Meet the Artist: Matt Drissell
Meet the Artist is a series of interviews with the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellows.
Matt Drissell utilizes a variety of styles, from traditional illusionistic representation to conceptual abstraction, to create visual art that addresses themes of sustainability. He has a MFA in Painting from New York Academy of Art and a BA from Wheaton College — Illinois. Drissell believes in making the visual arts an integral part of local communities serving on the local arts council and teaching classes. He is a certified art teacher and taught middle and high school art for five years in Milwaukee and St. Louis. Drissell is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa where he lives with his wife Becky, two daughters, and son.
Where are you from?
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, living there until I left for college in Chicagoland. After graduation, I moved to my wife’s hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a middle school art teacher until my family moved to New York City where I attended graduate school. Since the fall of 2008, my family and I have lived in Sioux Center, Iowa, in the far NW corner of the state, between Sioux City and Sioux Falls.
Where do you make your work?
Most of my planning happens at my kitchen table, early in the morning, before the rest of my family is up. It’s just me and my local public radio station. These beginnings lead to projects in my three season studio in the back of my garage. When winter sets in, I move indoors, often to the painting studio at the college where I teach.
What is your artistic medium of choice and why?
It depends on the project — my default is drawing. I love to sketch, beginning with pencils and finishing with ink pens. These renderings often develop into larger projects, many of which use unusual media, namely highly processed food products. I have found that this media ties to place, as many of the ingredients in the popsicles, ice creams, and cake mixes originate from the field crops which blanket Siouxland. Additionally, many of these sweet treats are produced by Wells Blue Bunny, located in Le Mars, Iowa, 20 minutes south of my home. In multiple ways, this unorthodox medium roots itself in Northwest Iowa.
What themes does your work deal with?
By utilizing the highly processed food treats, my work suggests themes of land, agriculture, and sustainability. Additionally, the work shows an affinity with the modernist art movement of Abstract Expressionism. Popsicles drip, spill, and ooze onto the work, just as Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, and other members of the New York School worked with their paint. These pinnacles of 20th century cultural developments — industrial food and modern art — are juxtaposed in my work, and yet they find an odd resonance there.
What are you currently working on?
The Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellowship is very timely as it allows me to further pursue my food-based works. I have explored various materials to permanently fix the food products, but most clear coats yellow over time and are rather nasty to work with. The fellowship allows me to search for non-yellowing and safer resins; so at the moment I am playing chemist, trying out new combinations. These explorations are intended to lead to new works created for specific Iowa places, ideally tied in with the Artist Fellowship Meet and Greets around the state.
What do you enjoy about being an artist in Iowa?
I love the strong artistic legacy of Iowa — from Grant Wood to the craft persons featured at local county fairs, there is a deep appreciation in Iowa for being artistically engaged with the world around you. And like Grant Wood, I am glad to see that many Iowa artists are not beholden to the latest fads in New York, Chicago, or LA — instead they are confident enough to create their own unique works rooted here. I also enjoy that Iowa artists often aren’t anonymous in their communities; unlike in many big cities, an Iowa artist can often have a tangible artistic impact in the cultural life of their own town.
What is one thing you would like to see change about the artistic field in Iowa?
I would love to see greater connections between the artistic communities of Iowa. I would love to see the creativity and energy tin larger cities like Des Moines spread throughout the rest of the state, building momentum for the arts. It would be particularly exciting for this spirit to unite with the smaller creative communities, places such Northwest Iowa’s Orange City. In Orange City, you can find a very active arts council that continually welcomes musicians, writers, poets, actors, and artists. I would love to see Iowa’s larger communities such as Des Moines, Iowa City, and Ames artistically cross pollinate with smaller places such as Orange City or my own Sioux Center.