Spotlight on ETSU Photo alum Matthew Brown

© Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2015 from East Tennessee State University and is a current MFA Candidate at the University of Georgia. His work has been exhibited internationally and featured in articles by iGNANT, It’s Nice That, Ain’t Bad Magazine, Oxford American’s Eyes on the South, HuffPost, and Documentum, among others. Brown is included in the Looking At Appalachia collection, as well as the permanent collection at East Tennessee State. 

Brown was recently interview by graduate student, Jordan Whitten, for our Alumni Series. 

Your ongoing series, New Developments, made after graduating ETSU has an interesting push and pull from being a regional body of work like you often see made in East Tennessee. While stating it has “the “Anywhere USA” nature”; you also state that "These structures make the landscape non-specific and ubiquitous, homogenized by big box stores” in an area known for rural agriculture. Now that you have moved to Athens do you see yourself continuing this body of work in Athens or are you driven to pursue a different approach? 

That teetering between the perceptions of a region and observing the holes within that constructed identity was a heavy driving force behind the project. I am curious about when, if ever, will this region shake come of those attributes that have been attached to it. It's difficult to say with any absolution, but at present, I am investigating other aspects of the same concept, honing on the fulfillment (or futility in some cases, mine absolutely included) of labor and the motivations for low wage employees and salespeople; ones who are about as replaceable as the products that they sell. It's got me dwelling on advertising in the landscape and how ineffective and confusing could an ad be, and if it's ineffective, does it still remain an advertisement? 

© Matthew Brown

I think it’s great that you include your own fulfillment and futility in what you are investigating. I feel it’s safe to say most artist are investigating themselves in some way no matter what work they make. Who are some of you biggest influences and do you think their work fits in a similar style?

I agree. I think it is also safe to say that the parallels don't end with the artist and that these factors are present within a majority of employees, more or less. It seems to often come back to the self. The Upstate New York Olympics is a piece by Tim Davis that I have been fixated on recently. It's such a wonderful and engaging interplay of performance and absurdity. Christian Jankowski's work has been particularly inspiring as of late. It's these feats of futility that are appealing to how I'm thinking about my process.


© Matthew Brown

You’re attending the University of Georgia for your MFA. What led you to decide to pursue a post-graduate degree and what factors led you to choose UGA?

It stems from allowing myself many opportunities to investigate new materials and subjects, experiment with ones familiar to me and be afforded an environment where all of this is celebrated. I feel like I have more to accomplish at the collegiate level. The UGA graduate program has been incredible and accommodating. I had known numerous graduates from the program and all spoke highly of it and produced work that I was engaged and excited by. I had visited the art school on two separate occasions to snoop around and see some of what they had to offer. UGA was the only institution I was accepted to that was able to provide a full tuition waiver; easily the icing on the cake. In my brief time so far, I've observed my practice, as well as fellow graduate students' practice, expand into new facets. It's an exciting, anxious time.

I think it boils down to the fact that I felt hungry for more. Two years after completing my undergraduate degree, I now have an empty to-go box with my name and a snarlin' Dawg embossed on it.


© Matthew Brown

Do you have any advice for someone applying to MFA programs?

Find a school that will be able to financially support you. I've found that this is indicative of the extent the school values their graduate students. 


© Matthew Brown




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