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Matt Hebermehl: Murals and Ink Drawing

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday January 27, 2022

 

As we approach year two of this pandemic, many people are reflecting on how they got through it. Subscriber Matt Hebermehl is no exception: he sent a copy of his self-published book, Covid Calls, and joined me for an email conversation this week about the book and about art in general.

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the pen or the brush?

Matt Hebermehl: Oh, definitely the pen. Drawing has been the more natural way for me to communicate visually than painting, and for the last twenty years or so (since starting art school) I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate the line quality, gesture, and fluidity of my drawing into paint. 

I’ve learned how to “cheat” by using aerosol, or rollers and house-painting poles to get those lines with paint, but at the end of the day I was still drawing, essentially. I tend to be stubborn, so it took various people over the years to convince me to focus on the drawing. Once I honed in on drawing, I also began doing more figurative work as well. 

At the onset of the pandemic, I decided to pare down and work with dip pens and sumi ink. It so happened that working with the black ink helped convey the heaviness of the moment, which has unfortunately carried on. 

PR: What artists or art forms do you count as inspiration for your drawings in ink?

MH: Marshall Arisman’s drawing and printmaking, Ralph Steadman, Honoré Daumier, Sue Coe, Maira Kalman, especially her compositions, and Calder’s line drawings. 

PR: Using FaceTime for your calls and conversations for Covid Calls, did you draw your subjects from life [or from screenshots]?

MH: The portraits were drawn in real time during the conversations.

PR: I like that you were skeptical of FaceTime for social interactions, likewise here, until Covid. How soon after launching the Calls project did you get comfortable with it?

MH: Haha, I’m glad I wasn’t alone, I always felt weird on FaceTime. Before the project started, as we headed towards isolation at home, I began to FaceTime people just to check in and I got more comfortable communicating that way. That’s when I got the idea to do the portrait series. Zoom though, still seems weird. 

PR: Among the many callers in the book who admitted to feeling bored, one said she might dye her hair blue. Could you talk a bit about how you handled the boredom of lockdown?

MH: Well, with the project I’m not sure that I was ever bored. Certainly there were things that I missed doing and people that I missed seeing, but the project gave me a purpose each day. Also, at the time, everything in Los Angeles was so lush, and the air was so clean because no one was driving, so I spent a lot of time outside exploring and going for walks with friends and my girlfriend. 

 

PR: You seem to easily shift between page-size art and murals. What prompted to you get into mural making as a major occupation?

MH: With murals, especially painted in the public realm, I appreciate the interaction between artist and audience. I like the excitement of working on a larger scale as well as the humbling that comes with working on something bigger than yourself. And I like the collaborative team aspect of working on a mural. 

PR: What were some of the hurdles you encountered in launching SeeSAW. and how did you resolve them?

MH: James “DRZ” Zdaniewski and I formed SeeSAW to produce and advocate for new public art projects in Savannah, GA. 

The biggest hurdle was working with the City of Savannah to create an official mural ordinance and application process, which previously did not exist. While working on the policy, we successfully petitioned for a mural site that we curated with a rotating installation schedule, inspired by the famous Bowery mural wall in New York. We funded our program through a Kickstarter campaign and grants. 

PR: Mural-making—of the type you did with SeeSAW— is generally an art form that thrives outside of the mainstream. How do you combine this field of work with the kind of work that pays the rent?

MH: Before the pandemic, I was marketing my mural painting services to entertainment and hospitality venues, along with submitting proposals to public art RFQ’s. I used to work for a company called Boss Graphics that paints murals for schools throughout California. I still do work for them from time to time, I also consult and assist other artists with mural projects of their own. Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve focused my practice on drawing. 

PR:  Do you see more mural projects coming up in the near future? 

MH: I have an upcoming large-scale public mural down in Savannah, looking like a late Spring installation. 

PR: I was particularly attracted to your drawings of Flora. Have you taken any of these to mural scale?

MH: Thank you, I started those during the spring of 2020 as well. I got a chance to paint a mural similar to the Flora series at the Savannah Tequila Co. restaurant early last year. (top)

PR: What are you working on now?

MH: In response to COVID Calls, I’m working on a new series of portraits (left), this time drawn in person. I’m reconnecting with friends in Los Angeles after two years(!) of the pandemic. Hopefully it will lead to another book; I’d like that.  

PR: Where can people get a copy of Covid Calls? 

MH: Directly from me on website, via my store

Matt Hebermehl lives in Los Angeles, CA. His work shape-shifts to fit the space and the occasion, from the crumpled confines of scrap paper to the broad expanse of a stadium wall. Compelling and often collaborative, his artwork transforms shared spaces and enhances collective experiences.  dartfeature

Newsletter and updates available at hebermehl.com

Follow on Instagram @hebermehl_art


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