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Sketch Pad

Matt Proctor

Hints of life
by Kathy Anderson

att Proctor's Southeast Portland home is a bit unusual: a three-story wooden warehouse built in 1902 that has, over the years, been a stable and garage. The ground floor, with 14-foot ceilings, is his studio and where he displays his larger sculptures. The middle loft-type floor is living space but, with so many of his sculptures displayed there, it looks like a gallery showing his work. Born in Santa Fe, N.M., Matt lived in Colorado, Vermont and Alaska before moving to Portland 20 years ago.

A show of hands
The inspirations, influences and physical forms of Matt Proctor's sculptures all come from two different levels of decision making.

"The top, or conceptual, level is a specific idea I impose onto the series I'm working on," he said. "That idea will alter the physical forms enough that my intent or idea can be determined if the viewer sees the series together and spends enough time looking."

Those top-layer ideas usually come from current events or some social concern Matt feels passionate about. Underlying the current conceptual concerns are deeper ways of working that tend to affect the aesthetic qualities of the work.

"Bloom," steel, 44" x 57" x 57"

"I just really like the way some things look, such as pushing organic forms into industrial forms or giving a sculpture little hints of life and personality," he said. "Nature makes some truly amazing and humbling physical displays, but I've always found that I'm most interested when I see how humans have interacted with nature."

When Matt hikes in the country his eye is drawn to the old evidence of human activity. A crumbling wall falling away into the earth or a rusty pile of tin cans with plants sprouting up through them fascinate him.

"My art-making decisions are all influenced by these underlying interests and preferences that I've built up over a lifetime. When I layer new content onto those almost reflexive ways of thinking, the new shapes just appear out of my hands while I watch," he said.

Making change
Matt likes to work in series and it can take up to a year to work his way through an idea. Each series usually explores a conceptual reference point. The idea behind each series changes, but the approach to making art remains constant even if the materials change.

"Lily pad," aluminum and steel, 93" x 56" x 22"

"Last year I came up with a new way of working cast metals that allowed me to use molten metal in a much freer way," he said. "The ability to create first-generation work directly with molten metal, as opposed to rigid sheets of steel, or the necessity of working in wax first, allowed me to make forms that I never could have made before.

"The underlying themes in the work still relate back to my earlier stuff, but the visuals are new."

Matt doesn't have a favorite material to work with; what he uses depends on what he's trying to say.

"Aluminum reflects the color and light that is around it. Bronze absorbs light and wants to dominate a space. Wood can be very silent but warm, and steel cold and loud," he said.

"Those are generalizations, of course, and some of my most satisfying moments come from forcing a material to take on a personality it is not comfortable with."

Every few months Matt rotates new sculptures into the living space of his warehouse home. This keeps things fresh and gives him a chance to live with and really look at new work in a critical way. Often, after staring at a piece for a month, he'll take it back to the studio and change it around until it is right.

People are welcome to stop by to see his work, but it's best to call ahead: (503) 963-9362.

"Most days I'm here doing something fun," he said.

"Mother of all invention," steel, 78" x 22" x 48"

The simple life
While his father was the curator of the Santa Fe Folk Art Museum, Matt hung out in the basement of the museum or sifted through piles of pot shards or hiked around old Indian ruins.

When the family moved to El Rito, a tiny northern New Mexico town, his parents made a living as fiber artists, making wall hangings and quilts.

"We lived pretty simply, with no running water, TV or phone," he said. "All our cooking and heating was done with wood stoves. I chopped a lot of wood and we were always building something, so there was a lot of art-making going on all around me and I was constantly busy with my hands."

That's where Matt learned how to think and express himself through his hands.

"As a white kid in rural New Mexico, I did not have many friends, so I kept myself busy and happy by carving and digging and hiking and making things. I never thought of it as art, but it is definitely where my need to create came from," he said.

No looking back
Matt didn't take a memorable art class until his first sculpture class at Portland State University in 1991. By that time he'd worked all over the country as a carpenter and musician and had decided that Portland was a fun place and that he should try going back to school.

Matt's work at Portland's Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery.

"Once I took that class, I knew I wanted to be a sculptor," he said. "In all my years of making stuff, somehow it had never occurred to me that I could make objects that had no functional reason for existing, but could communicate emotions and represent ideas.

"Once I figured that out, I never looked back."

Matt earned his BA from PSU and his MFA from Arizona State University.

He makes art because he gets restless and feels incomplete if he's not creating.

"There are other activities that can satisfy the creative part of my brain," he said, "but nothing else that can satisfy my hands and my brain at the same time."

E-mail Matt at matt@mattproctor.com and visit his Web site. You can reach Kathy at kanderson138@comcast.net, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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