Matt Gondek is a Deconstructive Pop Artist whose work is possessed with a punk rock spirit, celebrating rebellion and destruction. He tears down cartoon idols with a visceral pop color palette and a disarmingly playful tone, akin to slaughtering our modern-day gods.
Born in 1982, his creative voice is rooted in the 90s as a true conduit of his generation and their potentially pointless search for meaning and purpose amidst a cruel life in a flawed world. He boasts sold-out exhibitions in his home of Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Bangkok, and Hong Kong.
We spoke with Matt to learn a little more about his upcoming MakersPlace drop, “Fight Club,” a collection of 300 IRL handmade spiked and painted baseball bats with NFT correlates.
MP: How would you explain Deconstructive Pop if it were taught in art history?
Deconstructive pop art is an extension of two different things.
The first thing being that if you look at the history of art, there’s always been pop art, it just wasn’t called that at the time. If you look at Renaissance art, Old Masters, all the old stuff that fills museums, you’ll see that artists always painted the thing that was most prevalent in their lives. The Church, religion, royalty. Artists painted what people knew.
Fast forward to now, there’s no religion, not in the way there used to be. There’s no royalty; not really. Who are our current-day gods? It’s things we all know; it’s Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.
The second thing that informs Deconstructive Pop is punk rock: the anti-conformity, anti-authority, tearing down the gods kind of attitude. So it’s me destroying the current-day gods.
To be quite honest, that term came from a guy I did a show with about four or five years ago. At the time, I was just calling it “blowing up heads.” I had no better name for it. I did an art show here in L.A., and the owner asked me, “Hey, what do you call this stuff? Deconstructive pop art?” I thought it was such a clever name that I said, “Yeah, that’s what it’s called.” I’ve been running with it ever since.
MP: Can you tell me about your custom colors? From what I’ve read, it was a long iterative process. What was the process of creating them?
MG: I’ve always loved bright neon colors. I got my start as a digital illustrator. I did a lot of work in the music industry. And everything was digital.
After a few years of doing that, I started painting. The problem was I never painted in my life, and I had no idea what I was doing.
I was just buying house paint at a hardware store. I was trying to mix my own colors to replicate those neon colors I always liked.
And just from years of practice and mixing and mixing, I finally narrowed it down to colors I was looking for, specifically a certain vibrant, neon-ish pink. It’s hot and it’s cool at the same time. I called it Pink Cocaine.
To be transparent, I had a bit of a drug problem growing up. I’ve been sober for a long time. But I was addicted to something that might be found in the name of the paint. And this color was so addicting. It seemed like an excellent name for it.
There are three other colors. There’s a bluish teal called Maliblu. There’s a yellow called 1000 Watt Neon. And there’s the gray we use for all the skulls. It’s called Albondigas, which is Spanish for meatball, but it’s got the word “bone” in it. I just thought that was kind of funny. My old assistant actually made that up.
MP: Unlike most of your work, the bats are not pulling in pop culture references. Can you tell me about its origins?
MG: In a way, they’re kind of like a metaphor for me. You look at a spiked baseball bat, and you think: this was made to destroy something. You kind of get a punk rock feel. So a spike baseball bat is a good representation of who I am and the kind of work I make.
I started using the bats in my work two or three years ago when I made some vinyl toys and gave the characters bats. When I do a physical exhibition of my paintings, I always make at least one or two of those bats to display in the gallery. I put them right at the beginning when people walk in because it sets the tone for what you’re about to see. Here’s this bat with spikes, but it’s dripping with neon paint. That summarizes everything about me.
With this project, honestly, the only reason I did it is that I selfishly wanted to make a poster of all 300 baseball bats in different colors. It was a long, arduous process, We’ve been working on it for the past six months.
Everything’s handmade. I didn’t buy bats online. They were just pieces of wood that we lathed. We drilled all the holes for the spikes and inserted every spike by hand. We painted all the bats in the studio and wrapped the grip tape. So they’re all unique because every piece was handmade. Except for the metal spikes. We ordered those, but we put them in by hand.
When you get one of these bats, you’re getting a unique piece by me. It was a very long process, but it’s cool when I’m here in the studio, and they’re all laid on the floor.
MP: In what ways does music — specifically punk — inform your work?
MG: Every kid latches onto something. I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania. And for whatever reason, I found punk music. The punk ethos is really DIY; don’t wait around for someone else to do anything for you. It’s the same with underground hip-hop.
I was in punk rock bands, and the energy of the music is just… You know, stick up for yourself, have confidence, don’t doubt yourself, don’t ask for handouts, take care of your friends. That’s the ethos.
I’m not a punk rocker by any means. I’m a 40-year-old man at this point. But that’s how I grew up, and all those things are baked into me.
MP: You’ve described using the canvas as a comic book page. Have you done (or considered doing) actual comics?
MG: I did when I was a kid. When I was little, I would draw hundreds of comics. The last time I made a comic book was probably when I was 25. I’m 40 now. It was never anything serious.
Making comic books is a very, very time-consuming thing.
It takes a lot of time to make one, and I’m the kind of person who’s got 30 ideas, and I want to do all 30. I couldn’t commit to one idea and make comic books. I thought for a while that comics might be the career path for me. More power to the people who do it. But it turns out it just wasn’t for me.
MP: You’ve said that Lichtenstein is your favorite artist. Can you name one of your most obscure influences, someone or something you think should be more well-known? What has this influence given you?
MG: There’s so many things. There’s punk rock stuff, the comic book stuff.
There was the artist Rob Schrab, who was a very big independent comic book artist when I was a kid. He put out a comic called SCUD: The Disposable Assassin.
Lichtenstein is my favorite artist. He did what a lot of pop artists do: take everyday things and make it fine art. But his particular type of art involved the things that resonated with me: comics, action panels, the benday dots. I don’t find him particularly interesting as a person.
In terms of the artists who I find interesting… I’m from Pittsburgh, and Andy Warhol casts a huge shadow there. I’m not the biggest fan of Warhol’s work, but I love how he marketed himself, got his name out there, and kept himself in the limelight. As an artist, I’ve always admired that.
There’s another artist who’s not as well known. He just passed away a few months ago. Wayne Thiebaud. He painted a lot of desserts, really vibrant, richly colored, textured foods. I was recently at an auction, and I tried to get one of his originals, but I didn’t get it. What are you going to do?
MP: What advice would you give artists struggling to get their break right now?
MG: I have a podcast where I talk about this kind of stuff. It’s called Clean Break. I’ve interviewed over 100 different artists at this point.
Let’s say an artist finds my work tomorrow — they just discovered I exist — they go to my Twitter, my Instagram, and they see all the success I’ve had. Then they say, “I want to do that.”
That person doesn’t realize I’ve been at this for 15 years, and the posts are just the highlight reel. The first ten years were god-awful. No one cared about anything I did. And it’s the same for most artists.
No one wants to hear it, but this is a very tough job. It’s a really cool job, if you can do it. And it’s great to feel loved and have people care about what you make. But the road is really long, and it’s uphill the entire way.
And the advice is that if you love something and are genuinely passionate about it, do it. But just don’t give up. And don’t worry about people like me because everything I post is a highlight at this point. I don’t ever post the failures, though there’s plenty of them.
MP: Are there any process changes you’ve made that have helped you as came up?
MG: There’s a book it’s called Scale or Fail.
That book has good advice for any artist trying to grow their company or themselves. The thing about art is it’s subjective, and everyone does it differently, and everyone has a different idea of what success is. But if you’re trying to become a successful artist, you kind of have to look at art as a business. And all successful businesses have help and employees.
When I started, it was all punk rock do everything yourself ethos. But the biggest change for the better happened when I learned to let go of certain things and get help.
I have a whole team now. I have a management team. I have you guys (MakersPlace). I have the gallery. I have help. The only way anybody can grow in this world is to accept help.
Too many artists are proud, and they think what they make is so sacred that no one else could ever step in and do any part of it, and that’s simply not true. It’s a skill; some people have it, and some don’t. People that do can learn your thing and help you grow it.
The book Scale or Fail helps with that stuff. But that’s the biggest thing that’s changed in my life. On the flip side, I hire artists, and it’s like an apprenticeship. Everyone that works for me wants to become successful and have their own practice. What better way than to be here learning from someone who’s doing that?
MP: What does the future hold for you (as far as you can tell)?
MG: We have the bat project, “Fight Club.” The utility of this project is that you get a bat. There’s a billion NFT projects — and I bought into so many of them — where they promised the moon, and some happen, but most don’t. You get this project, and you burn your NFT, I’m gonna send you a fucking bat. And it’s gonna be awesome. And that’s your utility right there.
Other things going on. I have a great big art show in Japan in November. It’s called Missing Person. It’s about my pursuit to remove myself from the work. To make it look so perfect, it’s as if a human didn’t touch it. So that’s the next big thing in the immediate future for me.