a successful piece is one that resonates “if you walk away … and it leaves an aftershock in you, psychically, mentally, spiritually, [and] if it embodies something even in the physical body.”
Brown’s art, Coutts says, “does all that.”
Coutts adds it was Brown’s imagination and ability that not only secured his place as a part of the creative pool of artists contributing to the festival, but landed him the title of TBD artist-in-residence.
“Every artist has a skill set. They bring their toolbox or paint palette or whatever it is that they have and you have to know that trajectory,” Coutts says of TBD’s selection process. “It was very clear to me that he was someone that we could support.”
Brown didn’t grow up in an artistic household, nor did he have any formal training. Rather, the Sacramento native cites his grandmother, an art teacher at St. Francis High School who died when he was 10, as the inspiration and motivation that was otherwise lacking.
“I didn’t take art seriously, because I didn’t grow up like that. My parents … just didn’t get it,” he says. “They’re really nice people but they never thought it could be a career, and most of the people in Sacramento feel that same way, like, ’Oh like that’s a cool hobby, but what are you going to do in your real life?’”
Certainly, Brown has been able to cultivate his artistic vision into making a “real” life for himself in the art world: He’s also collaborated with the Sizzling Sirens burlesque troupe, served as the artistic director for the 2012 Sacramento Electronic Music Festival and animated a spot for Santa Cruz Skateboards that premiered on ESPN during the 2012 Street League Skateboarding series.
Now, as Brown strategizes his next move, he says that while the art scene here is very conventional, there are hints that the mainstream and tradition will soon give way to what he sees as the next wave. Something he foresees as pieces comprising “all of this amazing semidisturbed stuff.”
The prediction fits with his overall creative philosophy.
“I’ve made it here in a lot of ways, [but] I’ve had a lot of help,” he says. “But you’ve got to get rid of the conventional way of doing it.”