Trek Matthews grew up in a little suburb of Wisconsin, where his fascination with nature and its surrounding mythologies first arose. His mother loved nature and his whole family was environmentally conscious. He still recalls looking out the window and seeing peaceful scenes of deer simply strolling along his back yard. Nature and mythologies even emerged in school, where class assignments consisted of learning intricacies of Native American tribes and creating stories based around those details.
He began studying art at Georgia State University in the graphic design program before he realized that general artistic mediums like painting, illustrating and print-making better suited his particular interests and talents. So he’s been delving into more Native American lore, along with eastern worlds, Buddhist stories, and Aztecan legends, and bringing them to life in his work.
An appropriate example is his mural for this year’s Living Walls, The City Speaks, a non-profit organization that draws national and international artists to the city for public artistic endeavors, workshops, and more. Matthews’s massive fox mural is located on the side of a brick building in Cabbagetown. The illustrated fox is inspired by Native American totems and symbols and spans three stories; Matthews had to climb a ladder and work hours between school and office work to complete it.
Here, he talks to Common Creativ about mythology, his influences and working with Living Walls.
CommonCreativ: How’d you get into mythology?
Trek Matthews: Mostly because I’ve been into Native American history for a while. Being in Milwaukee, in elementary school, we made up stories about things based on specific mythology with a certain tribe and learned about other tribes. There’s a lot of history in Milwaukee, and Wisconsin in general that is rooted in Native American history. I started with that, and now I’ve been getting into Eastern culture that I didn’t look into beforehand. I’d rather learn about Egyptian culture and learn their stories or Buddhist stories or Aztecan stories. I think that’s a lot more interesting. And if I find the stories interesting, I’m more likely to draw it.
CC: Your work inspiration comes from every day things?
T.M.: Definitely. The reason I painted the fox for Living Walls, and why I like doing nature-related things, is because I was always by a fores, and my mom always enjoyed nature. It was always cool how a pack of deer would come in your backyard and chill for a while. I was always psyched about that.
CC: Your upbringing definitely influences what you create now?
T.M.: Yeah, I’d say a ton of it does now. I’ve always been into shapes and geometry, so I’m bringing that into it, a lot of childhood interests. A connection with the environment — specific animals, beliefs, memories and stories.
CC: How did you get involved with Living Walls?
T.M.: I volunteered for the main conference last year, and I didn’t know anyone in it. I just went in and I volunteered with Gaia and Nanook from Baltimore as an assistant. I met a ton of street artists that I’d been paying attention to. I really enjoyed that and became friends with a few of the people and just helped out more. And then Monica, the organizer, started liking my drawings and said I should make a wall at some point. And then it happened.
CC: How’d you choose the fox?
T.M.: I did a fox because I wanted to do an animal native to Georgia, and the list was kinda small for the mammals. It would’ve probably been a white-tailed deer, but I just did a deer, so I decided to do a fox. Then I got to hear all the stories people were relating to about foxes while I was painting it. And then the person across the street, Karen Tauches… she pulled out this book that talked about foxes like a totem, and they were considered shapeshifters. And then the author of that book got really weird and told the readers to do some sort of practice, such as you go to a party and pretend you’re blending into the chair and see how many people try to sit on you. I really liked the idea of the fox blending into the wall and it went from there.
CommonCreativ: Did you ever get nervous knowing people were watching you?
T.M.: It was okay. I’ve never been fantastic with people watching me do things, so I get weird for a minute, but once I get something going, it should be okay. I started doing Drink + Doodle at ABV Gallery and that loosened me up a bit as far as drawing in front of people. Since then it’s been building up, so once I got to that wall, I was comfortable enough and relaxed, so it was fun. People were super encouraging.
CC: Who are some of your favorite contemporary creatives?
T.M.: Stacey Rozich — she’s phenomenal. And David Hill, who I’m getting tattooed by on Sunday, is very awesome. I have a handful of street artists friends in Atlanta. I’ve been paying attention to international people too, like Jaz. At Living Walls, I met Gaia and Nanook, and got to meet ROA, Jaz, Never and all of those guys.
CC: What are some of your dream projects?
T.M.: I really want to do something with Eskmo. He’s a really good producer, so I’m trying to see if I can do album art or a gig poster for him when he gets his album going. Other than that, I would like to do projects for producers and musicians I listen to, because I’m really into music. As far as street art and murals, I want to go places with it. It could go anywhere since I just started with it.
CC: What do you think of the Atlanta art scene in general, and who are some of your favorite artists around the area?
T.M.: I think the Atlanta art scene is great and dense, but also very passive. There are great artists around us. However, the scene is super eclectic as we have great painters that are also graffiti artists, great illustrators that can put it on the street, and tons of ideas and beautiful organizations like Living Walls that are opening up a very creative crowd in Atlanta. It’s always been a good scene, and I’m very stoked to be with some of these names. My only issue with it is something that a lot of people have been feeling lately, there is not enough constructive criticism between ourselves, which causes us to become stagnant individually and as a community.
CC: What’s the best moment art has lead you to?
T.M. I’d say it’s pretty sweet when someone’s like ‘Hey, I saw your work and now I want to draw something.’ … probably the coolest compliment ever.“I saw you make something so I want to create something. I don’t know why people would be inspired by me, but I’ll totally take it. I think the whole cycle of creating stuff is just awesome. I look at a series of things and think, I wanna make something good.
But a particular moment would be this whole Living Walls things. Just volunteering is awesome. It went from me drawing and thinking to I should take this seriously, and I did. I started getting really into it and hanging out with all the people I’ve been getting inspiration from. It’s just a really cool feeling going from gathering paint and helping raise funds to I get to be a part of it as one of the creators. I think it’s just awesome that I be one of the names on the list, next to all these other artists who I think are great.