You may not know what Matt Weir looks like, but you’ve seen his work because it’s all over Louisville. At First and Main Street there is a limestone bench that features three abstract figures who are transfixed in permanent observation of whoever chooses to take a rest. At Fourth and Market Street a sculpture that is cleverly disguised as a Kentucky Historical Marker makes the correlation between the decline of planet earth with the onset of human presence. At St. Xavier high school there is a half-ton bronze tiger that is frozen in an aggressive hiss in order to strike fear into all rival high school teams that step foot onto St. X’s campus. Matt Weir is one busy and talented sculptor.
I caught up with Matt in his studio, which is housed in an old furniture warehouse in Germantown. His studio is an expansive creative wonderland. Unfinished works hang eclectically on the walls, work in progress scatter shelves and tables, and there are brains everywhere. Not real brains, but brain sculptures. Matt is a thinking man so it’s profoundly appropriate that they are the décor of choice. We sit on old wooden slatted park benches and I’m offered a quilt that his mother gave him to reduce the chill in this drafty space. Crystal clear water, cheese and salami, and Blue Dog bread are available to nibble.
Julie Gross: How did you get started in sculpture?
Matt Weir: I first went to UK. I went into the counselor, had my dad next to me, and I said, “I’m a sculpture major” and my dad leaned forward and said, “he doesn’t know what he wants to do” and I thought “no I am a sculpture major write it down.” I was there for a year and didn’t like it and mostly came back to Louisville because there were sculptors in town that I was aware of that I wanted to work with. So, I came back enrolled at UofL and they didn’t even have a sculpture program. They had to hire a sculpture professor, but where I learned the most was apprenticeship. I started with Craig Kaviar, the blacksmith and next door he rented a studio to Paul Fields, the stone carver. I really wanted to work with Paul and so I introduced myself one day and told him I was a student at UofL and he asked what my major was and I said art and he said, “you’re an idiot.” I started working with Paul in the mornings then would finish the day with Craig and then on off days would go to the Bright Foundry.
JG: I’ve read that you consider yourself a figurative artist.
MW: Yes, that’s part of my narrative, being that my earliest works went through this evolution from being abstract to anthropomorphic to personified forms to almost literally human representation directly. (He places a bronze cast of his face onto the table). Proof positive.
JG: When did you become interested in studying evolutionary theories?
MW:I took a class at UofL called Evolution and Culture. In that class we read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and we were synthesizing books, evolutionary traits and behaviors and identifying them in the world around us. That class shifted my whole focus and frame of reference about life, living and my responsibility as an artist.
After that class, stone went from aesthetically pleasing forms and sculptures and shapes to fossil beds. The information that I garnered from that class was like a born again point of enlightenment for me. Ever since then, I’ve been very passionate about studying, reading and learning about evolution. I’m very interested in evolutionary psychology and I’ve been reading a lot about primatology for the last five or six years and have been corresponding with primatologist Frans De Waal. He is giving me permission to use some of his images for some sculpture work that I’m developing for Actor’s Theatre.
I want to own up to my perceived and recognized responsibilities as an artist, to be the most responsible person I can be as a producer of ideas and objects and those ideas could be anything. I could be saying that I believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ, X, Y and Z and it’s my responsibility in recognizing these things and everybody else needs to believe what I believe. So, I get that everyone will have different beliefs.
JG: So are you saying that everybody needs to believe what you believe about evolution?
MW: I have a lot of ideas. I do believe that evolution is the way life happens and will happen all around us on this planet and this solar system.
Matt Weir in his studio