Interview with Quintessa Matranga

Garbage Doctor Snow Car
An interview with the artist Quintessa Matranga about her solo show at The Loon, Toronto
by Darby Milbrath

Many associate winter with the snow, cold weather, and longer days, but the season also brings with it popular holidays and the transition from the old year into the new. Quintessa Matranga (b. 1989) New York. She has recently shown at Queer Thoughts (New York), Carlos / Ishikawa (London), Sandy Brown (Berlin) and Karma International (Los Angeles). She lives and works in New York.

Where were you born?

I was born on Wall Street but my family moved to Hollywood when I was six, so I grew up there. They moved to LA for my father’s job. He was a journalist for some movie, TV, and music magazines. He kept a big sketchbook where he would draw his impressions of the people he interviewed and document his travels with funny, loopy, weird caricatures. Those are still some of my favorite drawings. Going back through his sketchbooks blew my mind.

Do you feel a part of an arts community, or are you an outsider?

I don’t think of myself as an outsider, and I’m definitely not an insider. I have a good group of friends, who I feel lucky to know. I’ve stayed in pretty close contact with the friends I made around Mission Comics. The roommates I have now are all from the Bay Area.

Tell me about Mission Comics.

Mission Comics was a gallery inside a comic book store in San Francisco. I programmed the shows there for two years. I also worked in the comic book store one day a week. I didn’t know anything about running a gallery. I never got any of the shows professionally documented and none of the shows ever got any press or anything like that. But I had fun doing it. It just made sense to try to make the shows I wanted to see. It brought the two subcultures together in the same space, which was interesting to observe. A lot of the artists who would visit the gallery had fun looking at the comics and I think they saw it as nostalgic and inviting but I think the comics people just thought the gallery was really bad. It used to show comics related art, like superman fan art and the shows I curated were nothing like that.

What is the art scene like in SF?

It’s small. There aren’t many galleries or even project spaces there so if you start something there it can make an impact on a small community of people. There’s a real need for opportunities and support for artists in the bay area.

I wonder about your schooling.

I went to The San Francisco Art Institute. I began in the painting department but dropped out because I didn’t want to stretch canvas so I ended up studying mostly conceptual and performance-based art instead.

What made you return to painting?

I returned to painting after school. I just came full circle back around. I don’t really have a performance practice now (or even then), the closest thing to it is my films. I run a production company with two friends called Half Moon Bay Center for Theatre & Performance Art. We are working on our second feature. Our first movie, Lebenswirklichkeit, came out last year. We developed a way of working where the dialogue is improvised on the spot, rarely with more than one take per scene. We cast people who play roles similar to who they are and what jobs they do in real life. Mostly arts-related because the films focus on different art stereotypes. The actors bring their own knowledge and experience to the table. We give them plot points and they generate the script. This also makes each film a collaborative work between seventeen (?), or so, artists. The films are a good bridge between sincere painting and something more reflexive. But most importantly they make us laugh.

Who are your influences in painting?

There are many but Joan Brown, Florine Stettheimer, Martin Wong, Rafael Delacruz, and Trevor Shimizu are a few I can think of right now.

What are your other inspirations?

I’ve been studying Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies on pedagogy and biodynamics. When I was younger I went to a Waldorf school for a few years and my mother is a trained Waldorf teacher.  I’m starting a Waldorf teacher training program this Summer.

I’ve been spending time reading about the Waldorf teachings and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy philosophies. I wasn’t familiar with either and find it so interesting. I love the emphasis on imagination and creative play, and on intuition and clairvoyance over intellectual faculties. The focus on art, nature and the celebration of seasons, mythology, songs, and storytelling in the pedagogy is beautiful. Maybe you could tell me more about how the teachings and philosophy have been an inspiration to your work?

It’s hard to say where Steiner will fit in with the work I’m making now. It’s something I’m only beginning to bring back into my life. I hope it leads me to new revelations for painting but I also don’t want to have an expectation that it will. All I know is that it’s something I’m very drawn to.

I loved reading about Steiner’s philosophies on reincarnation and karma while looking at your winter paintings. I could also see a relation to what I read about the techniques of Anthroposophic painting to your paintings which “frequently begins by filling the surface to be painted with color, out of which forms are gradually developed, often images with symbolic-spiritual significance.” Tell me about winter as your theme for the show—what does winter mean to you?

It’s very simple. It’s just a classic theme and once I started making winter paintings I kept coming up with ideas for more.

Your decision-making in painting is very unique—how do you go about a painting from start to finish?

I tend to spend a long time in between series, just thinking. I used to feel guilty in that time because I wasn’t producing anything, but I’ve learnt that that anxiety is productive. I’ve learnt that I like the work more when I’ve held back for a while and then if I released everything all at once.

What mediums do you work with?

I use oil, but I’ve been meaning to switch to acrylic.

What does your practise look like, or your studio?

I live with some good friends in a big house on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood. We use the basement as a studio. It’s pretty big, we just built a painting rack in it that I’m excited about. Before that all our paintings were piled up everywhere, leaning against the walls. I also just started a vermiculture bin in the studio.

What will you do with your worms in the studio?

The worms are composting worms, I’m planning to use the worm castings in my garden.

What’s your next theme?

Sparkling water.

What’s your next project?

A show at Sandy Brown in Berlin in the Fall.