Pigments of Her Imagination

Artist and designer Mary Matson opens her bright-is-best Los Angeles studio.

pigments of her imagination intro

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


“It takes a while for me to feel like a space is mine—until I get working,” says artist Mary Matson. After many years living in New York City, she and her husband and frequent collaborator, advertising creative director Matt Even, landed in California. Matson converted the garage of their Santa Monica home into a studio, covering almost every surface with her “doodles”—whimsical musings on everything from dancers in Coney Island to scribbled scenes of Sicily. The overall effect is like walking into a real-life paint box, complete with bright red plastic chairs and a madras plaid rug.

 pigments of her imagination studio 1

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


“My influences are constantly balancing between abstract and representation,” explains Matson, citing artists Alex Katz, Keith Haring, Sol LeWitt, and Agnes Martin as examples. “What they all have in common is observation—I’ve been dedicated to that my whole life.” A favorite of Kate and Jack Spade, J.Crew, and Chance for her playfully optimistic style, Matson often draws inspiration from her surroundings.

pigments of her imagination studio 2

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


“I’ll start with an idea, or something just catches my eye—a pile of striped shirts on the floor that looks like an ocean or a group of socks that looks like a school of fish.”

pigments of her imagination studio 3

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


Observe as closely as Matson does, and the studio reveals a few surprising juxtapositions in a readymade– meets–nostalgia aesthetic—such as a cartoonishly large Wilson tennis ball can– turned–trash bin, a giant Lego head on a shelf, and a Zabar’s mug used as a planter for one of the many cacti filling the space. “I try to see the poetry in everyday life,” she says.

pigments of her imagination studio 6

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


“I always have my Kaweco ink pen, gouache, and crayons on hand.”

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photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


Colorful moments in the studio include a study in blue and Matson’s painted rocks series (collected during beach walks with her husband). “They make cool groupings and have little conversations with each other,” she says.

pigments of her imagination studio 4

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


MARY’S TOP 10
“I intuitively cluster random things that are curious to me, trusting they will form what I’m trying to communicate through my everyday experience,” Matson explains. Here are some of her current favorites.

Music: The Beatles, Erykah Badu, and Bob Marley. His “Roots, Rock, Reggae” is the soundtrack of my life.

Fashion design: Rene Holguin of RTH for his mix of Southwest and vintage—just my style.

Architecture: I visited Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel when I was 6 years old. It was a sublime experience, even though I didn’t know what that meant at the time.

Film: Jackie Brown is a savvy and sexy character. Another favorite movie is Gloria, starring Gena Rowlands. I love gangster girls.

Book: Secret Knowledge by David Hockney is a great book on observation, perception, and artist methods (and secrets).

Place: I always bike by the Eames House here in L.A. and say hello. It’s a wonderful spot to visit.

Illustration: I admire Charles M. Schulz’s simplicity, wisdom, and humor. Three marks and two dots make up Charlie Brown’s face!

Nature: Living in California, I’m enjoying exploring the great outdoors. The air and the sound of the ocean, the light and the vast desert, and the contrast of the two.

Food: I love to cook. I was a pastry chef in my previous life and also designed and made chocolates for a while. Butter is my weakness.

Drink: Lemonade. Sometimes spiked with mezcal.

pigments of her imagination studio 8

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


pigments of her imagination studio 9

photography by JASON FRANK ROTHENBERG


Published on March 27, 2017 - 6:00am EDT

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