by Elise Morris
The intricate and surprising work of Matthew Scheatzle, created from found wood, is the result of a light hand and a belief in what his materials can become. As he says of his process, "cut it just so, chisel, sand, and suddenly and ridiculously, the debris has value."
How did you come to be an artist in the Bay Area?
I’m a local. I was born in Berkeley, raised in SF, and now live and work in Oakland. I tried to leave in my twenties touring US cities, but I stayed. I worked different jobs, but art stayed.
You seem to be able to let the materials stand for themselves, while also elevating them to something both mysterious and elegant. Tell us about your process – how does a piece begin for you?
Your question is flattering. Transforming materials through process and concept is the heart of my studio work. While “elevating” is generous, I am constantly experimenting with ways to transmute or somehow see a material in a new way. For this reason, I don’t have a set process. I’ve been working with wood scrap a little over 6 years and so it all appears pretty consistent. However, each piece represents a tentative and unique procedure, a new undertaking.
Over time, these little adventures become a knowledge base that I can draw from as I venture into new territories. Each piece is sort of like a mountain hike, hard, taxing, and often satisfying. New terrain is always exciting and mysterious. Each piece has something in it I’ve never done before, but I go out of my way to not tart up the wood. I don’t like heavy varnishes or glossy lacquers that hype the wood color. I’m not Mr. Natural, I just think there is enough going on if one looks.
I’m always interesting in meeting artists with families. In your case, in addition to having little kids, you are an art educator! How do you balance these roles for yourself?
If I was a glass half-full type, I would say some days I’m a good father, some days I’m an effective teacher, some days I’m a focused artist. My glass often overflows and it’s messy. However, lately these parts are less and less compartmentalized. I’m starting to see each positively influencing the other. I feel less strident in my opinions and keenly aware of time. I’m indebted to my job, but even more so to my wife who, thankfully, is an artist/creator; she understands the importance of studio time. I’ve been humbled by my 1 and 3 year olds. I can’t wait for my children to be old enough to be studio assistants; if I can pull that off, I will be exultant!
I loved hearing about the different types of wood that you work with, and the history behind each – whether it’s a fallen tree, or floorboards from your home. Tell us more!
First, let me be clear, I’m not a woodcrafts person. I came to this material sideways. In school I sculpted, working primarily in ceramic materials. Luckily I was required to study many disciplines, and became keenly interested in materials. Years ago when an invasive tree was felled from our yard, I seized it as free studio material, then: scrap wood from construction sites, more fallen trees, wood from friends, now my studio is packed with more resources than I could ever purpose.
Because I build up these ‘paintings’ with small discreet pieces, I can use a wide variety of wood species, wood that a cabinetmaker or luthier would immediately reject. I’m often amused that a tiny piece of junk wood becomes precious and intrinsic to a composition; cut it just so, chisel, sand, and suddenly and ridiculously, the debris has value.
What is your hope for someone viewing your work?
When a person falls into the work, is sucked in visually, I’m happy. Subtle things happen, little hooks here and there, so when someone observes these hidden darlings it’s an extra honor.
Where can we see your work in the Bay area and beyond?
My work is mostly in private collections. However, it is often in the annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase. In August, three pieces are going into Highland Hospital’s art collection through the Alameda Arts Commission. Also, an art commission for Avalon Apartments, (651 Addison Street Berkeley, CA 94710) went up in 2014. Images and shows are regularly updated on my website.
Interested parties can contact me through my site and schedule a studio visit, which is the best way to see the work up close.