We had the good fortune of connecting with Matthew Rota and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Matthew, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Because I love what I do (most of the time) my work life balance is questionable. I find most of my work to be very interesting, so the difference between work and pleasure is blurry, Which makes putting the work down difficult. not so much because it’s distracting, as it is something I genuinely like doing. There are some parts of my work that are less enjoyable, like class prep for teaching (though this too can be really interesting) sending emails, promo, invoices, the business end of things. so I try to get that done first, and spend the rest of the day making art. This is the part that is hard to turn off, because I find it relaxing, so it serves the same purpose as having a hobby. And there is not much else i would rather be doing. But that also means my work days can stretch to 16 hours some times (too often)

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an illustrator, You can find my work in magazines like the New York Times. My work tends to be very political, and socially oriented. When I was in college, my sophomore year was when 911 happened. That really woke me up in terms of my world view, and I became really interested in global politics, and world history. I idolized artists like George Grosz and Kathy Kollwitz, German artists from just prior to WWII. My entire portfolio my senior year was my take on that sort of political art making. That is not an easy road to pursue in illustration, there is not a lot of work that is specifically for that subject, especially after 911, because everything became very conservative, magazines and art included. I had a lot of art directors asking me to send them my cutest work, or telling me my work had too much of an edge (one very big magazine told me they loved my work but it had too many lines). So there was a lot of positive feedback, especially from other artists, a lot of enthusiasm for my work, but also a lot of rejection, the popular style in the early 2000’s was soft and cute, or fairytale oriented, I was not at all interested in making that kind of work. Though the other side of that was that the few places that did publish my work, were places like the New York Times, McSweeny’s, very good publications, But they don’t pay enough to live off of, so to support myself and pay my rather large student debt, I had to take on a lot of non illustration work which took a lot of time away from my professional practice, and really slowed down my growth in the early part of my career. This was the story for maybe the first 6-7 years of my career. I was spending so much energy during each day or week to just get to the point where I could make art. But things DID get better over time.

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.
I live in New York, obviously right now everything is shut down, but the park situation here is rather nice, so probably Prospect Park. Also the museums are open, so definitely a visit to my favorite museum, The Met, and maybe to the Frick or the Morgan Library. Also one of my favorite hidden gems is Joseph Koch Comics Warehouse in Red Hook, Literally a giant warehouse full of old magazines and comics. The owner knows where every single thing is, and has a lot of really rare things. Then dinner at El Santo, my local taco place in Bushwick,

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My earliest and longest supporter has always been my mother. She was always supportive of my interests, maybe something I took for granted at a young age when I would hear other people talk about how much their parents resisted them going into an art field as a career. My High School art teach Fran Gertz, basically guided me by the hand in building my portfolio, getting into art school and helping me get a great scholarship. My earliest professional mentor is Jose Villarrubia, He helped me in the early years of my career far more than I deserved, I couldn’t have made it without him, I wouldn’t have known what to do. His was a long lasting mentorship that evolved into a wonderful friendship.

Website: mattrotasart.com

Instagram: @matt rota

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