Lawrence artist's paintings reflect her life's surroundings

Lawrence artist Elaine Matt finds the subjects for her paintings in her surroundings.

A corner of her living room. A stand of irises at Community Mercantile's community garden. Three bulls huddling in a pasture west of Lawrence. A friend visiting for an afternoon.


Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo

Elaine Matt will be the first featured artist at Wheatfield's Bakery and Cafe, 904 Vt., when it reopens. A fire in April forced the restaurant to close. These oil paintings are titled, clockwise from top, "Three Bulls," "Po's Corner," "Jessie in Yello" and "The Old Road Grader."

"It's a great escape," she said of her painting. "It balances me out."

Matt, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, learned to challenge her creative spirit at a young age.

"My parents limited TV to one hour a day so I was encouraged to paint and draw early on," she said, adding that she often would take a book from the family's encyclopedia and copy the animals and other subjects inside. "It was always assumed I would be going to art school."

And she did. She enrolled at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, where she studied sculpture, printmaking and other media. After two years she transferred to the American Academy of Art in Chicago to study illustration/commercial art. She worked for years as an advertising artist, but when computers became the trend in making art she found her career no longer fulfilling.

She traveled for a while and then took a job at an art factory, where she copied the works of others, particularly abstract paintings. In 1996, she moved to Lawrence and worked as an art teacher for Community Living Opportunities. After her daughter was born, she took a job as a group home supervisor for CLO -- the first nonart-related job she'd had in years.

Three years ago, Matt decided she needed to start painting again.

"I started up with oils because I have to work when Rebekah (her 3-year-old daughter) is sleeping," she said, explaining that oils remain wet long enough to allow her to take a break from painting to care for her child.

Her experience at the art factory has proved to be helpful, too. She had to finish six new paintings in two weeks for her upcoming show at Wheatfield's Bakery and Cafe.

What: Oil paintings by Elaine Matt.When: Tuesday through Aug. 6.Where: Wheatfield's Bakery and Cafe, 904 Vt.

"I can get a lot done in an hour. " I can crank them out," she said, with a laugh.

Matt's paintings reflect her own life: the rural surroundings of her parents' farm in Iowa as well as in Douglas County; her daughter playing on the beach at Clinton Lake; a portrait of a friend; even her kitchen sink.

In the past, Matt relied on brushes to put the paint on her canvases. Recently, she has restricted herself to using only a palette knife.

"I'm obsessed about detail so I'm attempting to get away from that," she said. "I draw on the canvas first, and use the palette knife like a brush. I use a brush only to sign it."

In addition to the Wheatfield's show, Matt's works rotate in and out of the Douglas County Senior Center and Babcock Place and she is planning a show in Des Moines, Iowa, soon.

Unlike some artists, Matt said she does not get overly attached to her works and welcomes sales.

"It's more about the process or experience of doing it, or wherever it takes me while I'm doing it," she said. "If someone else connects with my painting, I would like for them to have it."

Now that she has mastered the use of the palette knife, Matt would like to return to using brushes and perhaps mix the two application techniques. She also would like to work with larger canvases and perhaps do more portraits.

"I hope to see it (my painting) work into something that I could do for a living," she said.


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