There are artists who live in their vans. There are artists who get some of the biggest gigs in town. And then there is Matt Brown.
Brown, 27, is a little bit of everything. He seems as comfortable digging through scraps of metal alone in a basement as he does having his work displayed in front of hundreds of people at a conference. “I can run in a lot of different realms of society,” he said.
As Sacramento’s new wave of young artists fights for space in the city’s culture, Brown seems to be everywhere. He’s a photographer, a painter and a maker of robots. He does downtown murals, hip restaurants, alleys and one of the region’s biggest musical festivals.
On Friday, he created a video backdrop for a ballet performance at TEDx, a one-day event at the Community Center Theater where local innovators and techies exchanged ideas. An hour later, Brown was working in a dark computer room at Hacker Lab, the midtown coworking space that’s an incubator for artists and startups.
He was putting together the drawings and budget for a 10-foot robot suit he plans to build for this fall’s TBD Fest, the huge music festival in West Sac. Someone is going to walk around in that suit – maybe Brown – and interact with concertgoers. Brown’s thinking about creating two little aliens in the robot’s head whose mouths would move when the person inside the robot suit talks.
Brown’s work has appeared on other notable platforms. He and fellow artist Jason Bove painted a large mural at the corner of Eighth and K streets two years ago. Brown also helped curate the art for downtown’s Blackbird Kitchen and painted a mural near his photo studio off S Street in midtown. He had another painting on the 700 block of K Street.
Despite his early success, Brown doesn’t back away from showing tough love toward the local art scene. There are amazing young artists placing their marks on the urban landscape, with murals appearing on the sides of buildings and in tunnels. But Brown said many artists he knows aren’t getting attention because the people who should be supporting art tend to play it safe in this town.
“I’m not pessimistic about it; I’m getting work – cool work,” he said. “But I’m not optimistic, either, because I know a lot of Sacramento is conservative – people, the businesses and restaurant owners – and they don’t care about the arts at all.”
Brown was born and raised in Fair Oaks, the son of two state workers. He’s lived on a ranch in Clarksburg and at a monastery in Sri Lanka. Other home addresses for Brown have included a van and the basement of Blackbird.
He said he’s had a mural in midtown painted over and other work on K Street that nearby businesses didn’t like. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered when his work gets ignored or trashed. But without artists like Brown, will the culture shift in Sacramento last very long?
“A lot of stuff that’s being bought right now is clean and safe,” he said. “It’s weird how uptight Sacramento can be. This is a city that’s still afraid of its culture.”