We had the good fortune of connecting with Matthew Grabelsky and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matthew, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
My parents and grandmother were all in the arts, so I was surrounded by that world growing up. I made art since I was a child and always loved it. I became interested in astrophysics towards the end of high school and majored in it in college. At the time I intended to pursue a PhD in astrophysics but decided to take a year off first to study classical painting in Italy. After a few months living in Florence, being surrounded by the art of the Renaissance, and working all day in the studio, I realized that I wanted to be an artist.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I make realistic oil paintings of people with animal heads. I grew up in New York and the majority of my work has featured these characters riding the NYC subway. Recently I’ve been branching out and painting these anthropomorphic characters in new settings. I love incorporating humor into my work, and I often include fun easter eggs that relate to the animal being represented. My goal is to give people something to think about and to make them smile and laugh.
I’ve been driven to become a professional artist since I decided to pursue that path when I was in art school. Succeeding as an artist is challenging because there isn’t a prescribed career path to take. All the artists I know have gone about it in their own unique meandering way. I myself have had two main challenges. The first has been developing my painting style and subject matter. The second has been the marketing and selling of my work. I was always passionate about painting, so although developing my art took a great amount of thinking and labor, it came to me naturally. The business part was more challenging. I became an artist to make art, not to be in business, but I quickly realized that if I couldn’t sell my work, I wouldn’t be able to support myself to make it. My career went in fits and starts for a while and eventually took off when I connected with Thinkspace, my main gallery in Los Angeles. Over time, I’ve become close friends with a number of amazing artists in the local art community and have learned a lot from their experience. As a result of all these things, I have luckily been able to support myself making 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.
Answering this question in 2020 is a little difficult, but I’ll give a hopeful answer, assuming things will go back to normal in 2021. Los Angeles is an amazing city which combines culture with beautiful settings for outdoor activities. As an artist, I love visiting the many galleries and museums the city has to offer. Among my favorite galleries to check out are Thinkspace, Corey Helford, Copro, and KP Projects. My top choices for museums are the Getty, LACMA, the Hammer Museum, and the Norton Simon Museum. I also love the food scene in Los Angeles and especially all the wonderful ethnic food brought by the incredibly diverse population in this city. I always love getting together with friends for Korean barbecue in K-town. Oo Kook is one of my favorites. It’s all-you-can-eat so I always make sure I go to the gym first to get as hungry as possible. I’ll often visit one of my favorite taco trucks or food stands. Ricky’s Fish Tacos is a must. The farmer’s markets set up around the city offer excellent local produce, which is one of the major benefits of living in California. Finally, you can’t visit LA without going to the beach. From the busier people watching areas of Venice beach and Santa Monica to the more mellow Malibu, there are a lot of areas to check out. Before the pandemic started I spent a memorable afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica with friends visiting from out of town. While we were there they posed for me in front of the pier and inspired my first painting set in LA, a large piece where they all had marine animal heads.
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?
First and foremost, I never could have made it as an artist without the support of my parents. They always encouraged me to follow my interests, and when I decided I wanted to be an artist, they were integral to helping me achieve it. Luckily they were in a position to be able to support me financially while I was in art school and then for a period afterwards when I was working to get my career going. They were also there for me emotionally, always believing in me, even when I was questioning whether I had made a wise decision in my career choice. Second, I have to give a shoutout to Thinkspace, my gallery in Los Angeles. I first walked into the gallery in 2012 on a trip to Los Angeles before I had moved here. I loved the show that they had up, and I knew I wanted to show my work there. At the time I had been getting by selling my paintings occasionally, but it was always a struggle, and my work wasn’t well known beyond my small group of contacts. Andrew Hosner and LC of Thinkspace really responded to my paintings and began inviting me to show with them. Thinkspace became the driving force behind my career and helped me get to the point I am at now.