I first met Matt Gondek about 3 years ago in Pittsburgh PA after we both got duped by the same pay-to-play bullshit art showcase. We bonded over the experience. Started collaborating and working on murals together before he moved out to LA and started blowing up (get it?) with his deconstructive take on pop culture nostalgia. Recently I had a chance to catch up with him at his studio downtown and ask him some questions about his very busy year. check it out:
For those that don’t know you, what’s the Matt Gondek origin story?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My art career started about 10 years ago when I began getting hired to do shirt illustrations for bands. I did that for about seven years as a freelancer.. Did well for myself but hated sitting on the computer all day. Never going outside.
How did you begin to make the transition from fine art to street art and murals?
I began painting about three years ago on a whim. Never really did it before. I started out solely doing canvas work with maybe One or Two murals done with Brush Paint. This is back when I lived in Pittsburgh..
When I moved to California, I realized it was much too nice out to sit inside painting all the time, so I started ramping up my mural work and began teaching myself how to use aerosol.
My first murals were all brush paint.. then a combination of brush and can.. recently they’ve been all spraypaint.
What was the first big street art piece you did and how did that come about?
The first time I painted outside was very random.
I was on La Brea Ave outside of a Starbucks, when this guy walks up.. pulls out a chair from an outside table and then uses it to boost himself up to put a big slap on a Stop Sign.
We get to talking and he’s a graft writer from Albuquerque. He asks if I want to go paint with him. I say yes not really knowing how. We ended up doing a really big piece together.. parts of his name (Justo) with one of my Exploding Simpsons Characters.
That kind of kicked it off for me. I was hooked.
Your work has a lot of assertive motion. When you paint, do you try to incorporate the geography of the space when you paint?
I wish I could say I do try to consciously use the environment in every piece, but it’s only something I’ve started doing recently.
I’m only three years in so still learning. For the most part a big portion of my brain power is going to just get the piece painted right.
More and more now I have been making on the fly additions or changes to fit the wall / space better.
What were some other of the early projects you did in and around LA?
One of the earliest projects was a HUGE mural in Las Vegas for a clothing brand called CVLN.
It was 115 degrees when I painted that. I felt like my brain was frying and my feet were burning through my shoes.
The next day I drove back to LA and did a box truck with Justo. I painted a Drippy Pink Panther on a big yellow couch.
There were a few randoms after that.. A Mickey Mouse fist fighting Bugs bunny are a Sneaker Boutique in Hollywood called Hot Rod..
A humongous Simpsons piece at an Art Store called GraphAids in Culver City CA
And a really big Batman in Compton. That session was crazy. I wrecked my car during it and also got my foot ran over from a different car.
I painted an exploding Mickey Mouse at a spot called Start LA, which runs this organization called Secret Walls. Secret Walls is a worldwide art battle. The mural there opened the doors for me to compete at their events worldwide. I just judged one of them in Hong Kong two weeks ago.
What are some the events Secret Walls got you into?
My very first secret walls event was in Las Vegas battling an artist named L’Amor Supreme from New York. I didn’t sleep for a week beforehand but somehow I won.
After than I did a few local ones in LA, then went to Texas to compete w/ Secret Walls at the X Games.
How Secret Walls works… Have you ever seen the movie 8 Mile? It’s kind of like that.
It’s anywhere from 1 on 1 to 4 on 4.. each team has 90 minutes to create a huge piece of wall art using only black paint.. there’s no sketching, tracing, or projecting.. You just have to go for it.
Outside of LA, you’ve gotten up in all around the East Coast too. How’d that happen?
One of my teammates in Texas, Greg Mike is a well known artist based out of Atlanta GA. He helps run and organize an annual mural festival here called The Outer Space project. He invited me to come down, so over the summer I went there and painted a huge Exploding Donald Duck on a wall. To date, it’s my biggest mural.
What’s the Outer Space Project?
The Outer Space project is a mural festival where they bring in artists from all over the world to do pieces in and around the city. It was first festival and I had a great time. The city really gets behind the project. This was the first mural I did where I showed up and all my paint was paid for and waiting for me. It was a cool experience.
You also recently completed a little mural tour lately, with Patch Whiskey and Ghostbeard. What was that like?
Yes I’ve done some traveling.
I was offered to do an Art Exhibit in Los Angeles for my canvas work, so I thought a good way to promote that would be to travel around creating as many murals as I could of the work.
It started here in LA with a huge Melting Donald Trump then I did a Big Spiderman piece on a rooftop in Downtown LA.
Then I flew to Pittsburgh PA to meet up with artists Patch Whiskey and Ghostbeard. We teamed up on a wall there, then drove to Massachusetts for POW! WOW! Worcester and did a wall.
What was it like collaborating with those two on murals as opposed to working solo?
It was a great experience. Those two guys work a lot together and were pretty funny too.
No knock on them whatsoever, but I think I prefer to work solo. Only because I can go and do everything at my own pace.
Ghostbeard has me laughing every two minutes
Plus the spot we painted was owned by a guy in a band I really like, Four Year Strong which was great because I got to hang out w/ them.
Sadly, Patch’s dog passed away while we were working on those, so he incorporated her into both walls.
How about outside the US? Have you gone abroad to paint yet?
Yeah, I went to Hong Kong early this November. Four walls in one week! Crazy. Didn’t sleep.
It was cool.. there’s so many people there and space is limited. I actually painted on the roof of a building which was a first for me. I was deep inside of Hong Kong and paint options were severely limited. I used maybe three different brands of paint on one mural just to I had the colors.
There’s not a TON of graft there, but what is there is amazing
The piece I did.. a Darth Vader.. is right beside a Shephard Fairey, Invader, and Cleon Peterson. It’s cool to have a piece beside those guys. I really like all of their work.
I did a little exploding Bart on a French Restaurant.. they hooked it up all week.. Great food and unlimited drinks. Can’t beat that.
If you’re ever in Central Hong Kong, check out Cocotte.
Since you’re a street artist and somewhat of an outsider to graffiti culture, have you gotten a chance to work with any established writers in LA or elsewhere? Have you run into any of the cliché graffiti drama?
I really haven’t reached out to too many true graft writers.. I tend to stay more on my side of the fence and I’m very happy here. I do have a few friends that are in that world and it’s always great to chop it up and see what they’re working on…
Standard Graff drama.. of course I have. I live in LA! Haha. everyone here is jockeying for the best walls.. sometimes toes get stepped on. It’s always minor things and I always try to approach them with respect and humility. While I have been working a lot, I still feel like I’m looking in from out, which is fine with me.
Because I’m so new at all of this, it’s not my place to comment negatively on the scene. I just hope to keep working and improving and eventually make my place in it’s world.
But One of the pieces I did – the Melting Donald Trump had some drama. The wall I painted it on had a very old very dissed piece already there.
When we asked the wall’s owner about it they said that it had been there forever and they were hoping someone would re-paint.
After a few days of the Trump mural being there I got a message on IG from the artist who had the original mural. We handled it civilly, but my Trump didn’t last much longer after that conversation.
Last question: do you have a personal philosophy about street art? or something you see as unique and special about the art form itself? And if so, what is it?
Nah, I’m not that type of guy.
I started doing “street art” out of a place of depression and not knowing what else to do. I didn’t like the direction where my life was going and I wanted to be happy.
When I paint I’m happy. Simple as that.