The Laws of Nature

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ARTIST TO ARTIST: An Interview with Matthew Daub

Dear Readers,
The next distinguished artist in my series “Artist to Artist” is Professor Matthew Daub, a renowned artist, author, and teacher. You may remember that we discussed his wonderful article “The Gift of Persistence” previously on this blog. I am delighted to learn that this article has been nominated for a Folio Award, a national competition in the magazine industry. Matthew is a finalist and the awards will be announced in January!

What follows is some background information about Professor Daub, the interview, and upcoming events for this notable artist. Enjoy!

Matthew Daub’s watercolor paintings and conte crayon drawings have been widely exhibited throughout the United States for over three decades. He has had more than twenty one-person exhibitions at galleries and museums in New York, Chicago and elsewhere. Daub works have been included in numerous invitational exhibitions at prestigious institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the National Academy of Design in New York City. In 1991 The Metropolitan Museum featured a Daub watercolor in their annual engagement calendar, “American Watercolors.” In 2004 He completed a large commission of site specific work for The Four Seasons Hotel and Resort in Jackson, Wyoming. He has been a Professor of Fine Art at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania since 1987. He is also the director of Arts Sojourn, an Italian travel group, and a contributing editor for Art Calendar Magazine. He is represented by ACA Galleries in New York City and will be having his next one person show there in April of 2011.

Matthew’s website:
Recent works by Daub:
(click on paintings to enlarge)

Left - Burn Barrel, 2010, Transparent watercolor on paper, 30" x 40"
Center - Four Way, 2010, Conte crayon on paper, 26" x 40"
Right - The Evening of the 23rd, 2010, Transparent watercolor on paper, 30" x 40"


KC - As an artist, what label do you apply to the type of work you do?
MD - I am primarily a landscape painter, and I suppose I would classify it as sharp focus realism, although I don’t think that gives too complete a picture.

KC - Have landscapes always informed your work or is this a recent inspiration?
MD - I believe I have always been moved by the landscape.

KC - What materials do you prefer to use and why?
MD - Just simple stuff really: For watercolor an assortment of Winsor and Newton Artist Series paints and Series 7 brushes. I’ve recently started using Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky brushes as well. They are great brushes for the price.

KC - What do you see as the significance of your work?
MD -That’s a tough question, but I would say that the significance of my work is that it honestly reflects one human being’s inner life. It is how I see and feel about the world around me. I think that it is a small thing, but there is some value in that.

KC - I’ve noticed that your landscapes often don’t include human figures but do include the effects of human influence upon the landscape. Is this a specific comment?
MD - I used to include figures in the landscape regularly, but when the human figure is included it sets a much different tone. Some artists seem to use them as “props;” compositional devices. I don’t go for that. A figure needs to have something to say. Perhaps that’s why I usually eliminate them. I don’t want the viewer trying to feel things through the experience of the figure. For now, I see them as intruders.

KC - When did you first self-identify as an “artist” and what inspired you to do so?
MD - I always had some sense that art had a place in my life. My mother was a commercial illustrator and she allowed me to paint with her when I was a very young child. It is one of my most vivid childhood memories. My father was a grocer, but he was well-read and taught himself to play the piano. Art and creativity were never discouraged in our house.

KC - I, too, had the benefit of parental encouragement and support in the arts. However, neither of my parents were artists. Do you think that your mother’s profession as a commercial illustrator influenced your art?
MD - My mom had stopped working before I was born, as so many women of the 1950’s did. It was probably more some genetic material and the pleasure that both my parents took in seeing me draw that pushed me in that direction.

KC - What was your first "big break" as an artist and how did it come about?
MD - My first big break came from a New York Gallery that I showed with in the early eighties. It was a good place for a realist painter to be at that time and the gallery received a lot of attention from critics, curators, and collectors. The dealer also worked very hard to promote the gallery artists' careers. The gallery started going down hill in the nineties and the dealer turned out to have some serious problems (I'm being kind and diplomatic), but my career really advanced in those early days.

KC - Your work has appeared in world-class galleries and museums over the years. For most artists, these venues seem unobtainable. How did these opportunities come your way?
MD - My first museum show was at The Evansville Museum of Arts and Science in Indiana in 1983. It came through an introduction to the museum director that I received from another artist whom the director knew and respected. It was not something I asked for; this artist just liked my work and called the director. My show at The Reading Public Museum in Pennsylvania in 2001 was something that I sought out on my own. It was my "home" museum at the time and I had never shown in my own backyard, so to speak. I called on the director, but first received the brush-off. I pushed a little further and got him to have a look. When he saw what I was up to and how it related to the museum's constituents he became an enthusiastic supporter. Same thing with my current gallery. I had known of them for many years, they represent well-known artists, and have a reputation for being straight shooters, so I sent an introductory package to them. You have to be proactive in this business.

KC - You’re a Professor of Fine Arts at Kutztown University. What made you decide to pursue an academic career in the arts?
MD - Well, I had my MFA, but I had pretty much decided that I would not teach. I was doing well in the early eighties and my career seemed to be on the rise. I happened upon the Kutztown job posting and it appealed to me - being close to New York City where my primary gallery was located and Kutztown was looking for a watercolorist - a rarity in academia.

KC - In your opinion, what’s the role of academia in the fine arts today?
MD - I believe that it is very important. It provides an opportunity for intensive, prolonged and methodical study that includes a background in art history and at least some introduction to theory and art movements. Knowledge is always good. You can choose what works for you and what doesn’t.

KC - What are your general goals as a teacher?
MD - I really see my role as more of a mentor to my students - an example. I want them to see that a lifetime in art is not a waste of time. It may be a difficult life on some levels, but there are also great rewards. I try to treat my students as friends; young artists who are simply some years behind me on the continuum. I strongly believe in teaching fundamental skills, but not easy answers. Each artist must stumble his or her way to discovery. That’s the only way that an artist can develop their own personality, both technically and conceptually. It thrills me when I see my students doing things that I never taught them.

KC - Returning to an earlier question, it’s clear that both of us had the advantage of parental support that allowed us to adopt the identity of an artist at a very early age. You’ve taught thousands of students over many decades. Do you detect a difference in the students who had early parental support in the arts and those who did not?
MD - I can’t really say, but I have seen many students conflicted because their parents discourage them from pursuing a fine art career. There are students who enroll in the art education or commercial art programs to please their parents or because they think it is the only way they can survive even though they are not excited about those fields.

KC - What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
MD - Probably by my mother when I had come to a crossroads prior to becoming a professor. I was about thirty years old and ready to look for another day job to support my family. I was not yet at the income level from my artwork for it to be our sole means of support. I told my mom that I was going to apply to be a waiter, but my mom suggested that I try and go full time with my art. “You have clients and you have paintings,” she said, “Why don’t you give it a try and if it doesn’t work out then you can be a waiter.” That’s what I did. It was a pivotal moment.

KC - Great advice! It looks like she was right and your career in the arts has flourished. For those of us who will never enter the academic arena as artists, do you envisage another lucrative career path in the arts that you could have taken?
MD - I had originally intended to become an automobile designer when I entered Pratt in 1969. That might have been an interesting career, but I have no regrets.

KC - Looking back on your distinguished career, is there anything you would have done differently?
MD - I sometimes wonder what might have been if I did not accept a teaching position back in 1987 and continued on solely in my studio career. I’d probably just be a lot poorer right now.

KC - So, what advice do you give to your students about how to support themselves as future professional artists? What are the odds of making enough income without taking on a job that provides a regular paycheck?
MD - This answer to this question is really too long and complex for an interview. The one thing that I can guarantee my students is that if they do not try they will not succeed - that's a definite! I tell them that someone WILL succeed - why can't it be you? Whether someone pursues a subsistence job to support an art career, or a career that will be more demanding, you can pretty much count on having to do something to supplement your art income; perhaps for your entire life. That's not necessarily a bad trade off to get to do something that you love. If I thought about "odds" or "success" I would probably have done something completely different with my life. My advice is, "Just do the work and do it with all your strength and with all integrity." There will be a place for it somewhere.

KC - Looking to the future, what’s next for you?
MD - I really don’t know. Right now I am still totally focused on an upcoming solo show in New York and there is no room in my head for anything else. Once a show is completed it is always a time for reassessment, so I’m sure that I will be doing a lot of soul-searching.

KC - Thank you for an engaging and enlightening interview!

Readers, you may be interested in Matthew’s upcoming events:

April 7 – May 7, 2011: solo show ACA Galleries in New York City’s Chelsea art district (529 W. 20th St. ; 5th floor). For more information you can check my website or ACA’s

June, 2011: leading two trips to Italy this June through his Arts Sojourn travel group. Ten days in Lucca in Tuscany followed by a seven day trip to Sestri Levante on the Italian Riviera just above the Cinque Terre. Most people are opting to stay for both. For more information please visit

November 2011: Workshop instructor for Springmaid Watercolor Conference. The class will be devoted half to art business issues and half to studio work.

Ongoing: Writing more articles for Art Calendar magazine, with special interest in artistic development.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, Thank you for posting your enlightening interview. Excellent questions and inspiring answers!

Robin said...

His paintings are breathtaking! And he is inspiring, but so are you.

Kathy, I am thinking about taking the workshop you are scheduled to teach in Maine first week of August 2011, but it's too early for me to make plans. I spoke to another artist friend of mine about it too, and I will keep you posted.

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - Thank you! I, too, find Matthew's responses inspiring. It's always great talking to another artist.

Hi Robin - thank you! I look forward to meeting you and friend at my Acadia workshop. Hope you can make it!

Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, thanks so much for this great interview. You are very good at eliciting meaningful information. I especially relate to this statement by Matthew, "...the significance of my work is that it honestly reflects one human being’s inner life. It is how I see and feel about the world around me. I think that it is a small thing, but there is some value in that."

I paint my response to life and the world, and Matthew validates what I do.

Incidentally, I enjoyed very much your discussion of John Dewey's book. I graduated from the University of Vermont in Burlington, his alma mater, and we are always proud to claim Dewey as one of our own. I studied his writings while preparing to teach high school. I share his pragmatic response to life; perhaps because I share a similar modest Vermont upbringing.

hw (hallie) farber said...

A great interview. Thank you. I'll check out the website.

Celeste Bergin said...

I enjoyed reading the interview--and his work is great! :)

-Don said...

Thank you, Kathy, for this insightful and inspiring interview.

Thank you, Matthew, for providing both insight and inspiration. I can really relate to your work being about how you see and feel about the world around you. I would say there is MUCH value in that.

Isn't it a lot of fun to stumble along this path to discovery?


Unknown said...

Hi Mary - yes, I could relate to Matthew's statement as well. Isn't that really the heart and soul of why we paint? He distilled our purpose very well.
I had no idea you had a connection to Dewey. Neat!! I'll pick up his book next week and continue it.

Hi Hallie - Thank you!

Hi Celeste - Thank you! Yes, Daub's work is truly masterful. Seeing it in person is even better.

Hi Don - Thank you! I agree about stumbling along the path to discovery. For me, it's more like a slow crawl ;-)

Linda Roth said...

Nice interview Kathy. No nonsense questions. Daub seems to have had the encouragement many of us wish we had: a parent who recognized his gift and told him to go for it. Raising my kids I definitely had my eye out for raw talent.

I also admired his work. I too think figures in landscapes are a distraction. I too think we all paint our lives; you can only paint and write what you know.

layers said...

Thank you for featuring this artist- I love realism with depth and meaning- and the interview is enlightening.

Unknown said...

Hi LW - I agree that it's sooooo important to nurture the talent and gifts our children have. Without parental encouragement, they might not know how much they can do.

Hi Donna - I, too, admire the depth and meaning of Matthew's work. Thank you!

Gary Keimig said...

a great interview. Enjoyed it so much. Thanks Katharine. Being a landscape artist myself I was thrilled to hear some of his simple reflections on what he is doing and why.

Unknown said...

Hi Gary - Thank you! I had a feeling you would connect with Matthew's work. Happy painting.

Dan Kent said...

Thank you for the interesting interview. I enjoyed the parallel between Mr. Daub and Robert Henri when he said about his students, "I want them to see that a lifetime in art is not a waste of time." He is on the continuum of great are instructors, I suspect.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - thank you for pointing out the comparision between Daub and Henri. I missed it, and it's so true! I agree that Daub ranks among that continuum.

Joanne Licsko said...

Good questions and interesting answers. thanks!