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Studio Visits: Multimedia artist Matthew Osmon

Some might find the characters and textures featured in artist Matthew Osmon’s work to be a little bit unsettling. His recent multimedia pieces are full of goopy, stringy textures, parasitic creatures, and expressionless faces floating in liminal spaces.

One particularly spooky piece features a woman wrapped in a sticky-looking cocoon full of holes. The cocoon trails off into a nearby lake, and the sky isn’t exactly dark, but instead an apocalyptic brown. With her gaze fixed somewhere out-of-frame, the woman looks paranoid, sure, but also slightly annoyed – like someone has stuck her somewhere she’d rather not be.

Turns out that’s more than a little true. The subject of the piece? Osmons’ wife.

“I kind of always am trying to push myself to not be dark all the time,” Osmon said. “It's the only picture I've really painted of my wife, and she hates it so bad because there's holes – like people have that phobia where they're afraid of holes. She kind of has that. And so my version of like, reacting to that is making her, like, cocooned and like, with holes.”

That wry sense of humor is threaded throughout Osmon’s art and life. Stateside visited his basement home studio and Factory Two, a community makerspace in downtown Flint where Osmon’s screen printing work comes to life. His art is a blend of pencil, graphic design, watercolor, and screen printing. With so many moving parts, there’s little room for error.

Osmon leans over the long, white screen printing table to reach for a finished print. He holds a screen in one hand - a rectangular metal frame with yellow mesh stretched across it. An array of colorful prints is arranged in the center of the table. In the background, there are shelves of supplies, and a wall mounted with tools.
April Baer
Osmon at work inside Factory Two. The community makerspace is located in the heart of downtown Flint, where Osmon is a lifelong resident. In addition to being a full-time art teacher, Osmon also instructs at Factory Two. When he’s not working on personal art, Osmon often takes screen printed poster commissions.

“Sometimes it happens super easy and you think you’re a genius,” Osmon said of the screen printing process. “And then, like, literally the next week, 18 things go wrong, and you’re sweating, and people are looking at you because they thought you were the one. . . that knew everything. And you’re like yeah, it’s a process. I mean, things can go wrong.”

But when things go right, there’s some pretty stunning artwork on the other side. That sense of experimentation and discovery is something Osmon aims to convey to his students. By night, he works on his own fine art, but by day, Osmon is a full-time art teacher at Mott Middle College. He’s also a lecturer at U-M Flint and an occasional instructor at the Flint Institute of Arts and at Factory Two.

Osmon framed one of his works, "Eager and Active Allies," in the entryway to his home. The scene is set in a pentagon-shaped grey-blue room with high ceilings. A wave of bubblegum-pink goop spirals up from the ground to the ceiling. From the goop emerges a large grey fist, several expressionless faces, and yellow block letters. Down on the ground, a young girl in a pink cardigan grips a rope of goop, holding it high above her head.
Ronia Cabansag
Osmon said his series of “goopy” paintings aimed to convey “the bad things that people do” without depicting them outright. This piece, Eager and Active Allies, uses a combination of multiple techniques.

“I love being out in the community as an artist, like representing myself, but also sometimes representing Factory Two, sometimes representing Buckham [Gallery]," Osmon said. "I really enjoy community connection and collaboration a lot, but it’s completely separate from what I do down here [in the basement studio].”

While Osmon said he tries to "not be dark all the time," his studio practice always tends toward exploring the self. Over the past few years, he’s experimented with parasitic imagery, including goopy, amorphous substances that subjects can’t quite seem to escape.

“You know, like I'm not interested in showing the bad things that people do. I just… I don't want to put it into my paintings, you know?" Osmon explained. "So that ended up being like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ And it turned out to be like, I can do that with goop, right? Because goop is gross, and goop has a tactile-like consistency. and I can put chunks in it or I can put little hairs in it. You know, you can do a lot with goop.”

While Osmon isn't particularly interested in explaining every detail of his own work, he's passionate about making art more accessible for his students. That includes igniting their artistic curiosity and excitement, and introducing them to contemporary artists rather than the ones stereotypically highlighted in art history books – ones that might really resonate.

“My job is to connect them to the art,” Osmon said. “It's not necessarily to create a whole bunch of art makers that are going to go on to make tons and tons of art, right? I want them to feel comfortable in the museum. I want them to be able to talk intelligently about what they're seeing. I want them to understand, like, why that's important in their life, how it's connected to their life.”

In the meantime, though, Osmon will keep plugging away in the studio – creating art almost as wacky and jarring as the world around us.

 Osmon stands in the screen printing station at Factory Two. Two long tables are arranged to his left. In the background, there are shelves full of supplies, and tools mounted on the wall.
Ronia Cabansag
Osmon stands in the screen printing station at Factory Two with a large screen.

Hear the full interview with Matthew Osmon on this episode of Stateside.

[Get Stateside on your phone: subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify today.]

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Ellie Katz joined the Stateside team as an intern in September 2022.