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December, 2014

Featured Artist

Matthew Warren Lee

I’m a Wisconsin born painter of landscapes, architecture, and portraits. I received my Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2014. Much of my work is rooted in my experiences with scientific devices and vast natural settings as a member of the United States Antarctic Program where I worked in science support from 2008-2010. This included a 13 month stay at the Geographic South Pole for Antarctic winter where I learned field medicine and taught watercolor classes to scientists and support personnel. I taught at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee from 2012-2014 and currently I teach at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Matthew will be in the studio from September - May.


A Conversation with Matthew Warren Lee

by Don Niederfrank

Matthew and I met on a Friday afternoon at the Daily Baking Co. for a conversation about art in general and his work in particular. It expanded into an enjoyable and broad-ranging conversation including his three years with the United States Antarctic Program, traffic accidents and more. The relevant portions are reconstructed below as a portrait of the young man as an artist.

D: How many hours a week or a day do you spend on your art?

M: I teach two days a week at Carthage College and am going to start teaching at Alverno as well, so that takes up part of my time. I paint five days a week, usually about nine hours a day.  During the summer I paint seven days a week.

D: That seems like a long time to work.  

M: I like long hours, and each piece takes around 150 hours. And I don't paint all that time.  It involves a variety of activities—preparing boards, drawing—and I'm usually working on more than one piece at a time.

D: Do you paint on canvas?

M: I paint on maple. It's probably my least favorite thing to do, sanding maple boards smooth for painting.

D: Do you have a finish sander?

M: No. It rounds the corners off too fast. I do it by hand.

D: How do you know when a piece is finished? Do you have the finished work in mind when you start?

M: It is planned out and drawn but not determined. There is continual editing all through the process. It's mostly intuitive to know when a piece is finished, when it looks right.

D: How do you decide how much to charge for a piece?

M: It's a mix between material costs and time spent. I have work in three galleries—1 profit and 2 non-profit. And I've been in New American Paintings, which is cool.

D: What art do you remember seeing or doing as a child?

M: I remember video games and being able to control what was on the TV. I drew during childhood and got into painting in high school. Bridget Riley was a favorite artist of mine then and still is. I went to UWM as an art major and never changed. Growing up in Wisconsin really affected my sense of color. It's beautiful here.

D: Have you ever used different materials or worked in different media than oils?

M: I've worked in watercolors and other materials in college and drawing. I was on a team that won the international snow sculpting championship in Harbin, China.

D: What keeps you going as an artist?

M: I'm pretty self-driven. I compete with myself and 'the dead.' (Other painters)  I love painting; the only thing I don't like is sanding.

D: What's your favorite gallery or museum in the area?

M: The Charles Allis Art Museum (1801 N. Prospect, Milwaukee). It's cohesive; every piece is a knockout; it's well-organized. Just a very good experience.

D: What other artists, historical or contemporary, are relevant to your work?

M: Early American and Dutch landscape painters—Frederic E. Church, Thomas Moran, Thomas Cole, George Inness.

D: Are there critics or others who move your art forward.

M: Mentors like Tom (Uttech) and friends who know me and my work. Formal critiques aren't that helpful.

D: Finally, what do most people not know about doing art?

M: How much work it takes, how one makes money at it, how it is a real job. And how much paperwork is involved in applying for grants, submitting work, etc.

D: Thanks, Matthew this was fun.

M: I enjoyed it too.