Trek Matthews might be afraid of heights, but that didn't stop the Atlanta illustrator from climbing up a 35-foot ladder to bring his abstract geometric work to a big, grey wall in the middle of Cabbagetown. If you've passed through the neighborhood or strolled down Carroll Street in recent weeks, you've seen it—one huge fox filled with intricate patterns that seem to recall both geometry textbooks and the artwork of indigenous Native Americans. That's Trek's very first go at street art, and it's a pretty awesome first run, if we may say so ourselves. We caught up with the Living Walls artist to see exactly how long that foxy mural took from doodle to finishing touches (and hear what Trek has to say on that age-old conversation topic, The State Of Public Art In Atlanta).
SCOUT: Tell me a little about your artistic background and how you got involved with the street art scene.
TREK: At the moment I'm not considering myself a "street artist," since I have only a few pieces to show for it, but I'm getting there. I have always been in to drawing, but mostly just doodling while in class to help me retain information and basically just not fall asleep. I knew I wanted to do something art related since around middle school, and started to take it more seriously at the end of high school and beginning of college. I've been focusing on illustration for about a year now, and have been participating in as many group shows as possible while in school since last year.
My official entrance as a street artist was that mural that I recently painted for Living Walls just a couple weeks ago. That is my first piece that I have finished in a completely public setting. For about 4 years I have been into street art and always seeing what street artists were up to: starting with big names like Blu & Escif, and continuously expanding from there. My first opportunity to really get involved with street art came with Living Walls as well, as they were looking for volunteers for the 2011 conference. After seeing the list of artists attending, I got a little giddy and signed up immediately. I was the point person for Gaia & Nanook, and assisted Sam Parker a bit as well. Meeting and hanging out with all of these great artists that I had been admiring (to put it mildly) was just a dream come true at the time.
Since then, I became friends with Mónica Campana & Alex Parrish, two of the organizers, as well as the rest of the team. Mónica told me some time at the end of 2011 that she would get me a wall some time, and then on Christmas Alex sent me a text saying I would be working next to La Pandilla. Now I'm starting to paint on walls. A pretty romantic story if I say so myself.
SCOUT: Your work looks kind of geometric, kind of tribal-esque. Any words on what your aesthetic is all about?
TREK: Indeed it is! I've always been into geometry, and was always good at math. I started hating the formulaic and numeric part of math however, and just enjoyed working with applying the math visually. A lot of my shapes and compositions come from taking a reference and breaking it down to basic shapes to see how the shapes interact and play with each other as unified forms. I also get a lot of inspiration from looking into sacred geometry from ancient Greece.
The pattern and Native-American influences come from childhood geographically and hereditarily. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has a lot of lingering Native-American culture, and I always loved learning about the traditional cultures that grew up before any colonization and imperialism. I also played a little too much Zelda, and I have always found the art style and character development amazing. I definitely think that's what got me into geometry too, because of the triforce as a shape and idea. Lately I'm trying to look more into eastern art and culture and gain inspiration from that, and is a direction I really want to explore aesthetically.
Overall, I have no idea how to explain my art within one sentence, but let's do it anyways: I'll call it abstract geometric expressionism with a Naturalist and Romantic twist.
SCOUT: Tell us a little about the process of putting up the Living Walls piece. From initial sketches to the final product, how long did it take? Any big difficulties along the way?
TREK: To prepare for the Living Walls piece, I did a sketch of the fox with some elements to reference off of while at the wall. I just buffed out the silhouette of the fox on the wall, and did some minimal plotting with a spray can and dry paint. From there I just wanted to keep it close to the sketch, but also improvise a good bit so I could have some fun as well. It was over the course of 12 days, but I only got to work probably 3 full-ish days and then a few days after class & work. I would say it was a total of a little less than 20 hours.
The difficulty for me was doing as much as I could with just a tall ladder. I'm actually still afraid of heights, but I had to get over it because that wall was like 35 feet up. I got scaffolding a few times, and was able to finish the mural with it, so it wasn't a big deal.
SCOUT: Any words on the state of street art in Atlanta? (I saw that La Pandilla's piece already has a few tags thrown up on it. Are we making progress?)
TREK: Shh, it is all fixed up now! It happens, though. If you choose to put up a piece in the street, you're leaving a piece up to get marked by natural and, well, unnatural circumstances. I think we are making progress, regardless of the little hiccups that keep happening. Graffiti has been pushed down to be the dirty word of art on the street, while people are using the term "street art" to entail which pieces in the street are of a higher grade. While I can and will take note of the difference between the two, I think they are both necessary. However, I do still find it really disrespectful for someone to tag on a [legal] mural, just as those people tagging find it disrespectful to tag over tags. It's a vicious cycle, but overall is becoming more accepted, more tolerated, and way more mainstream. Street art festivals are popping up all around the world, which provides ample room for artists all over to legally beautify local communities. Three thumbs up.
SCOUT: Finally, where can people keep up with you and your artwork?
TREK: I have too many social networking sites and not a single official site. I'm working on it though.
I regularly update my Flickr.
I have a good bit of my portfolio on Behance.
And of course I have an Instagram to post process pictures and cat pictures.
If you see me in the streets, you can also say hello. I'll say hello back.