Matthew Satz with Anetta Nowosielska, Editor-in-chief, HAMPTONS Magazine, November 2020
Q: How did you discover the Hamptons and what appealed to the artistic process that may have compelled you to stay?
Born in Brooklyn, and having grown up in Huntington, I initially was introduced to the East End early in my youth. I would come out on rare occasions with family or friends for random vacation days, or long weekends. The ocean had always been a draw, the mom-and-pop shops in those days were unique and forced upon you a slow pace. Potato fields seemed to separate the small towns from one another and those small towns from the beach. My Dad would race down the long stretches of empty asphalt blaring the Doobie Brothers and I maintained vivid recollections of the sounds and sights and smells of the sea, and always upon returning, there permeated a sense of familiarity.
Place. The immense nature here makes one feel small while simultaneously offering a sense of significance, for your presence after is witness to your existence in it's vastness.
Solitude is easy to find here and distractions take an effort to garner. I have often described my earliest years living and working here as a type of self-imposed isolation. Hence it is an amazing place to work, dream, manifest and create. There is great awareness of its birthing of many American cultural treasures. Art, literature, architecture, music… name a creative field and the pioneers driving it and have all lived here, passed through here, or are buried here. If you are going to deem yourself an artist in this community you ought best bring your A game. There is a true and rare spirit here. Amazing wildlife and a history of wild lives. There's a lot of evidence of sophisticated success out here if you just look around, and passing all of that on the way to the ocean may subconsciously be driving the pursuit of many passions.
In '94/95 I came out to do the Jimmy Ernst Artist Alliance studio tour and on this trip I met a painter from Texas by the name of Terry Elkins.
He shared his work and the history of an amazing potato barn on the R/R tracks which to this day is still his home and studio. For the first time I witnessed in the flesh Chamberlains and heard stories of John tossing materials off of the roof. Frank Stella's paints were lined up along the length of one wall. There was a discarded Judd in the woods and Terry instilled a confidence in me to venture out this way. I felt I could move out here knowing just one person. There was a palpable energy and significant history. The beach was a 10-minute bike ride away. I had a sense of adventure, a drive to figure-it-out and pursuits of those prior bore evidence for me to embrace and in which to find some comfort. If I was going to face hardship and struggle I was determined to do it at the beach and in Joseph Campbell’s terms I set off on what he termed to be a hero’s journey.
Q: Who were some of the artists connected to the Hamptons you felt inspired by?
Very early on I was introduced to the work of Henry Moore, probably around the age of six or seven, and it wasn't until I was deciding to pursue Fine Art at Brandeis that Roy Lichtenstein popped into my periphery. From Roy I was quickly introduced to a succession of artists. Some that have opened doors and led me down the path I am currently on, and some that just simply pointed to others. As far as inspiration goes it's difficult to list individual names with specific connections to the East End to claim responsibility.
We’ve been making art for thousands of years. Yet surely the ghosts of Pollock and Ad Reinhardt, Ray Johnson’s Correspondence School and his leaping off of the bridge in Sag Harbor. Robert Motherwell and that image of Rothko staring at a painting sitting in a garage. Dan Flavin and stories from his nurse. The tombstone of Hannah Wilke sparking in my mind black and white imagery of her beauty covered in bits of chewed-up gum. Someone once showed me the bottle opener screwed to the back door of Harold Rosenberg's house where Pollock supposedly popped beers and conjured up discussions with de Kooning et al. Etched in my visual memory a small jewelry-like sculpture of a satyr pleasing a woman from behind in the bedroom last inhabited by Lee Krasner. Chatting with John Chamberlain and smoking joints with Malcolm Morley. Bumping into Kurt Vonnegut at the Sagg Main deli, and being introduced to Joseph Heller while he was clutching an early typewritten draft of Catch 22.
I saw Ray Charles open for James Brown and his entourage while sitting on a bale of hay in a field at The Deep Hollow Ranch. Passing Avedon’s house to get to Peter Beard’s. Paul Morrissey’s Eothen and unending stories while lunching with Bob Colacello at Estia. Ossorio’s patronage comes to mind when driving past The Creeks and moments with Larry Rivers holding his sax while ogling girls and whilst wearing tube socks under his sandals. Studio visits with Joe Zucker, a mentor of sorts offering dialogues and diatribes, hoops and roundtrips to NYC. Klaus Kertess who supported, and from whom I sought advice. George Plimpton’s height. Donald Baechler’s potato barn… Al Jensen’s too.
And the brief sighting of a gray-haired, pony-tailed, elegantly dressed and swiftly gaited gentleman escaping the diners at Alison by the Beach. It was Roy - the first and last time I would ever see him.
It was only after spending a considerable amount of time living here that these predecessors, their noteworthy stories and their broad wakes continuously emerged to greatly inform my awareness and instill in me the significance of this area as a true artist's mecca.
Q: What's been challenging about working out East?
Darkness in winter at 4:00 PM. Cold winter months with limited socialization. I often admit that in many aspects I wasted my youth on this place. Early on I learned that Summer provides the potential for anonymity and Winter is best spent with your nose to the grindstone. If you're motivated to work I have found that it’s possible to accomplish a vast amount of work in a short amount of time.
Working out East presents challenges in that it is inherently a small town. With that comes the potential for opportunities as well combatting the lack of such. Convenience is less accessible and there is a survivalist aspect that comes into play when you are here full-time year-round and working to make a living. Accessing materials can become an issue. Ventures into the city become necessary. Escapes for sunny and warmer climes I have found for the past several years to be ideal.
2020 had me back here for a full winter in quite some time and old habits were quickly adopted. There is a sacrifice involved. One needs to be in pursuit of something to best benefit from living here. Those arriving here to pursue, fare far better in my experience, than those finding themselves here as a result of running away from elsewhere.
At times it's simply the stigma from an outsider's limited perspective that this place is a playground and that what is realized here may require a greater effort to instill the confidence in one, as compared to that same thing simply presented 2 hours to the west.
Q: Your thoughts on your industry and gallery representation.
Art and commerce make strange bedfellows. Genius is rare. Healthy relationships incubating growth, security,
and continued trajectories are scarce and competitive to garner. Commodification is not always privy to the recognition of inherent value.
The artist has been and is continuously responsible for the documentation of humanity and culture since its earliest inception. Value is in the artist.
Q: Is it possible to be a working artist without a big gallery behind him?
Absolutely. And the adage goes, “Big is not always better”. I could ramble off a list of names of artists and artworks of paramount merit and broad influence representative of the dynamic the conundrum presents. It was a city, after all, that gave Clyfford Still the museum he earned, and Michael Heizer has been building his own City since 1972. His practice rooted in the Earthworks movement which to varying degrees set out to divorce itself from the art market and rejected traditional gallery and institutional venues.It is Bruce Nauman that states The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths. Seek his From Hand to Mouth, 1967. Chris Burden built Samson in an effort to destroy the museum and Hirst employed an auction house.
A working artist is a working artist. And that work ultimately requires a myriad of instruments dependent upon the audience it seeks as well as the audience seeking it. It is the commodification of that work which invites participation from other variables. As there are roles often better suited to forces other than the artist, it often takes a village to best support dissemination of artistic endeavors. We do however live in a moment of the broadest reach and advancement of ideas through technology. Artists have always found ways to subvert systems, so to succinctly answer the question, it is certainly possible and has been for quite some time.
Q: What makes you and your work a standout? Tell us about your process and its evolution.
I greatly appreciate the compliment and may best address the question by stating that my interests lie in engaging in an art historical dialogue where I'm able to present an intelligent, if not elegant solution to a problem. I am interested in pioneering and building upon a lineage of artists that have pursued solutions to age-old issues. There are still niches and voids in a specific history within which I am determined to function particularly and effectively. To leave a mark. A signature. It is within these parameters that I aim to make work where concept dictates process, and the end result determines the aesthetic.
Concept + Process = Aesthetic
I tend to employ techniques which require an accumulation of dexterity, often in collaboration with forces larger than myself, in an effort to work towards and present a mastery. For if I am going to spend countless hours engaged in an activity, I need for it to present an opportunity for growth, and a challenging pursuit in refinement of a skill.
The potential for enlightened engagement when greatest, stems from clear focus and commitment; a meditation of sorts. Egoless mark making. In addition, there is a natural and systematic evolution to the work. One series consequentially leads to the next, and academic references can be made evident through an understanding of fundamental processes. The works intrinsically have an organic sensibility and explore the maturation of requisite concepts and processes. I often state that the simplest ideas have the ability to attract the broadest audiences, and since we are ourselves “nature” an organic sensibility is never foreign. Recognition is instinctive. Sources are specific.
Q: How has the community embraced your work?
Well I'm fortunate enough to say that I've been living off of the work since I’ve turned 30. A true success and accomplishment for which I am grateful, albeit with occasional Sisyphean frustrations. And I fully believe, aside from the determination, persistence, and sacrifices made, that I've been able to do so because of the uniqueness of this community. There is vast intellect here. There is vast wealth. There is tremendous history and tremendous awareness.
We grow our food. We fish our own waters. We support each other and police ourselves. Superficiality doesn't have a very long lifespan here. If you arrive with integrity and character and something to offer, I believe the community here only pulls you in. If you're good at what you do, there is an audience here for you. An intellectual one. A sophisticated one. A loyal one. The kid pumping gas at the local station most likely knows who Jackson Pollock is and probably even Bill de Kooning.
I’ve bartered art for restaurant tabs. I have been offered shelter when homeless. I’ve found space when needed and opportunities to work, through a network of locals, both knowledgeable and sensitive. There is great cognizance, of and for support of significant pursuits and creative endeavors. Friends have become collectors, collectors have become patrons.You have to put your time in to be entrenched. Superficiality has a limited lifespan out here. Integrity and character determine your acceptance or rejection in a place so culturally rich. The local institutions have been supportive to varying degrees and in my experience, willing to engage in the least.
Q: You mentioned no artist emerged from the Hamptons yet many come here to create. Where do you fit on that spectrum and if it's true why have local artists had a hard time to breakthrough.
If NYC is the center of the universe, the East End has functioned as an escape from it. In it's shadow I suppose. A respite from that place.The dominant systems in place that discover, exploit, and drive the business of art have been focused on entities elsewhere. It is an interesting dynamic after all.
Pollock pulled the focus on art from Europe and I like to say that Bill de Kooning sealed the deal. Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg championed them a mile or so from here and the slew of others that followed in their footsteps. American art history was birthed out here. Springs was the womb. It seems business however prefers to be done in cities and that true creativity requires a solitude.
In the end only history determines great work and I'm trudging on a hero’s journey. Efforts towards brilliance can’t be sequestered, and although my path may be circuitous as a result of choosing this place over the LES, an MFA program at Yale, or embracing solitude over camaraderie, it is evident that I am on the path. There is a purity to these accomplishments, and the East End has provided the umbilical point.
My body of work would not be what it is had I not chosen this place, and that, I am willing to put up against the greatest. Wish me luck. I would like to make that mention a footnote.
Q: What's next for you and your work?
What’s next for me involves the West Coast and Europe but most recently I have been working on a publication and exhibition titled When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around : Quarantine Lovers.
In addition, I will be exhibiting some new works with Harper’s in East Hampton; I Found Romance in Him and Home, opens November 14th and runs through December 21st. And concurrently, work is being exhibited at Guild Hall in Robert Longo’s All for the Hall, and in the Southampton Art Center’s, The Collector’s Sale. Both running through December 31st. Please go support your East End institutions.