I get a lot of emails from people interested in my work and though I love hearing about projects and ideas I can’t always quickly respond. Here are some answers to questions I receive most frequently.
How did you get started?
I began as an undergrad: I originally went to school for ceramics, but realized early on that I was interested in everything. I studied, glass, painting, performance, sound and by the end I had a dual major in ceramics and print media. I wasn't making traditional print or ceramic work at that point. Instead I would create large digital prints and using a series of cut scores and creases create large scale pop up spreads. I was making these 4 foot v-folds or strut fold pieces. I really had no idea what I was doing. I wanted the work to be interactive and for the image to relate to the folds. I loved the immediacy of paper as a medium. I also loved the geometry. Figuring out the pieces was like solving a puzzle. I understand things spatially; I have to see something to make sense of it. One of my faculty advisers, Anne Currier, started buying me pop-up books and I started dissecting them and figuring out how they worked. It took off from there.
What types of glues and paper do you use?
I use a lot of different papers in my work depending on the project. For my white pieces I use an acid free archival paper from Neenah paper called Foxriver Coronado. I use 100# text and 10pt cover weights. You can get samples there too. For color work I like using Canson and Colorplan. I use PVA glue from Hollanders and needle point dispensers (#63297) from Rockler.
What types of software/ tools do you use?
I use everything- bone folders, #11 blades, creasing tools, Reverse Action Tweezers, Casselli Spatulas, Soft Crease Meteorites, AutoCAD R13 & AutoCAD 2004 a Graphtec FC2250-ex (Marge) and a Graphtec FC4200-50 (Maria) flatbed plotter cutter.
What about Parametric software?
I'm not interested in parametric software. Please stop emailing me about it.
You must be into math, Right?
I got an A in Geometry and then failed Algebra in high school.
I want to buy a piece. How can we make that happen?
Shoot me an email here and we can figure out how to make it happen.
Tell me about your process.
My process is extremely varied from piece to piece. Often I start without a clear goal in mind, working within a series of limitations. For example on one piece I'll only use curved folds, or make my lines this length or that angle etc. Other times I begin with an idea for movement and try to achieve that shape or form somehow. Along the way something usually goes wrong and a mistake becomes more interesting than the original idea and I work with that instead. I'd say my starting point is curiosity; I have to make the work in order to understand it. If I can completely visualize my final result I have no reason to make it- I need to be surprised.
Can you show me how to make your art?
I cannot explain how I make my sculptures in a general sense- each one is different. I don't share my diagrams or cut patterns. I learned by taking things apart, doing things the “wrong way” and being curious. Getting something wrong is more important to learning than copying something perfectly.
Where can I learn more about paper?
For pop ups David A Carter has the Elements of Pop up.
I've used both for textbooks in class- students really enjoy them and they break things down fairly simply.
For more paper art check out the documentary "Between the Folds" by Vanessa Gould.
Do you teach workshops?
I have taught at many colleges and artist residencies both national and abroad. If I have a workshop coming up I will post it on my Facebook and Instagram. If you’d like to bring me to your school for a talk or workshop please contact me here.
Tell me about your Inspiration.
I find inspiration in just about everything; Solar cell design, protein misfolding, Islamic tile patterning, systematic drawing, architecture, biomimetics, music etc. I have a unique way of misunderstanding the world that helps me see things often overlooked.
People wise- I look to musicians, performers, writers, visual artists, producers, makers and thinkers… Brian Eno, Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixon, Simon McBurney, Christian Bök, Mikhail Bongard, Jonathan Blow, Chris Gethard, Annie Dillard, Kay Ryan, Annie Albers, El-P, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Daniel Libeskind, Dondi White, Christina Cordova, Christian Marclay, Marian Bantjes, Tauba Auerbach, Ren Weschler, Buckminster Fuller, Anne Currier, George Hrycun, Edward R. Tufte, Nervous-System, Charles and Ray Eames etc.
What is it like working with Scientists?
It's the best. Here's a ten minute talk I gave at the National Academy of Science.
When and where were you born?
July 14th 1980 in Norwalk Connecticut.
Where did you study?
I have a BFA from Alfred University (2002) and a masters from Cranbrook Academy of Art (2006).
Where are you now?
I’m in Ann Arbor Michigan probably folding paper in the studio.
What about upcoming shows or talks?
I love that people can see my work online but it's so much more alive in person. I'll post all upcoming shows and talks on my Facebook and Instagram. If you’d want me to be in your show please contact me here.
Hey Matt, can I use your artwork on this thing I'm working on?
That really depends on what it is. Please email me the details (what you want, what it is for, when you need it, what is the budget) I promise to respond as soon as I can. Please do not ask to use my artwork in exchange for exposure. That's sad and I won't respond.
What does your art mean? How do you characterize your work?
Analyzation is more like the job of the viewer than the artist. The artist asks questions, I am not really interested in answers. So for characterizing my works or explaining their uniqueness - this is your job. My pieces are made from folded paper inspired by multiple sources (this is the "what").
The "what" is not the important question. The important questions are how/ why?
I don't look at one specific thing and make a piece about it. My work is not didactic- I am not seeking to explain or present one specific idea in my pieces. I assume a viewer with limited knowledge of my work/ process / intent. I want the work to stand without written explanation.
I am 100% uninterested in classification. My work is not easily contained in predefined categories. It doesn't neatly fit under an umbrella.
On a philosophical note, I’m not entirely sure what is gained through labeling and defining art. Most artists work in a fluid not linear path and are omnivorous in terms of inspiration. I’m wary of artists that only look to people working in similar fields for inspiration. We need to get out more. The best work in my opinion is being done in the fringes, in the nebulous space between disciplines between science and art, between architecture and engineering, between science and math.
Whats your life advice or best advice for young artists?
I don't have any specific life advice. If I could go back to myself at 21 and tell myself something I probably wouldn't say anything but to keep going.
When I was young I applied to every show that would have me. I made artwork night and day and just tried to have people see my work. After 15 years of making art for literally no money or recognition I now am in a position where people want my work in shows or their homes and want to pay for it. Yay! I won! The financial support is nice (it allows me to make my work full time) but honestly the best part is I get to make more work. That’s all I want to do - be in the studio. Recognition and shows are nice but I’d rather get started on the next piece.
I tell my students to take time to develop what makes your work unique to you. How can you stand out so that "xxx" artist isn't brought up when you show pieces? That stuff only comes with time and struggle in your own work.
Try to find someone doing what you want to do and hound them to take you as an intern and see what they do day to day. Doing art is a lot less glamorous than you might think.
Do you need an intern?
I will this summer. Do you love to make boxes?
I’m an Architect student doing this project where I have to design you a new ideal studio. What you do want it to look like?
Thanks for selecting me as your artist. I am honored.
My ideal studio has high ceilings and lots of light- which I think is the most important. It needs several tables to work on, lots of storage, wall outlets everywhere and large walls to hang work from.
I currently run a studio with multiple members. We share a kitchen and sitting area. If I could add on to it I'd take a few more windows and make it easier to get work in an out of since we are on the second floor. I’d take a large sliding door with easy access to a loading dock. A view would be nice too. I love a large open space with lots of light and a positive group of people to work around.
Can I post about you on my blog?
Go for it! Please include a link to mattshlian.com
Do you like Puzzles?
What do you listen to while you work?
Podcasts (TAL, Radiolab, Beautiful Anonymous, Make/Time etc), Audiobooks or music.
How do I pronounce Shlian?
Sh + line, one syllable.
Can I listen to you talk to Stuart Kestenbaum on a Podcast?
Yes you can. I can't believe you've read this far down and still want more. You might as well subscribe to my mailing list to know what’s going on with me.