We had the good fortune of connecting with Matthew Grabelsky and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matthew, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
As an artist there’s not much separation between my work and life. I think about painting all the time, whether or not I’m actually painting. Making paintings is my main passion in life and it’s percolating in the back of my mind whenever I do anything else.
I don’t have a set working schedule. Basically I wake up and paint every day. If I have plans with friends in the evenings or the weekends I’ll take time off then. Often if I’m going to hang out with people, I’ll work for part of the day before.
The experience of the pandemic has affected how much time I spend away from my easel visiting with friends. I’m much more aware now of how precious that socializing time is. When in the past I might have put off doing something with friends so that I could work on a painting, now I pretty much always jump at the opportunity.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I make realistic paintings of people with animal heads, often riding the New York City subway. I paint with a classically inspired oil painting technique, and I combine that aesthetic with humor to tell a story. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m always chasing the perfect painting. Each painting is a huge amount of work, and it’s a thrill when one is done and I can look at it and feel I was able to put the initial fuzzy picture in my head onto the canvas.
Building a career as an artist is a difficult and winding path. There’s no blueprint for it, as there are for many other careers. The initial challenge was coming up with a style and subject matter that was meaningful to me and that connected with others. That was really just trial and error. I painted many different pieces until I finally came up with the first one that became the basis for my current work. I then started showing it to different galleries. Thinkspace, here in Los Angeles loved it and offered to show my work. They ended up launching my career and getting my work in front of a wider audience.
The main lesson I learned about building an art career was that you need to create a lot of different work to find your voice and also put in the effort to get it seen. I didn’t know which painting idea or connection would pan out, but I did so many different things that I increased the probability that something would hit, and eventually it did.
Above all I want people to experience joy when they look at my paintings. When I’m working out the composition for a piece, I play with an image until it makes me laugh. There’s this feeling of happiness and excitement that I get in that moment, and that is what I’m hoping people feel when they look at my paintings.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite things in Los Angeles are the art scene and the landscape, and those are at the top of my list to share. For art, I take visiting friends to my favorite galleries and museums. On top of that list are Thinkspace, The Getty, The Norton Simon, LACMA, and the Forest Lawn Museum. For the LA landscape, I love Elysian Park, The Silver Lake Reservoir, The Hollywood Reservoir, The Santa Monica Palisades, and the beach in Malibu.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Being an artist is a challenging and often solitary journey. Being part of a community of artists is the number one thing that keeps me inspired and excited to keep painting. My genius friend Natasha Das based in New York is one of my oldest art friends and supporters. We studied painting together in Italy years ago, and her vast knowledge about the art world has been invaluable to me in getting to where I am in my career. Here in Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time talking about art with my friends Ken Flewellyn and Scott Listfield, both super talented painters. Whenever I hang out with either of them, we completely nerd out on art, and afterwards I’m always fired up to get back to my studio and keep painting.
The credit for the personal photos is: Birdman.