There’s the stereotypical artist dreamer, and then there’s Little Rock-based painter Matt McLeod. Balancing family, the business of art and his passion for painting, Matt has a career plan that keeps him firmly grounded. “I treat being an artist as being an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’m my own boss, and I have a lot of flexibility, but I don’t take it lightly.”
When Matt decided to strike out on his own as a professional painter in 2003, the stakes were high. An established advertising man, he had built a career at several of the state’s most prestigious advertising agencies, including Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, Stone Ward and Thoma Thoma Creative. As his career developed, so too did his interest in painting. After fifteen years of honing his skills as a hobby painter and taking lessons at the Arkansas Arts Center, Matt decided to take a risk. “Being an artist is not an easy thing,” he says. “If I didn’t feel like I had to do it, I probably wouldn’t have tried.”
But Matt wasn’t about to try to make it without a plan. He started out by organizing artist workshops, which were both a welcome source of income during the first difficult months, and a chance for Matt to improve his own skill by studying with experienced instructors. Soon he was teaching his own classes. “There’s no better way to learn than to teach,” he says. By breaking down painting techniques for his students, Matt learned even more about his own distinctive style and approach to composition and color.
Bold and energetic, Matt’s paintings manifest a wildness and creative freedom that offset his more serious side. A modern Impressionist painter, he says he is also influenced by the Fauvism movement, a term derived from the French word fauve, meaning wild beast, and used to describe the vivid and emotive use of color by a school of French post-Impressionist painters. His pieces are strikingly colorful, combining warm and cool tones in unexpected ways.
Local streetscapes and landmarks are often the subjects of his work, but by manipulating the color tones and saturation, Matt gives these familiar sights a modern, deconstructed feel. “I paint what I know,” he says of the settings of his pieces, “but I try to paint it in a way that it can be universal.”
Although he also works in acrylic, Matt creates some of his most complex and unusual color effects in oil. His skill as an art instructor is evident as he describes his oil painting technique. “Oils dry slowly and blend easily, so you can soften edges. It delivers pigment really well,” he says. “There’s something about it that’s just really pleasing to the eye. However, often the most vibrant color values are lost due to this blending.” To preserve the intense color contrasts that make Matt’s work so distinctive, he uses a chemical compound called alkyd to speed drying between layers. Once a layer is completely dry, he can introduce new, saturated colors on top without them blending into previous layers. The resulting splashes of color and contrasting high and low values are helping Matt to stand out in the art world.
Represented by Blue Moon Gallery in Hot Springs, as well as T. Lamarr Fine Art in Little Rock, Matt is planning expansions to Dallas and Nashville in the near future. His piece Capital Traffic was also recently selected by an out-of-state jury to be featured on the cover of the 2008 Arkansas Artists Calendar. A working artist, Matt knows that increasing his exposure is an important key to success, but continuing to improve his skills is foremost among his plans. “There’s always room for getting better. The more you paint, the better painter you become,” he says.
After five years as a professional painter, Matt is thankful for the discipline and work ethic, not to mention the marketing skills, he learned in his previous career. “Sometimes I wish that I had started right out of school as an artist. But at the same time, I feel like a lot of my success is based on the fact that I did spend 15 years in the business world, and I know how to focus my energy in a very specific way.”