Albany, Ohio, is home to many acres of land and a strong emphasis on agriculture. For most people, this simply means a sustainable lifestyle. But for artist Matt Wedel, the agriculture of Albany is a work of art.
When Wedel moved to Albany, he was very interested in the local and sustainable agriculture movement in the area, which started to influence his work. Agriculture, landscape and culture became the springboard for his practice. His artwork is created in Albany, but most of it is shown at a gallery in Los Angeles called the L.A. Louver.
“As a young artist, it’s nice to have a studio and live in this area because it allows me to function and have a big space and make the work that I’m really excited about in terms of scale,” Wedel said. “It’s the type of work that I would be really restricted from if I was living in LA.”
Wedel has always had a rich background in art. His father was a potter, and as a young boy, Wedel would work with him. Through this work, he was exposed to ceramic history and inspired to go to art school. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for his undergraduate degree, and he attended California State University, Long Beach, for his master’s degree. After school, he and his wife Coral got married and decided to move back to her hometown of Albany.
His studies proved that ceramics were truly his medium. During his undergraduate coursework, he started working with metal but switched to clay because it felt like a more personal foundation that connected him to his father. Ceramics seemed far-removed from the traditional art form and were a great way for him to pursue something he loved while also being able to absorb some of the culture of the artistic hierarchies.
“I didn’t feel like I had to participate in the traditional dialogue,” Wedel said. “There was some type of independence with ceramics, like I could make my own rules.”
As for his creative process, Wedel never does drawings. He isn’t interested in a translation of an idea, he is more interested in forming the idea as it comes. He begins by seeing an object in space and starting to work on it. This work will inspire ideas for multiple other pieces, which cultivate ideas for more pieces, and soon his studio is full. That makes him stop, slow down and complete the initial idea that sparked the other pieces.
“I work by uncovering through action and finding the balance between the work teaching you where to go versus you imposing the idea on the work,” Wedel said.
In addition to his artistic skills, the size of Wedel’s ceramic pieces made it necessary for him to build his own crates to ship them off. Some of his pieces have broken, but as Wedel said, that just comes with the arena of working with large-scale ceramics. He argues that for any artist, being constantly worried about ruining the piece of work makes the creator become frozen and unable to function or act. After going through so many traumatic happenings with his art, he has built up a resistance. Most of his practice is an accumulation of knowledge through failure.
Though Wedel is dedicated to his craft, most of his time is spent with his family. He and his wife Coral alternate homeschooling their two children, Abner and Eleanor. Their curriculum is literature based, supplemented with math, art, jujitsu, travel, self-directed play and their personal interests. The duo took a while to find the perfect balance of sharing the homeschooling duties, but they finally built a healthy work schedule to where they both teach and still have time to focus on their individual mediums.
“We try to set our goals as a family unit and then work to achieve them together,” Coral said. “We each have our own goals, interests, strengths and weaknesses, and we try to build a way of living those out together and supporting each other individually.”
Wedel’s passion for art and for his family inspire him to give back to the people of Albany. He is beginning to naturalize the hillside and curate his nine acres of land to hopefully build a sculpture garden where people can walk through and admire the nature and his artwork. Wedel is also planning to build another studio space where he can teach art workshops to local Albany kids, in hopes to connect more with the area and share his wealth of artistic knowledge.
Arguably the most important part of artwork is the impression meant to be left on the viewer. For Wedel, this is the most complex part of his art. Each piece is so different, so his hope is to use those differences to show the use of the traditional framework as the foundation, and urge people to rethink the possibility of actions and to push the balance between playful and serious.
Wedel recognizes the irony in making art – the sad, poetic nature of trying to articulate the state of humanity during its own collapse, be it psychological or literal, or the idea of beauty at the expense of exploitation and economic disparity. When an artist makes a sculpture of a tree or a part of nature, they are inevitably destroying the very thing they’re trying to create. Wedel’s main purpose of his art is to get people to dig deep and really get in touch with their thoughts.
“I’m still trying to understand the actual function of my pieces and what they’re actually doing,” Wedel said. “It’s easy for me to build this theoretical framework for the work that’s really disconnected from society, this idea of the importance of art, but how much do people actually get from artwork? It’s hard to pinpoint the actual effect of artwork. Maybe my work can push people to be fully engaged and fully alive. When people are fully alive, they have something to lose, and inherently something to fight for.”