Painting as Paradox: In the Studio with Matt Klos

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Essay and Interview by Cara Ober

It is painters, not critics, who are obsessed with the relative deadness of painting. Whether it is alive or not is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Painters keep painting and all of us who choose to look continue to squint and question and puzzle it out, especially when it doesn’t make any sense.

Painting is a paradoxical act. When done well, it simultaneously reinforces the flat plane on which it is created and challenges your perception of this surface in innumerable ways. Although I tend to be attracted mostly to paintings that expand my notion of flatness, the interiors and plein-air landscapes of Matt Klos fascinate me. Especially when he chooses mundane settings and subjects, like items from a dingy basement shelf or an industrial slop sink, something magical happens in the contrast between a classical painting style and observations of contemporary grunge.

Klos is a perceptual painter, meaning he paints what he sees, but his seeming ease at creating illusory effects sets him apart from many contemporary picture makers. Rather than creating an image, Klos seems to alight on one, and then proceeds to form and burnish it with light and loose brushwork and inspired notations of the color of light.

Like most artists, Klos transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary, but it is when he pushes the boundaries of ‘commonplace’ with subject matter that would be considered boring by most, that his skills and vision are most compelling. Like Morandi, lovingly painting and repainting the same, average bottles with dust and without, or at different times of day, Klos’ works are a testament to the painter’s eye in appreciating odd moments of beauty and to the fecund surprises which abound within the practice of perceptual painting.

Red Light Green Light
Red Light Green Light

Name: Matt Klos
Age: 34
Baltimore Neighborhood: Baltimore County, Edgemere MD

Study/ Degrees: MFA painting, University of Maryland, College Park, 2004 and  BFA fine arts, Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), 2001

Studio Location: My studio is located in my basement in my home in Edgemere… east of Baltimore city.

Media: Predominantly oil paint on board. Although since surface is of so much interest to me I vary supports frequently which include gessoed masonite, clear gessoed masonite, toned grounds (ranging from neutral to highly chromatic), shellacked museum board, cigar box lids, copper, linen panel, canvas panel, muslin panel, etc.

Klos in his studio
Klos in his studio

Style: I am a perceptual painter which means that I derive inspiration from visible phenomena and strive to translate those things which one sees into works which honor the act of looking. I’ve heard people misunderstand the term perceptual painting and who view it in more narrow terms as “realist” painting. Perceptual painters translate a joy of looking, employ a freedom of constructing the image, and convey a poetry that casts beyond technical rigor and illusion which alone could be used to describe realist painting or realism.

Favorite Tools: I can’t do without my palette knife!

Currently Working On: A series of square format paintings of the largely abandoned Fort Howard Veteran’s facility in Sparrows Point, MD… it’s gotten a bit cold to go out doors so I’m working on several panels in the studio.

Studio Philosophy: More of a studio ritual.. fresh pot of black coffee, spotify, no checking email or fb… and to quote a great figurative painter at PAFA, “Kill your darlings.”


Studio Frequency: As a teacher I frequently struggle with finding studio time during semester startup, especially after a sabbatical last semester during which I was painting 40+ hours per week. I hadn’t painted in such a concentrated way for so long since grad school (10 years ago)! I’ve been lucky to get 10 hours a week recently but will regularly have 20 per week during the semester. Normally one or two nights a week, all day Friday and 1/2 day Saturday.

Upcoming / Current Shows or Projects: I’ve had a wonderful start to 2014 with an exhibition just recently ending in Seattle, WA at Prographica, a piece in the exhibition “Blue” at First Street Gallery in Chelsea, NY, and a piece in “Observation and Invention, The Space of Desire” at PAFA in their museum space. I’m currently working on framing twelve pieces that will go to Rochester NY for a three person exhibition at the Oxford Gallery which opens in March.

How’d You Start Out as an Artist: I always enjoyed drawing or working with wood in my dad’s shop as a kid (in our basement). I’d go to the creek near our house and make log cabins out of notched sticks… I always loved to make things. I was what you would call a “late bloomer” in high school and didn’t really think about what career I would have someday. I played soccer and hoped to play in college but didn’t really have a plan nor did I train seriously enough. Fortunately my AP art teacher during my senior year, Bill Stephens, saw that I really enjoyed and had some skill at drawing and presented the idea that visual arts could lead to a career. That was an incredible revelation to me…could it really be possible to make a career doing something I enjoy?!…the next year I moved from Rochester NY (where I grew up) to Columbus OH (where I began undergrad at CCAD).


Artist Whose Career You Covet: Antonio Lopez Garcia because he has experienced great success in the quality of his work while not compromising the quality of his family life. It was so satisfying to meet him in 2008 at the MFA in Boston for his first retrospective in the states. I remember seeing him the evening of his opening sitting down with his family to eat dinner in the museum’s gallery. Although I don’t truly know the man it seems that he has absolute integrity in his work, has incredible work ethic, is a student of antiquity yet still remains relevant, and deeply loves his wife, children, and grandchildren.

Artist Whose Work You Wish You Had Made First: Albert Pinkham Ryder or Albert York… either Albert would do…

How You Get Through the Dull Times / What Motivates You: I read non-fiction about psychology… or sociology… I’m reading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi right now… this book gets me so hyped! Recently read “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz which was inspiring as well.


Official Bio:

Matt Klos is a painter of interiors and plein-air landscapes that have taken him to Stonington, Maine, New Brunswick, Canada, and the Brittany region of France. His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally and he was awarded Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council in both 2012 and 2008. His work was selected for a solo exhibition award at the Prince Street Gallery in Chelsea, NY in 2011 and he received an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant in 2001.

Klos teaches drawing and painting at Anne Arundel Community College and took a sabbatical in fall 2013 to work on two projects: to create paintings of dozens of dilapidated buildings at the Fort Howard Veteran’s Facility in Edgemere, MD and to curate an exhibition entitled “A Lineage of American Perceptual Painting,” highlighting the works of the great American painter Edwin Dickinson and the subsequent generations of painters whom he influenced and inspired. The exhibition will be on view in spring 2015 at the Mitchell Art Gallery at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.

Klos received an MFA in painting from University of Maryland, College Park in 2004 and a BFA in fine arts from Columbus College of Art & Design in 2001. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife and three children.

* Author Cara Ober is the founding editor at Bmoreart

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