Matt Connolly’s Work, in Progress

Published May 24, 2013

IMAGES COURTESY OF ELLIE LEE

Matt Connolly is a very tall artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. In February he published a book, Pollony’s, with Night Gallery Press; it has an orange cover the same color as his hair. 

On May 25, Connolly opens his first solo show at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, titled “Work.” In keeping with the title, Connolly has produced a group of paintings that remind us that making art is not only an act of the mind, but also an act of arduous labor and diligent devotion. The paintings demand to be taken seriously, despite their whimsical color palettes. Connolly smashes together the cultural influences of Latino L.A., East Coast color field painting, and BMPT monochromes from across the pond. A series of framed drawings, sputtering poetics, and concrete works further demonstrate his technical skill.

We sat down in his cactus garden to discuss his show; he served one of his signature fresh California stews.

BEN NOAM: How long have you been in L.A.?

MATT CONNOLLY: Close to six years. I moved to California after finishing college in New York in 2007. I spent six months living in a tent, helping run a marijuana farm in Northern California, before coming to Los Angeles.

NOAM: You’re from New England originally. Why did you move to the West Coast?

CONNOLLY: I was relatively late in coming to art, in realizing that a good life for me would include making things. By the time I finished school, I had the sense that if I was going to pursue art seriously, I would have to allow myself an extended incubation period. The idea of entering a structured environment like a Master’s program didn’t appeal to me because at the time I felt that I needed to be able to work without having to consider other people.

NOAM: Why did you think L.A. would provide that environment?

CONNOLLY: Somehow I knew there was room within the culture here for hardworking shut-ins. At the time I was interested in seeing what it would be like to move someplace where I didn’t really know anybody. Los Angeles seemed like a place where I could live in relative isolation without completely losing touch.

NOAM: What was it like?

CONNOLLY: At first it was hard. I wanted to build a life around my work—and I did that—but I soon realized that having friends around helped me embrace time alone in the studio more confidently. I remember arriving here and just waking up in the morning and thinking, “What the hell am I gonna do all day?”

NOAM: Did you eventually find like-minded people?

CONNOLLY: I’ve always defined myself in opposition to things, but moving here showed me the downsides of taking that punk attitude to its extreme. Eventually, I found really amazing people to hang out and work with.

NOAM: Pretty soon after moving to L.A., you started apprenticing for Mike Kelley.

CONNOLLY: Well, I wouldn’t call it apprenticing, I would call it “working for.” I was hired to do general maintenance and heavy lifting, but things there were always so busy that I would be on a different project every week. I was the go-to unskilled muscle, so I got a lot of the dirty jobs, which was fine by me. My coworkers were experts at whatever they did, and so I ended up learning a lot that way. After Mike passed away, everything changed, but I am still working there.

NOAM: You live in L.A., but you don’t have a car. Every day you commute 30 miles to work by bike. What kind of statement are you trying to make?

CONNOLLY: None.

NOAM: Can you describe your studio?

CONNOLLY: I’ve lived in a bungalow just off of Macarthur Park for almost the entire time I’ve been in L.A. It serves as both my home and my studio. I decided to split it in half, sealing off the largest room for working with messy or toxic materials. I live in the rest.

NOAM: Do you like living and working in the same place?

CONNOLLY: I really like it. A dwelling inevitably serves as a metaphor for its inhabitant, and in that sense my house helps me know myself. As I change, the floor plan shifts. Often I get bogged down and need to expel shit. Sometimes my mind needs a table. There’s something kinky in the overflow of humanity into its surroundings.

NOAM: L.A. artist Ed Kienholz claimed to paint exclusively outdoors. Do you ever work outside?

CONNOLLY: I don’t make art outside, but my house is in the middle of a cactus garden. I keep a vegetable patch, so I spend time working outside on that stuff. I like having my garden and my studio all in the same compound because those activities—making work and making pumpkins or whatever—are closely related.

NOAM: How are pumpkins and paintings related?

CONNOLLY: By the time I got to the pot farm, I had developed an approach to making art that was reflected in agricultural work. Both methods are based on the consistent exertion of attention-as-activity—setting up and maintaining the conditions for growth. Inevitably occasions arise where I have to make conscious decisions about what a work will become, but in general, I try to let things develop according to their own logic.

NOAM: Your show opens on Saturday at the new Night Gallery. They recently expanded to a new 6,000-square-foot space downtown. Can you tell me about your show and how it came about?

CONNOLLY: I got to know Davida [Nemeroff] and later Mieke [Marple] by going to shows at their old space. I’ve always liked their style and have a lot of respect for their whole agenda. I collaborated with Davida on my book, Pollony’s, which the gallery recently published. Over the course of getting Pollony’s together, we started talking about doing a show together. It was lucky for me that this all coincided with their moving to a new space, because the new one looks and smells incredible.

NOAM: I hope your show smells as good as this stew!

POLLONY’S IS AVAILABLE NOW. “WORK” OPENS TOMORROW NIGHT, MAY 25, AT NIGHT GALLERY IN LOS ANGELES.