Matt Eaton is an artist in Detroit — but his own art is often a second priority. As director and curator of the Red Bull House of Art, Matt is an advocate for young, up-and-coming artists, helping to push their talents and promote their work.
The Red Bull House of Art is a residency program in Detroit that functions as an incubator for creative talent. It has played host to over a hundred artists since 2011, carefully selected by Matt and his team. And, of course, he is an artist himself.
Preferring a hammock to an office and paint over PowerPoints, I think Matt has things figured out. We spoke with him to learn about how he works.
Location: Detroit, MI
Current Gig: Director and curator at Red Bull House of Art in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighbourhood.
One word that best describes how you work: Can it be an emoji? ? If not, facepalm.
Current mobile device: iPhone 6s (128GB / Space Grey / Vesel titanium & walnut case)
Current computer: Maxed out Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display.
First of all, tell me a little about your background and your current work.
I was born in Mendocino, California in 1974 (500th baby at Fort Bragg hospital; yes, it was in the paper *deal with it gif*) to a young Welsh lady named Gillian (who at the time was an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company) and an adventurer from Detroit named Randy (yes, under occupation on my birth certificate my father wrote adventurer). We moved to Los Angeles when I was a toddler where my brother and I grew up skateboarding, drawing and listening to punk, new wave and early hip-hop music.
Around 1986 we moved to Wales and then London for several years before moving to Detroit, where soon after my brother and I jumped over to New York City. I lived there for several years (miss you, Greenpoint) trying to make art in my tiny apartment. Moving back to Detroit from NYC was a strange but important time for me. My father had recently died and my mother was about to pursue yet another educational accomplishment in the UK to ensure that the rest of the family looked totally uneducated. While I had a good life and great job in the arts in NYC, I decided to relieve myself of the burden of worrying about what other people need me to do for them and concentrate on what I needed do for myself, as an artist and human (it was about time — I was in my 30’s for Christ’s sake). I put all my energy into making my own paintings while opening and curating Library Street Collective and Red Bull House of Art with a couple of great teams of people, respectively.
What I do now is not a job, it’s an absolute dream and pleasure. My life consists of making art, helping others make art and advocating for their continued efforts. Currently, I’ve decided to focus all of my time and attention into our residency program at Red Bull House of Art and my personal work. I couldn’t be happier.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without? Why?
The only app I really pay much attention to is Instagram. It’s such an amazing tool for discovery. As a curator and art lover, being able to browse through work from artists around the globe with ease from anywhere I get reception is amazing. Studying the analytics and patterns of social media platforms like Instagram can result in a very powerful (free) tool for an artist.
As far as software goes, Adobe Creative Suite is pretty much everything I need and my go to place even for things I should probably use Word or Excel for (sorry Bill Grates — I don’t even own any Michaelsoft programs *said in John C. Reilly voice*). I do most of my work in Illustrator but find myself using Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere and Audition regularly, too.
A tool I can’t live without that’s actually utterly useless in my daily routine for anything other than entertainment is a Midland 75-822 CB Radio. Listening to truckers talk among themselves on the road is… interesting.
What’s your workspace setup like? Coffee shop with laptop and headphones? Home office with a standing desk?
Most of my winter work is done on my couch with both dogs and a cat drinking a cup of tea (Tetleys British Blend round bag x 2 + 2 teaspoons of sugar only, please). According to my wife, I’m roasting my balls off with my laptop… but they’re still here, so I guess she doesn’t know everything. Plus, it’s called a LAP-top. In the summer, my front porch turns into my office. I’ve tried a proper home office with a desk, pencil holder and photos of loved ones, an office office and even a coffee shop, but I get distracted too easily. A nice leafy outdoor space is my most productive environment.
Art by Matt Eaton.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
The most important productivity increasing tool and time-saving hack for me? Tell the truth. Be honest about every step of every process and, most importantly, be honest with yourself and your abilities. If you can’t do it or think someone might be better suited for a particular task, don’t be afraid to delegate or ask.
Saying “NO!” is a close second. Master the art of saying no. I’m still learning, but for a guy like me who has always wanted to make everyone happy, learning to say no really cut the bullshit out of my life.
When working digitally, however, three things come to mind that have definitely helped me — key commands, actions and working in layers. Command + S. Every. Single. Time.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager? Might be plain text, perhaps an app like Todoist, or simply pen and paper!
I use an ancient technique called guilt. I catalogue everything in my head and whatever starts making me feel guilty first gets done. That, and a system I developed called “Sharpie on hand”. I never forget anything that way. The truth is really that I don’t make lists much. I don’t use anything. It makes for good brain exercise… right? Right? *awkward silence*
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget or tool can’t you live without and why?
I’ll have to say my wallet (Machine Era) and its contents, I guess. It has tools and gadgets. It’s essential for obvious daily transactional reasons, but also other stuff… stuff we won’t talk about here… OK, we will talk about it. A good small torch (Fenix E12) and a decent knife (Kershaw Cryo) paired with some handy tools for emergency situations (Readyman Survival Cards). Still waiting for my Plastc™ card though… *narrows eyes suspiciously*
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I’m not sure if I’m actually better than anyone at this, but I really enjoy helping people solve problems in their own lives and listening to their plans. I realised several years ago that nothing truly brings me joy like seeing a person succeed in what they love doing. If you have a chance to offer some small piece of wisdom — or just open your ears for someone to vent — do it. I make a pretty kick arse chicken schnitzel, too.
Matt interviewing artists at the House of Art.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
Silence is wonderful, but paired with a soft wind, some heavy wood chimes and bird song… it’s even better (unless it’s a Steller’s Jay — those dudes are annoying). That is by far the superior soundtrack for me in most situations.
If I need some extra energy though, that’s a tough one. I love podcasts like Hardcore History, RadioLab and Snap Judgement. I love all kinds of music from classical to cold wave and beyond. I guess it may be easier to populate a super group of individual artists I’d form that represent my musical taste and who’s sphere of interest mirrors my own. Introducing Cheetahawk. Members include Ennio Morricone, H.R. (Bad Brains), Gary Numan, Big Daddy Kane, Richard D. James and Bruce Dickinson. Yeah, that sounds about right.
It should be noted that Peter Gabriel’s Lazarus Raised at dawn around a southern Utah campsite is probably the pinnacle of the music/work relationship. Yes, breakfast is work the best kind of work.
What are you currently reading? Or what might you recommend?
Plus lots of gear reviews. I’m obsessed with gear and gadgets — especially outdoor stuff (from knives to snowboards) or car mods/parts, so I can spend hours or days researching before settling on a choice or direction.
I just finished reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, a very enjoyable selection of short stories. I particularly liked the first one ‘Tower of Babylon’ and the lesson I thought it was trying to convey. Also recently, Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. Interesting and talented guy! I read all kinds of stuff from Ken Kesey to Stephen King (thank you Enid Blyton and J.R.R. Tolkien) with a few re-readings of things like Epicurus or Epictetus every once in a while because, you know, “contended poverty is an honourable estate” and “no one is ever unhappy because of someone else” just to keep things in perspective.
A book I always recommend is Blood Meridian by one of my favourite writers, Cormac McCarthy. If anyone can describe even the most harrowing and bleak situations like soft poetry, it’s Cormac. “With the darkness one soul rose wondrously from among the new slain dead and stole away in the moonlight.”
Art by Matt Eaton.
How do you recharge?
I like to spend time with family, my wife, my dogs, reading, nature, making art and tinkering with my cars. There is absolutely no substitute for nature though, and reading (a physical book, in your hand) is the best gift you can give for yourself. It teaches you any number of things, of course, given the content of the book, but none more important than patience and focus. I have a hammock in my backyard under a couple trees, I look up into the canopy and think, dream, wonder and read. Sleep comes swiftly and gently outside.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I go to bed around 3AM every single day and wake up at 7 or 8. Between around 10PM and 3AM are usually my personal art studio or digital work hours. The rest of the day is dedicated to work with others. Hammock naps are essential. I’m totally in love with iOS 10’s bedtime alarm and wake up sounds, too.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mother once told me, “Hope is the last refuge for people that don’t plan.” Ha! This advice was promptly shelved for future use — and I do plan on using it! My mother is a genius.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Just an observation that relates to my field of work and scope of interest, I guess. When you choose to support, encourage or facilitate an artist, you become an important part of a legacy more powerful than any in human history. You are directly responsible for perpetuating our story and our accomplishments through our storytellers, our poets, dancers, actors, architects, writers, graphic designers, photographers and visual artists — ARTISTS, all of them. You become the reason we will discover artefacts several generations from now, like we do today, that help define who, what and why we are. Where we have been, where we will go. Every major industry in the world is affected by the hand of an artist, be it a simple painted logo or 3D modelling for a state of the art video game. The artist is the tool that connects dreams to reality. They are everywhere, even where you least expect them, driving our global economies and helping bring the future into focus. Support them, understand them, be them.
We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? [contact text=”Let us know.”]