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
JG: Evolution over adaptation?
MW: Yes, there’s more to evolution than adaptation. Adaptation is a part of it as is competition. Me and my ideas compete with others and their ideas. My doppelganger could be you sitting across from me having the same emotion and servitudes but saying, “this is the way.” We can only get so far because we’re so confident, so we’ll have to agree to disagree.
JG: Imagine what your work would look like if you had taken a class on Martin Luther.
MW:(laughs) It’s not that I would have been a slave to any subject matter in that class. For a long time I was finding a lot of disbelief or had a hard time digesting religion and how it was told to me as what to believe. Ever since I was really young, I’ve always been quite thoughtful about these things and specifically religion. I’d think I don’t really believe that so much. So, I was very intentional about setting out on a long-term path to discover where religion came from, how we came about as humans, and to learn about other religions and other worlds. That really took me to a place where I was ready to digest evolution and at that point it resolved everything so beautifully, so crystal clear, where everything fell right into place.
JG: Why aren’t you a scientist?
MW: That’s really crossed my mind. I have yet to fulfill that statement in a way. It’s an ongoing conversation that I pose to myself.
Essentially, it’s a matter of responsibility, to nature in a way, first as an artist making something, but beyond that, more environmentally speaking, as a producer of something, feeling that it is incredibly important for people who produce things, especially artists, because there is so much attention given to them so they’re most responsible. It’s an incredible opportunity, but it’s also important that you don’t waste that effort and those materials and everyone’s time with creating waste. That’s really what it comes down to, its the balance of is this worth its creation. Lots of things I’ve made probably most aren’t.
JG: You show it anyway?
MW: I’m referencing the past, most of the things on my website. It’s not a good or a bad thing. Its just part of my ongoing evolution as an artist. I’m just a person learning, growing and gaining so much perspective that I can have a better understanding of what I can look back on.
JG: Is your art completely about the message?
MW: I kind of divide my art up between the work itself and the principles behind it. There’s philosophy and art making. My work is more philosophy based and driven. The art making part is more craft.
JG: Those lines seem blurred.
MW: They are blurred and sometimes they come together in a really great way and that’s what I’m striving towards, but sometimes they don’t. For instance, take the St. X tiger statue. That was not something I would have made on my own. It would have been a great exercise as an artist, life studies, etc. and I very much appreciate skill, craft, talent and development of ones capabilities, which is a more classical sense of art and what a classical artist is.
I created the tiger project for myself. I went to them (St. Xavier High School) and said, “you need a big bronze tiger and you need to hire me to do it.” So, that was a step beyond the art making/craft/philosophy context. Because the idea of it worked, I was able to continue working and surviving as an artist. That was a good job for me and I wanted to do a good job of it. It was a serious project as well. It took an entire year to complete and some of my darkest days were in the middle of that project. There was a lot of sleepwalking, waking up with night terrors. I’d wake up from a dream that my mold failed or the whole thing fell apart. I wanted it so right and it was such a huge job. I had never done anything realistic before that. It was a great challenge. A lot of people’s best work comes from great challenges.
Matt Weir's St. X Tiger
JG: Do you have a favorite work besides the St. X tiger statue?
MW: The bike rack I made for the city on the corner of 4th and Market. I’m proud of that piece. It’s called Presence. People walk by it every single day and see it and probably don’t think it’s an artwork or that I made it. I modeled it after the state historical roadside markers, which feature facts about what happened there in history. So, I took that palette and uploaded it with my information, which is not my own, but information that I wanted people to learn about. On one side it says “Presence” and a twenty-four hour metaphoric clock for planet earth is represented. 4.6 billion years are condensed into twenty-four hours using clock hands. All the earth’s major events are recorded as if they happened within a twenty-four hour period; the development of complex organisms, plants, mammals, humans. The other side of the marker is “Pangaea: A Study of Change” and it shows twelve paleogeographic maps of the break-up of the earth’s last supercontinent. I hope to open discussion about our human context in time and how humankind has affected the world around it through exponential growth and resource exploitation causing an unsustainable rate of exchange with the planet. The result of this sustained behavior and human overpopulation is the effect of permanent loss or extinction of species throughout the planet.
Presence bike rack
It is a passive sign standing there on the city streets, but what I’m trying to suggest is exactly what this type of sign represents, “you are here.” This is my educational platform and I do believe that this is a call to change and get people thinking for themselves about these very big competitive ideas of religion and science, which are unfortunately at odds for a lot of people. My call to action for people is to be responsible with your time and energy and educate yourself and the people around you and learn about our impact on the planet.
JG: You’ve used stone, wood, and bronze. What’s your favorite material to work with?
MW: I’ve gotten away from stone because it’s harder for me to make work with it, but I still do like carving stone the most. The process of it is very enjoyable and meditative.
JG: What do you do for leisure?
MW: I am really into clouds. There’s this author that I really like and his name is Gavin Pretor-Pinney and he founded the International Cloud Appreciation Society of which I am a member. (Grin) It’s such light reading and I was just fascinated by this information.
JG: And I thought you’d say something like watch Desperate Housewives.
MW: (Chuckle) I don’t own a TV. It’s kind of a hard question, I mean I don’t know what I do for leisure because I feel like I do this (artwork/concepts/ideas) all the time and if I’m not doing it I’m thinking about it. I feel that I’m lucky enough to have stumbled into something that I’m passionate about; that is the substance of my life.
Matt Weir’s exhibit Anthropocene’ya . . . ass which features two award-winning sculptures in addition to three new works will be on view at the Gallery at Actors Theatre from Dec. 20th – Jan. 22nd. A special reception is planned for the First Friday Trolley Hop on Jan. 6th at 5:30 p.m.
Please visit Matt’s website, www.mweir.com , for further detailed information on his work.
statue photos: courtesy of Matt's website