Matt Mahler –Painter
Scientist, Painter, and Renaissance Man
Matt Mahler is an environmental engineer and painter in Raleigh. He’s married and has two kids, aged 5 and 2. Mahler is originally from Houma, Louisiana, and has been in Raleigh since 2003.
Mahler became interested in art and painting as a young boy. When he was nine, he had the opportunity to travel to Europe for six weeks. He spent some time in Rome, and toured many of the basilicas and museums and saw Renaissance art daily. “I remember going back to the hotel at night and scribbling putti and clouds on the hotel stationery,” Mahler says. “Being immersed in that, though only for a few days, affected something inside permanently and irreversibly.”
After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1992, he obtained his first job as an engineer, but he wanted something to do outside of work. After some searching in the classifieds, he answered an ad for after-hours group art lessons. Using the skills he learned there, a few years later, he was able to create a 9×9 canvas in acrylic backdrop for a party for the Terrebonne Unit of the Marine Corps League.
Mahler’s scientific background has influenced his artwork. “Engineering is very technical,” he says. “You look at details a lot, and early on my [paintings] were really tight and detail oriented.” As Mahler continued taking art classes and learning about art, he was told to loosen up, which was a challenge, but Mahler adds, “Everything I was trained to do since high school is almost overly analytical…and all of a sudden, with art, you can free yourself and loosen up.” Over the years, he has taken that advice to heart, and says, “I feel like I’m just now starting to come into my own style.”
Mahler received two years of formal art training at Mims Studios School of Fine Arts in Southern Pines under painter and muralist Jeffrey Mims. “The training I took in Southern Pines in certain respects was very formulaic, but it was based on classic principles.” When Mahler’s first son was born, Mahler had to leave the academy but says he would gladly return. “Jeffrey Mims [academy]…is really a local treasure that a lot of people don’t know about. There are only a couple of schools in the country that teach that classical figurative drawing and painting techniques from the Renaissance,” Mahler says. The program at Mims Studio is an intensive six year program that works the artist up from charcoal drawings to painting full scale murals.
Before Mahler begins a new piece, he starts off with a basic concept. He plans out design, composition, and use of color to convey a certain mood or feeling. Next, he creates numerous sketches and experiments with different proportions, perspectives, and coloration. If he is working on a mural, he will Photoshop his concept drawings into the photos he’s taken of the actual space he will be working with. “This allows me to see what the final product would like before I begin the actual painting process,” he says.
He doesn’t force himself to stick to his initial plans. “A small amount of time, it will really evolve into something I didn’t imagine,” Mahler says. However, most of the time, even though he may move things around to better balance the painting, his end product is conceptually similar to his initial plan.
In addition to painting, Mahler has experimented with marble sculpting. Although he has only made three sculptures, Mahler says it is the most gratifying art he’s ever been able to work with. “The act of slowly removing the fine-grained marble and watching form emerge is physical, tactile, and raw.” A sculpture may take him 300 hours to complete, and since sculpting marble requires a studio with good ventilation and hundreds of dollars of equipment, Mahler does not think he will be creating any new sculptures soon. “Maybe if I hit the lottery,” he jokes, adding, “I’d like to do it again one day. I like painting, but sculpting in alabaster is so beautiful.”
Mahler has received some notoriety for his artwork. He was selected as the 2012 Signature Artist for the Triangle Chapter of the American Red Cross’ Carolina Nights Ball. Over the years, Mahler has done a lot of work painting for the Triangle Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Duke Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross.
As Mahler continues down his artistic path, he hopes to be able to paint more outdoor and public projects. He was one of the 100 Cowparade artists. His cow can be seen at the Wells Fargo in Chapel Hill. It will be there through November. In addition, he has put in a proposal to renovate a cow on the roof of Taqueria La Vaquita in Durham, which would be his first historical renovation. He has also submitted a proposal to paint folk art in a Mexican restaurant on Glenwood Avenue. He hopes to continue to do more commission work in homes and restaurants.
With his classical background, Mahler says he would love to collaborate with an artist who creates work very different from his own, like a graffiti artist. “It’s such a wild and untamed style,” he says. “I’d like to be around someone like that to see their creative process…and see what we could come up with [together].”