12 Questions: Matt Eaton of Library Street Collective

By - Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

We are excited to have had the opportunity to speak with Matt Eaton, artist and part-owner of the Library Street Collective in Detroit. Matt discusses the origins of the Library Street Collective, projects they have worked on and also his work as a solo artist.

1. Hi Matt, first off would you please introduce yourself and describe your role in the Library Street Collective (LSC)?
I’m Matt Eaton and I’m one of the owners of Library Street Collective. My role is the same as my partners Anthony and JJ Curis as well as my wife Ania. It’s a collaborative environment; we bounce ideas off each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses of course but we complement each other nicely I think.

2. For those who don’t know, what is the LSC and how did it begin?
Library Street Collective officially came about in 2012. Anthony and JJ Curis opened a gallery a couple years prior under a different name with a different aesthetic, but soon after we met we decided to press reset, reimagine, rebrand and refocus into an environment closer to our personal tastes. It’s no fun working with dead artists haha.

3. Detroit has a solid and undeniable place in the history of graffiti, but it seems within the last few years it has re-emerged as a destination for writers. Can you talk about that and how it has helped you guys?
It’s funny really; Detroit is a very insulated place in many respects. Before the internet was so omnipresent, you may never have had a connection with Detroit. Geographically, it’s in a strange place. You have to drive up into Michigan for an hour to get here; the state is surrounded by water on most sides and buffered by pretty flat boring countryside on the south. There is indigenous graffiti here, there always has been. For a long time however it was stuck in a timewarp, having not progressed much. While there have been many talented and prolific graffiti writers, there has been a distinct absence of the raw carnivorous student artist…the people who see everything and expand upon styles and techniques…the people who innovate and push the envelope. I’m not sure if it has helped us; in fact I think it’s made it a little harder for us. The fact that more graffiti writers are coming to Detroit and spending their time putting up shitty tag after shitty tag on functioning businesses instead of the innumerable abandoned properties makes explaining how great graffiti can be pretty difficult. Detroit is as much defined by its inertia as it is by its energy ya know.

4. The “Z” Project, can you talk about what that is and how it came about?
The Z is a parking structure next to our gallery. The whole project came about when we were discussing a shared space with Bedrock, the company behind the construction and if they would help us transform a space into a pedestrian zone. We were able to see the plans for The Z at the time and identified an opportunity to present something a little different; something we thought would be more interesting and engaging for a broader audience. Once they agreed to our plan we invited 27 artists from around the world (we had a short list of around 60) to come and participate in the project and interact with the architecture of the city in a more intimate way. It was really great to see the city through everyone else’s eyes. You learn a lot about yourself and your surroundings when you invite fresh new perspectives in. We are really proud of the project and intend to continue changing the local landscape in the most colorful and interesting way possible.

5. Sam Friedman will debut a solo exhibition next month, how is that coming along?
Sam is such a great guy with an incredible imagination. This is just another example of someone we work with that we love as a person and an artist. His show is going to kick ass, he’s been working really hard coming up with crazy things for your eyeballs to wrestle with. We are very excited about it.

6. You guys have worked with a lot of amazing, creative artists in the past. Anybody you are working with upcoming that you are excited about?
There are so many fucking amazing people out there, it’s really overwhelming. This year I’m really looking forward to solo shows for Kelsey Brookes, Dave Kinsey and Pose as well as working on some huge projects with several other artists. We have some fun secret (for now) projects as well that I’m pumped for.

7. The show in Dubai with Pose and Revok, what is that market like and how do you feel that show will be received?
The show went very well, we had people fly in from Kuwait, London, Istanbul and several other locations around the Middle East. It was quite amazing to meet so many people interested in what we are interested in that have very little interaction with it aside from the internet. The Middle East has one of the richer, ornate art and cultural legacies in the world so it makes perfect sense that there are many people there who appreciate art and understand its value and place in society.

8. Okay let’s move back closer to home, you are an artist as well. Can you describe your style and is there an overlying theme to your pieces?
I change my mind constantly haha. I like doing all kinds of things really, I always find time to study anything I love or have a slight interest in. If I had to identify a few common themes in my paintings, they would probably be typography/calligraphy, texture, color and decay. All of my work is layers…layers and layers of layers. I paint mostly with spray paint mixed with acetone from a brush but always seem to find myself with anything from a pencil to oils as well. The process of making, the meditation and action is far more important to me than even the final product. I just love thinking.

9. Where are you from originally and what drove you to pursue a career in art?
I was actually born in Northern California, Mendocino to be precise. My parents moved to LA when I was just a couple years old, we lived there until I was about 12. We then moved to London England. I had been subjected to art and the arts my entire life. My brother and I grew up in a household surrounded by creators and artists. There has never been a moment in my conscious life that I did not consider myself an artist. The most profound time for me though is when we moved overseas. I had a southern California checkered Vans and Dead Kennedys mentality and was thrust into this rainy dancehall and jungle urban landscape filled with graffiti. The old surfaces and signage, torn away, dissolved and distressed from the elements and branded by the shadows became my focus. I was absolutely fascinated with the messages and lettering but more so by the negative space and what was covered and forgotten. I’m entranced by nature and urban experiences; that has always been the driving force behind my art.

10. What are your thoughts on graffiti writers who break into the gallery scene? Is that the natural progression of an artist?
You know, I don’t think it’s a natural progression. Not everyone is an artist. I feel that a lot of graffiti writers are in pursuit of fame and fortune but not necessarily a career as an artist or to be part of the arts in a deeper more meaningful way. I don’t think it works for everyone. There are many graffiti writers who pursue other artistic endeavors and have something unique and separate from their graffiti to offer. Sometimes the graffiti itself is the art and the writer has honed and perfected his or her skills to a point where it transcends the definition and becomes something else, something more related to fine art. I always love discovering someone’s art that came from graffiti but doesn’t feel like it’s informed by graffiti. It’s hard to explain I guess, it’s very personal and everyone feels differently about it. I do however feel that if you aren’t investigating art in a broader sense and exploring its history and interacting with it intimately and learning constantly then you are missing the point. Anyone can write their name; only a few can convey knowledge and emotion with a single stroke of a pen or can.

11. Who has been your favorite artist to work with or someone you personally are continually amazed by?
That is a hard one, I’ve had the pleasure of working with and or being in close proximity to many artists I look up to, from Gerhard Richter, John Chamberlain and Robert Indiana to Futura and Revok. I’m amazed by anyone who pursues their art like a predator stalking its prey. Those with voracious appetites for knowledge will always be my heroes. My brother Tristan is by far my most treasured accomplice and companion. Watching him grow up and evolve into a Hydra of creativity has been awe inspiring. He and my mother Gillian have always been a huge inspiration to me.

12. Any final thoughts or people you would like to mention or thank?
I guess I’ll close with this… If you choose a career in the arts or you find yourself there for some reason and grow fond of it, please understand that you are part of the most important cultural legacy and record mankind has to offer. Take it seriously. Your contribution no matter how small is of vital importance. From cave paintings to the Bowery Houston wall this is how we define ourselves and understand that we are more than just animals. Every great civilization is remembered for two things, the physical manifestations of human creative achievement, the song, the dance, the poetry, the written word and painted muse…and the war they make to protect it. Be prepared to fight for your art. Be prepared to fight for your children to have access to the one voice that empowers us against tyranny.

Special thank you to Matt for working with us on the interview.
Photography courtesy of Matt Eaton.

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