Dr. Lisa Belisle: Hello. I'm Dr. Lisa Belise and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine.  Today, I have with me artist, Matt Barter. Thanks for coming in. 


 

Matthew Barter: Thanks for having me. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Let's start with this piece behind me. I feel like I have a man on my shoulder. Tell me what the name of this painting is.  


 

Matthew Barter: This one is called Lunch Pail.  He's all ready to go out to work. He's got his bucket where he keeps his lunch and dry clothing if he needs it. And he is about to head out and go to work. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: You have a lot of working waterfront type themes in the art that you do. 


 

Matthew Barter: Yes. I was raised on the water in Frenchman’s Bay working on the boat with my dad when I was a kid. It just kind of came natural. I moved away for a bit from Maine when I was first married then came back from Portland, Oregon, actually in the city. We moved right back to the Sullivan Maine area and went right to work on a lobster boat. And that was a huge mind shift. And I really appreciated it more from being in the city, moving back to the country. And then I just sort of started pulling in all of the imagery and the culture and the stories which I've now been drawing from for the last 10 years. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So do you, when you say you're drawing in the stories, do you actually go out and talk to people or are you talking of the visual story that you're perceiving when you're in a situation? 


 

Matthew Barter: I think it's more visual. I don't do specific stories per se. My dad does narratives, which are basically, this is this certain fishermen and this was his character and this is what he did. I'm speaking more painting and more generalities, bigger stories that are just more encompassing, I guess. That's the difference. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So the story of this individual with his lunch pail is that he's getting ready to go out and start the day. 


 

Matthew Barter: Yes. I mean, this would be sort of more of my own story. I had a Home Depot bucket  with one of those rubber sealed lids and I'd keep my lunch in there. Iit worked really great. The guy that ran the boat had one of those Coleman thermos containers.  It was like one of those food things that every time my friend would pick it up, he'd accidentally hit the button, and  his food would fall out. And when I saw that, I was like,  what, I'm gonna get a bucket.  It kept my clothes and my food dry while I worked on the boat. And so this is sort of a reflective one of myself.  I guess when you're a fisherman, the hardest part of the day, just like with any job, is like first thing in the morning when you get down to the pier and it's like blowing really hard and it's bitter cold. And you're like, I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I wanna do this, but then you get out there and you get to work and it's not as bad as you think. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So that's an interesting hurdle that you're describing that one would have to overcome in order to be a fisherman, as opposed to many people who just work in an office and their hardest hurdle is getting through the Starbucks drive through lane on a Monday. 


 

Matthew Barter: Right? Yeah. It's a different mindset. A  lot of times we go down early in the morning, at like five in the morning, and we'd sit around the pier and we’d watch to see how hard the wind was blowing.  And you decide, okay, is it worth going out and getting beat half to death by the wind and waves? Or should we wait a day and let 'em set another day?  That was something we did a lot. Most of the time we decided to go and so you go out and you get thrashed around all day and come home, pretty dog tired.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: That sounds like a hard existence, a hard way to make a living.


 

Matthew Barter: Yes. I did it for two years and that was as much as I had in me to do it.  We then we moved to Southern Maine where  I didn't have any connection to any of the piers or the boats. So I just went into another field. I started my own house painting business and was always, all along the way, doing my own art. And  now it's become my life, basically. I just gave up the painting business and focused on painting and sculpting.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: At what point did you feel like you had the momentum to make this your full-time profession?


 

Matthew Barter: In a way, I feel like it was decided for me.  I was working on a job, working on this tricky house on the side of the house that was kind of on a cliff, and the ladder kicked out on me.  I fell and shattered my left heel. And then couldn’t go on ladders which is most of what painters do because of my foot injury. So from there I kind of just kept my business going but more or less was doing art and making art and sculpting and finally gave up the painting  business last year. And this is what I do now.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Has that required any sort of a change in the way that you look at your art?  Do you feel like you have to put more hours in? Do you feel like you have to look at it more from a business perspective or have you just continued to do more of what you were already doing? 


 

Matthew Barter: I think it has motivated me to be more productive, I guess you could say. And, it dialed  in my focus, I guess you could say.  Yes, it is a business. You have to look at it that way, but I try not to.  I think a lot of times, well sometimes, artists get the wag the dog effect where the tail wags the dog. I want to  keep focused on the direction I want to go in. I don't want people to decide where my art focus goes. I don't want to  pander, I guess, is the word I'm looking for. That's my goal.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So, I would  imagine then that would mean you don't do commissions. 


 

Matthew Barter: I do commissions sometimes. Sometimes someone will see a piece that's sold and they'll say, oh, I really wanted that piece. If it's in my ability to recreate it, sometimes I will.  That's basically the most commissions that I do.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So when you say the tail that wags a dog, it's like if somebody said “this type of painting that you're creating is selling really well. You should just do a lot of those all the time.” That's, that's what you mean. 


 

Matthew Barter: Yeah. Basically. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Do you feel like that happens a lot in art and for people who are trying to make it as an artist? 


 

Matthew Barter: I think it can. I think you have to have a driving force and say, okay, this is the direction I want to go in. And if people like it then good. And if they don't, then I have to have this  conviction to know that eventually it'll be appreciated. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me about growing up with a father as an artist. (editor note: Philip Barter)


 

Matthew Barter: That was cool. I didn't really appreciate it at the time. It's like, you just take it for granted, right? Like you might imagine,  he was a very unique sort of artist because he was a working man as well because he had all these crazy kids and he had to feed us all. So he would work a nine to five or actually, on the water you work when the tide comes and the tide goes. So he worked really hard at that but he always had an easel and he always was painting and I would go with him on his trips to drop off paintings at the galleries. I would see how the galleries would react when he would drop off the paintings. Like they were really special.  I could tell. And so it was a really odd way to grow up because my dad would take me to museums and different things like that. I remember my classmates were just, they had no idea what art was. I mean this was Sullivan, Maine, Down East. They were more interested in four-wheelers and dirt bikes and, whatever <laugh>, things like that.  I was  into art from a young age and most of my classmates had no idea what that really was. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Was it easy to get the type of education that you needed to move your art forward? 


 

Matthew Barter:  Well, I'm not sure what you mean. I was homeschooled from eighth grade on. So I did my high school education from home. I didn't really learn much from that. I think I learned much more from my life experience. And then when it came to art study, I really dived into art studies and found painters and points in time that I really appreciated.  I would start with Van Gogh  and it sort of comes forward from there.  It skips ahead to the American modernist. So I did a lot of my own studies because I was excited about it. If you're hungry for something that's what you will search out and seek out. And then I found artists that I really liked that, maybe even that my dad didn't really like, and I kind of glommed on and attached myself to those artists and sort of saw what made them tick and drew from those sources.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: Give me an example of an artist that you found very appealing and that your father maybe didn't like as much. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Let's see.  Well we have a lot of the same for sure. We appreciate a lot of the same artists but there were some artists that maybe aren't even on my dad's radar like sculptures. Because I do painting and sculpting and he doesn’t sculpt. So, there's a female artist,  who does these amazing wire and ceramic molds. I geeked out on her art for a long time and then different ones that tried to think of some painters that I like that well. My dad really never really appreciated Warhol and because he was a, glorified print maker, and kind of used his popularity to sell thousands of prints basically. But , I really appreciate that because I understand that he knew what he was doing. , it wasn't an accident that he used his fame to sling posters basically. And I actually like his too. So I mean that's basically, I think where my dad sort of stops is sort of like right at the American modernist and then, , the pop art right on through it's like he could take it or leave it, I guess. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: So the sculpture piece, when did that come in your trajectory?


 

Matthew Barter: That happened organically as well. I think I was living in Oregon and I was painting in oils and I got kicked out of my studio. I think they sold the building or something. And then I ended up working in the basement of this apartment that I rented and  I realized that these fumes are really bad and I was in the basement. So the fumes were just going right up through the floor and it didn't take me long to realize  this was not a neighborly <laugh> thing to be doing to my neighbors. At the time, I was working in construction. We were doing a lot of demolition and I had a lot of scraps of wood that were just lying around. And when you talk about wood on the west coast, it is clear vertical grain, Douglas fir. It’s  just like they burn it. 


 

Matthew Barter: So when we'd tear out some beams, it'd be like eight by eight dimensional fir beams and I could just take whatever I wanted. So I started carving into those and kind of played with those because I couldn't paint because of the fumes. So I just started sculpting just to have fun with it. And then I quickly realized that going from one to two dimensions is a whole other ball game <laugh>. So I went back into my sketchbook and I started sketching from a few different angles. So I could capture what I wanted to capture.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: You brought in a piece of sculpture today that is very interesting and it actually complements the piece behind. Tell me about this one. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Well, I wanted to make some smaller pieces. I found that most of my pieces are around the 24 to 20 inch size. And what I really appreciate is a curated shelf which I think is fun right now. And none of my sculptures would fit on any of those shelves. And so in my studio, I have a shelf that I keep some inspirational items on. And so I said, what's a good size for the shelf. So I figured eight inches and smaller. So I made a bunch of eight inch and smaller pieces. And then I was like, these are kind of like toys. So I called them at my action figures, down east action figures. And so that's kind of what I made,  about 20 of 'em. just a lot of 'em are, they're almost like little kids actually. So they look like they're running around and doing whatever. But yeah, I was raised on action figures and so the fun thing about action figures, they always came with like little things, the expansion pieces, whatever they were. And so then I started making those, I made a little chainsaw, a few other things. So yeah. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Do you think that people are more accepting of sculpture now for their homes than maybe they once were? 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah, I think so. Definitely.  I hope so. I mean, sculptures can be an important feature in a house.  I think back in the day, people are more into like antiques, I guess, decorating with antiques, maybe some African tribal art or something and that's all great, but I think, decorating with modern sculpture is more exciting, especially if you get to know the artists and you get to meet them and I think contemporary art is the thing, buy art from living artists, keep the ball rolling basically. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Is it more important now for people to connect to the artists that create the work that they have in their homes and their spaces? 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I mean, if you can get to know the person, get to meet them, go out to the openings and find out who they are, then you get to appreciate the art a little bit more. I think that kind of dawned on me a long time ago when I went into an art show, I think it was,  Louise Nevelson, an art show at the Portland Museum of Art. And I went in and I was like, this is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Just a bunch of wooden blocks, just plastered all together. And I was walking through and then I happened to stop at one of those little things where it kind of gives you the life story. I started reading it and I was like, wow, this lady was pretty cool. And then I just read more and then I got into it and I got into the story of her life. And then I went back to the show and I was like, what, this is some really good, amazing art. And that, that kind of just tells you that, if you see something, you don't understand it, maybe you even hate it, try to find out who, the person who made it was and then it sort of, it makes it more approachable for you I guess. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So I interviewed Dick Alden back a ways. And then after talking to Dick, I think I had such an appreciation for the work that he did with stone and how he crafted his pieces and how his mind worked. So for me, you're right. When I, now when I look at the pieces that we have, we have one of his pieces in our garden. It just always, there's a whole context around it. It's not just kind of a static, something that I don't know that maybe we bought at home goods, not, we don't actually do do that, but I mean, that's, I think that's what, you're saying


 

Matthew Barter:

I totally agree. When I go into Target and I see their sculpture area, I'm like really people,  will spend $25 on a sculpture at Target and put it in their home and have a connection to that thing – that who knows who made it? Who designed it? And then you see stuff that's clearly been ripped off. You see Robert Indiana's L O V E. I mean, it's, it's everywhere. I was at Goodwill the other day and I actually bought one of his L O V E's. I bought one because I was like, this is amazing. I mean, it was, <laugh> clearly a rip off, but it made me laugh. I was like, this is, this is funny because it's secondhand for one thing. And I put it in my studio to remind me that everyone gets ripped off basically eventually. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yeah. I can see how as an artist, that would be a really kind of a painful thing to think about. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah. I, I know, what it is. It's like if an artist emulates someone and they say, I love this artist; I'm gonna use some of the features from this painting and create my own version of this. That's kind of a part of the, I call it a link in the chain of art that goes all the way back to prehistory. And so, but there's the other aspect of that where someone at a company will say, oh, I like this art. I'm just gonna take this imagery. And it's like, oh, there's almost no real recourse for an artist when it comes to that. So that's the bummer part of it, I guess. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yeah. It's true that when you create something, it's not just kind of the, the time spent in the creation itself, it's all of the things that led up to being in that space, where you are creating, it's all the studying that you did, of various people and their techniques and their contexts and going to the museums. And it's all kind of the aggregate of your knowledge that goes into the work that you do. So to have somebody just say, oh, that looks good. I'm gonna to take a copy of that. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah, no, it is. It's not great. I, I think William Phone put it best when he, when someone was trying to pry him about how long it took to paint a painting, I think they're trying to get a deal. They were like, if I find out how long it took him to paint this, maybe I can get him down to an hourly rate or some nonsense. And they said, how long did it take you to paint this? And he said that it took me my whole life to paint this because a painting has your entire life's experience behind it in order to accomplish that painting. I think I had this epiphany not too long ago. I was looking at a Vango, one of my favorites. Maybe I was looking at A Starry Night and I was thinking to myself, this painting was an inevitable result for everyone, except for the artist.  Within that moment, the painting could have gone a perfect success like it did, or it could have been a terrible failure. And so when we look at something, a painting, we say, oh, well, that's obvious why he did that because that is pure genius, but in the moment, it's like, there's no guarantee that it's gonna turn out. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I feel like that's something that a lot of people struggle with, that you, you don't always proceed forward with certainty that you are, especially in art. It's not like somebody says at work well, we need you to reach these metric goals. And at the end of the day, there's your gold star you're successful in, in art. Sure. You can set a goal to create a painting or a sculpture, but that's, it's, you're not really sure. Kind of when you've gotten to that. So you've gotten to that space. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah. I think you're describing the, the blank canvas. I mean, and that like dooms so many people. They stare at it and they're like, yeah, I'm not up to this. I can't do it. And I think the way that my dad helped me to get over that was don't stare at a blank canvas, line up 10 canvases and just start painting right across all of them. And I think that helped me to realize, it's not about the individual piece, it's about developing a series. And then once you look at art from that way, then it's like, okay, well, this is a series of a stand of trees and there's 10 of those. And then you move on, this is a series of paintings of an island that I like. And then, when you do that, you learn so much more than just focusing on one piece, you focus on one piece and it can be like a challenge to create that Starry Night. When you look at Vango, he painted 800, 900 paintings. And so, maybe more so, that's the thing that you have to remember. You're not gonna paint Starry Night from one blank canvas. You gotta just, you gotta go through hundreds. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Do you think it's also the investment that people have to make in order to line up those canvases and work at something over time and really kind of struggle with the uncertainty of the process?


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah. There's a huge investment, there's the financial investment of time and money to set up your studio to set up your easel, your paints,  there's the emotional investment of, I'm gonna throw myself into this and people are gonna say the craziest things to me, and think that I'm a fool or whatever. So there's a huge investment involved in deciding to do that route. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I think it's also, as someone who writes, and when I sit there and I write something and then I think, well, that was really good, but now I'm gonna have to throw out half of it because it's only, only half of it is, or maybe even less, maybe only a few words of what I've written actually has any merit. So it's this idea that you have to be okay with discarding things that come, come through at first. I don't know at first word, at first paint, brush stroke or whatever it is, but it's not easy to be able to let go of things. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah. I think you, you have to be very critical in your thinking and you can't view everything you do as a masterpiece. I think when you see a painting like this, I mean like what you described you go through and you edit out half the words, right. Because they don't, you can do it better simply. Right. And so with this, there's like three or four layers under this final layer that you can't really see that build up the color to this point. A lot of times this painting will have been painted over a couple of times. You'll paint something in the moment. You're like, wow, this is great. And you look back at it and you're like,  what? Just paint right over it and move on. And I think some artists can get hung up on a painting and my dad will always tell me, he said, one bad painting will take down 10 good ones. So if you have a show with 10 amazing paintings and you've got that one, that's just terrible, people are gonna be like, this guy doesn't know what he's doing. <laugh>, he's a hack basically. So you kind of want to edit that one out. And if, and if you're good at critical thinking and, being decisive, then you'll get, find that one and just brush it out. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

What is it like as you're describing this and having a show, for example, where it's all your own work, it's kind of carefully curated from your collection and it's, it represents you, what is it like to be in a gallery space with other artists whose work may or may not be very similar to yours just to kind of see that all come together or not? 


 

Matthew Barter:

It's an interesting thought, I like it. It's nice to be in a group show and have your colleagues right there. It's nice. It's different a little bit, because in a one man show, you get to create the environment. And when someone goes in they walk away with a feeling.  I think basically like an art installation is like providing someone with an experience. But if you go into a group show, it's like, what's the experience? Okay. It's kind of like you're, in that way, you get to be drawn to the one, the artists that you like, naturally. So I think that's a good thing. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It seems like some of the group shows that I've been to, or even some of the museum spaces that I've been to, where you have one artist and another artist and another artist, the work almost needs to talk to itself. It needs to, there needs to be a crosstalk. There needs to be a contrast and a complementary nest that, I don't think that's a word, but, there would be interest to achieve. It takes a different mindset. I think if you're gonna be the one curating a group show. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Yeah. I mean, like with Portland Art Gallery, I mean, it must be, it's a struggle I'm sure sometimes to put different shows together.  But that takes a different sort of genius. I think that's, that's a curator gallerist sort of mindset of: okay. Do we wanna put people similar together or do we wanna create contrast? I mean, there's a lot of different thoughts to that, I guess, but it is interesting to see a show come together.  Whenever I hang a show, I like to lean all the paintings up against the wall, instead of hanging one, taking it down, hanging another, taking it down, I lean 'em up against the wall so that I can move stuff around without putting a bunch of holes in the wall, which is never great. But yeah, it's, I think it's a different mindset when you're in a group show, how do you put it together? I think some artists naturally group well together. Like you see certain artists set in a similar vein, the way they create their process and their colors and style. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you learn from other artists when you are kind of interacting in a gallery setting, whether just by looking at their art and thinking of it, does it cause you to think about your art differently? Or is it just kind of, well, there's that person's art, here's my art, here's that person. I get to know them. This is who I am. Is there ever an evolution of kind of, the work that you do in relationship to other people? 


 

Matthew Barter: 

I don't know if don't think about it that much. I think I like to get to know other artists though. It's kind of nice to meet other artists and hear their story and see how they work and their process and everything like that. So, yeah, I don't think of it like, I go into a show and say, okay, I'm gonna specifically learn something from the artists in this group. I'm mean, inevitably, I think you do. I mean, we're all kind of sponging things in as we look through stuff and see stuff, but I go into it just, I wanna meet people. And I met some nice, interesting artists at the last show that I was at. I didn't meet them, I've known them, but I got the chance to talk to them and it was nice because then you say, okay, that's why they do what they do. That's why they paint the way they do. And so it's, it's good. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

You and your wife, Rebecca recently happened to cross a property, kind of fell outta the sky as you described it? Tell me about that. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Well, it's like straight on Frenchman's bay, which I was raised on, so it kind of feels like I'm coming home and we happen to be driving down towards Schoodic. We live in Brunswick, so we wanna get down East whenever we can. And so we, our friends built a, one of those geodesic dome like things. It's like a glamping thing. And so we, they said we could stay there for the weekend and it’s in Holden, it overlooks this beautiful lake. So we stayed there and we're like, let's take a day trip to Schoodic and we're driving to Schoodic. And I was driving by the shore road in Gouldsboro. And I was like,  what, I'm just gonna show my sons, the pier that I fished out of.  And, we turned down the road and we see this little for sale by owner sign. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

And it, like you said, it kind of fell out of the sky and we called and we called our realtor and she said, that's a good deal. You should, you should go for it. So we kind of did, and it's been two months of,  hectic life right now, but we're finally got to the point where we can, go up and stay up there. And it looks, it looks over this old lobster pound and there's an old sardine cannery building that someone turned into a residence. So just visiting there, it just, I feel like I'm gonna be able to draw a lot of vitality for my art out of space, for sure. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

And how do your kids feel about it? 


 

Matthew Barter: 

They're excited.  My youngest he's sort of an adventurous type, so I'm expecting him to jump in the kayak and head out and explore some of the islands, which are mostly abandoned still up there. And my oldest, he's excited too. He's, he's more, he likes to be at his house in his comfort zone, but we've set him up in a room that feels a lot like his space at home. So I think he's gonna like it. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Matt really enjoyed our conversation today and I've long enjoyed your work. So to actually have a chance, as you've said to have a conversation about it is very,  it's really been a pleasure. 


 

Matthew Barter: 

Well, thank you, likewise, nice to come out and visit and see your space as well. And, it's been a good conversation. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I've been speaking with artist Matthew Barter. I encourage you to go into the Portland Art Gallery and interact with some of his sculptures, which are really quite wonderful and his art. And go on the Portland Art Gallery website to see more of the work he creates.  It really is the kind of art that you wanna bring into your home. Especially if you have a love of Maine. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you have been listening to, or watching radio Maine. Matt, thanks for coming in today. 

 

Matthew Barter:

Thank you.