Pretty Average Blowout, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas. 18" x 25" x 4."
MATTHEW HILSHORST's "sincerely pessimistic" work includes painting, sculpture and a plethora of hobby craft techniques—latch-hook rugs, bottle cap murals, and electrical wire "paintings"—that sit right on the boundary between painting and sculpture. He conflates the grid of gingham tablecloths and latch-hook rug canvases with the grid of Modernist Abstract painting. His sculptural shrouds, towels and cakes made entirely of paint explore themes of gravity, decay and longevity. Matt earned his BFA in Painting from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul. He went on to earn both a Post Baccalaureate Certificate and an MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been including in exhibitions at Sidecar Gallery (Hammond, Indiana, 2016), Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (2015) and Peregrine Program (Chicago, 2013). Matt lives and works in Chicago.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does mimicry play in your work?
Matthew Hilshorst: I don't know if mimicry would be the right word. I am definitely trying to copy something or copy a technique in the way I make a thing though. It is more a form of flattery or reverence for the object and the way in which it is made. Real admiration led me to carve two egg beaters out of wood and then spray painted them chrome. I made them as realistic as possible so that they really represent nothing more than egg beaters. I love banal objects that someone painstakingly designed. I had Egg Beaters up on display at an office building downtown for almost a year. When I finally removed them people told me they had been trying to wrap their heads around why I simply put egg beaters up on a shelf. When I told them they were super delicate wood carvings, they were shocked. It immediately and completely changed their view of what they had been trying to understand.
Egg Beaters, 2003. Carved wood and spray paint. 7" x 1.5" x 1.5."
OPP: Are these works ironic or sincere? Is that question even relevant anymore in the way it was at the time they were made?
MH: It is still a relevant question. Those past works are completely sincere, although it may be read as ironic when the sarcasm or pessimism represented is misunderstood. I spend months and sometimes years creating individual pieces, so putting all that time and effort into creating something, it can't help but be sincere. I love making work that is task-oriented. Making a work that's too simplistic can feel unrewarding, while making a work without a preconceived notion leaves me overwhelmed and unable to begin. I try to give myself a new challenge with every piece, but I always know there is an end point before I start. I recently completed an 8'11" long stained and worn red carpet made of latch-hooked paint. It took me nearly two years to complete. 8'11" is an odd length, but it is as long as the tallest man to have lived was tall. The other measurements of the carpet are in relation to my own body. How it hangs partially on a wall and partially on the floor is also important. I consider every aspect of a work before I make it; little to nothing is arbitrary. But that doesn't always mean I get exactly what I intended. There are always challenges, set backs, and aspects I could have never anticipated.
Much of my work will have a craft look to it because the methods I use to create it are a main component of it. In other words, the process I use to make something is definitely part of the content. The carpets, rugs, towels, and welcome mats are my way of painting a thing where each latch-hooked piece is also a brush stroke, and each brush stroke represents a thread. I do paint very realistically with oil paint too, but I rarely get excited about doing it. I prefer to not represent something in two dimensions. The physical object is so much more satisfying than a representation of it. As I say that though, I'm working on a new group of oil paintings. Ha.
The Red Carpet, 2016. acrylic paint and flocking fibers. 8'11."
OPP: What’s the new work about?
MH: The oil paintings? Bingo. Seriously. The new acrylic work is more about hostile hospitality. Lots of different takes on welcome mats and entry rugs. In the same way that throw-away gingham tablecloths physically display "Americana," so do welcome mats. Thinking about the United States being so unwelcoming to refugees and immigrants has really permeated my new work, it would seem.
Worn Out Hand Towel, 2014. Acrylic paint on towel bar. 16" x 20" as displayed.
OPP: Captured Unicorn (2013) and Snake in the Grass
(2013) are latch hook rugs in the conventional sense of the word. They
are cut yarn attached to a gridded canvas, creating a shaggy surface.
What’s different about Welcome Mat (2014) and Worn Out Hand Towel (2014)?
MH: I originally created Captured Unicorn for a medieval themed show at Bureau in New York and Snake in the Grass was made for a show here in Chicago at Peregrine Program. Both rugs were a new direction for me that ultimately greatly influenced most of my future work and methods of production. My work has been described to me as "basement art,” and I think that gets back to sincerity and irony so I decided to go full-on basement craft for my first latch hooked rugs. Both shows had a dedicated theme, so I was able to get away from traditional painting or sculpture and have some fun with fibers for those two shows.
I switched to latch hooking paint because I wanted to work with a larger color palette. I was going to start hand-dyeing and spinning my own yarn, but that started to seem like more of a drag as far as tasks go and made something simple like a latch hook rug way too complicated. Figuring out what ratio of paint to medium I needed, making endless tests, and learning that acrylic paint does not like getting colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit presented challenges, but I knew I could easily manipulate color using paint which was my ultimate concern. I like making objects out of 100% paint because of its plastic perfection. It's also a great way to represent a functional object that only functions as art. Using only paint makes me contemplate gravity, time, and longevity, which have been underlying themes in all of my work. I make my own grid out of paint that I latch-hook into, removing a canvas or a separate support system for my paintings. Many of my paintings have to be viewed from above and can be displayed in many different, irreverent ways; they don't just hang on a wall.
Red Gradation, 2011. Acrylic paint on vinyl tablecloth on stretched canvas. 40" diameter.
OPP: What does the grid mean to you in works like Sagging Tablecloth (2010), Red Gradation and Green Gradation (2011) and Access (2013)? How do the shrouds and Thrown Paint, all from 2014, and Smear (2015) add to this conversation?
I was shopping at an Ace Hardware store that was going out of business
(probably late 2003) when I first started at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago. There was a bin full of gingham patterned vinyl
tablecloths, and I bought the whole pile of them. I hung them up in my
studio and was mesmerized by the colors and the pattern. I sat staring
and contemplating them off and on for a solid semester. They seemed to
incorporate all the ideas that were in my head. They were mathematical
and perfectly measured. Time and space were involved in their flatness
and their infinite pattern. And they contained patterns within patterns.
The tablecloths were bright and in basic colors, equally straddling
ideas associated with Op Art, Pop Art, and Minimalism. The gingham
pattern also has embedded cultural associations like American idealism,
gatherings, mass production, eating, our throw-away culture, and classic
Originally, I painted pointillist landscapes on them by only using the squares in between the red checks and white checks. I wanted to create imagery that was ghostly and barely visible by hiding it within the pattern of the tablecloth, but in no way disrupting the grid. Those works aren't up on my website because I did the ghostly thing too well—they don't photograph well, or really at all, ha. I then started to create more pattern-based work like the two circular gradations, because it was more visually impactful than the landscapes. The grid continues to play a major role in all my other work including the bottle cap murals, the gridded structure of a latch-hook work, the layers to my graph paper cut outs, smear, the shrouds. I wish I could wrap my head around the fascination with grids, but it seems like some sort of micro/macro truth in organization that verges on spiritual. Basically, it seems to hold some sort very deep secret that I can't understand, so I’m constantly coming back to it and exploring it.
Checkered Drawing 1, 2008. Color pencil on paper. 18" x 24."
OPP: Talk to us about cake and about your cake sculptures and paintings.
MH: The cake paintings bring me back to craft and the method
of making things. They came about while I was making my first all paint
works. I use a piping bag to create my paint latch hook rugs and towels
as well as Caught, Smear, and the Shrouds.
I decided that since I was using a technique used for decorating cakes,
a cake with a phrase or appropriate decoration could be powerful as a
The cakes have messages about time, aging, gender, and gender roles in their construction. I grew up always being encouraged to be creative, but I was discouraged from being in the kitchen. I would have much preferred to watch and help my mom cook, but my place was in my dad’s wood shop. I made Con to bring up questions of gender roles, gender assignment and gender restrictions. Much like the tablecloth paintings straddle different art movements, I also wanted Con to be a yin and yang of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. The Pieces of cake that seem to have been cut from Con are all in some way ruined. Maybe someone has run their finger through the frosting, a fly has landed on it, or a cigarette has been put out in it. Gender is brought up again in Pretty Average Blowout where 80 flaccid candles have been extinguished. This cake refers to the 80 years an average adult male in the United States can look forward to living. Once time and gravity take their toll, your celebrations are over.
I'm generally an optimistic person but my work has become sentimental and sometimes literally drips sarcasm. I guess it is sincerely pessimistic! That seems to be even more prevalent in recent work, especially since the election.
Con, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas mounted on cardboard. 20" x 25" x 5."
OPP: What’s happening in your studio right now? How are current political events affecting your practice?
MH: These current and pressing concerns have affected my newest work for sure. Overall, it’s becoming darker and almost nasty. . . but in a good way. These last few months, it has been really hard to concentrate and get to work in my studio. For at least a month after the election, every time I set foot in there, I struggled with the question, why is this important? Then I went to D.C. to protest the Trump inauguration and to walk with my sister and many friends in the Women's March. It sounds cheesy, but it was such a powerful and positive experience that when I came back to Chicago, I felt I needed to try to do something more.
It's only been a week since I've returned, but I contacted two other artist friends who had also been in D.C. and asked if they were in a resistance group. If they were, I wanted to join, and if they weren't, I wanted us to start one. There are now five of us dedicated to inviting people to create a group that will encourage and promote creativity, accountability, information sharing, and a way to make more of a visual impact around the city and at protests. As much as we kind of cringed at the look of the pussy hats, we all loved that people came together and each created a handmade pink hat which was worn as a unified front. We hope to invite many and become a group that channels the creativity of the Chicago artist community for good against evil.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.