Inside The Whimsical Solitary Worlds of Matthew Hanzman

by Rubén Palma
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Matthew Hanzman (b.1996), is a self taught painter known for his whimsical, expressive characters in far away lands. His creative spirit was sparked at an early age, teaching himself guitar as a youngster, writing raps in 8th grade and playing in rock bands all throughout high school. His passion gravitated towards visual art when he went away for college and experienced loneliness and homesickness. Matthew filled notebooks with drawings to occupy himself and once he returned home for summer, he bought paints and a canvas and hasn’t stopped since. His curious, DIY spirit led him down many artistic avenues before arriving at his signature lone figures saga. Let’s learn a little more about the young man behind these vibrant, existential scenes. 

Matthew! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in New York?

Hey Rubén the pleasure is mine!! I lead a simple life so typically I spend the bulk of my day i’m painting out of my little apartment. I try to walk a lot and get sun since I moved to NYC, shoot some basketball, spend time with my girlfriend who i live with and her/our two cats. its nice! 

I’m curious. Growing up, what kind of kid were you, what did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time? 

I was an eccentric good kid, an old soul. I had a happy childhood in Miami filled with love but I was sensitive from an early age. I was obsessed with the Bee Gees when I was like 2.  As a youngster, I spent a lot of time alone, entertaining myself and being creative: playing guitar, dressing up, putting on concerts for my mom. I loved skateboarding, playing basketball and collecting cd’s, jerseys and figurines. As I got older, I loved playing bass in my band, discovering new music, and spending lots of time with my parents, extended family and couple of close friends.

What’s the earliest memory you have of you creating something and when did you start to paint?

My early memories creating besides elementary school art class are with music. But, I remember drawing and painting all over my fender bass in 9th grade. I wanted it to look like Flea’s bass in the Slane Castle concert.  I instantly regretted it but my grandpa loved it. I started painting on canvases after my freshmen year of college in 2016. I had been drawing and when I came home for summer I bought canvases and just started going! 

The various protagonists in your paintings. Besides the obvious ones. Who are they? And how do you come up with them?

Lone travelers who follow their own paths. They’re honest, whimsical and raw. I come up with them in different ways: I keep a list on my phone with ideas, I have cool references on my computer, things like clip art, tattoo flash and old school illustrations. Sometimes, i’ll see a sticker on the street or a scene from a random cartoon and a new one is born. Hopefully they look like they were made in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, but the characters portrayed spawn all time periods. They’re like stills from weird, unseen cartoons.

Same thing for the various backgrounds / worlds in your paintings. What are they and how do you come up with them?

They’re beaches deserts, tropics and other vivid far away realms. They are desolate, but rich with mystery and wonder. I hope they feel psychedelic, transporting us to other worlds. Because they are so vast and far away from the everyday, they are conducive to reflection and the emergence of the true self which is what these characters are. It’s as if they’re placed in these strange worlds. I come up with them by thinking about what will make for a far out scene. just what looks cool to me. 

Can you tell me about your use of symbolism?

The solitary figures all symbolize true originals, the quiet life, quests for wonder. Some are outcasts others are just enjoying their adventures and carving their own paths. The vast realms represent their distance from the crowd and the mind of the masses. Detached from ego and illusions, they are free to be themselves. I see each painting as a story so symbolism adds twists and layers. I use direct, fun imagery to symbolize more serious themes like the search for meaning and the passage of time. 

So you just had two shows. One in May, called “Edge of The World”, and one in July called “The New Pollution”. What’s the story behind those titles?

Edge of the world is a lyric from Californication and The New Pollution is a great song by Beck. I love rock, hip hop, soul and much more music and I’m always pulling my titles from that. Some of my characters are on the fringes of society, in despair, forgotten and misunderstood so they’re on the “Edge Of The World.” Others are just funky, groovy and wild and “The New Pollution” felt right for that. 

Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?

I’ll lay down a couple backgrounds at a time, always freehand. They require precision and a couple layers to get the richness. Once it’s smooth and opaque I draw out the character and contents with marker and then paint them. For the graphic style I strive for, it requires several layers.  Once it’s painted i’ll re-outline with marker so its bold. Working with marker is odd cause the black ink smears and can mix with the paint, but it’s what works since I paint the background before the contents. It’s how the paintings feel full and like true environments.   

No projectors, no pencils, no preliminary sketches, I have the idea and I go for it on the canvas. But also, I take my time and I’m deliberate with them. They might look simple but great care is necessary to get them looking right. I pay attention to every detail and I love watching the pieces come to life.

What does the next 5 years look like Matthew? Do you have anything specific planned or scheduled? 

Its unpredictable bro but good health, the people i’m close to and painting is all I can ask for! I hope to push myself and evolve so that my vision reaches its full potential. I have so many ideas I’ve yet to make happen so I gotta just keep going. I feel like i’ve been in a groove and hitting some strides so the next 5 years should be exciting. I’m on a nice wave that certainly hasn’t peaked yet so I’m gonna keep riding! The ultimate goal is giving all the characters names and building out their stories. Who they are, how they got here, where they’re off to. Turning them into animated shows and stuff like that. Cause I can really see the paintings as whole lives.

How do you approach color?

I go for vibrant, saturated colors that make the paintings feel psychedelic and funky. I want the colors be kinda crazy. I also approach color deliberately when it comes to balance within the paintings. Its a rule of symmetry thats always in my mind. I also strive for contrasts when it comes to color to give things a graphic feel. I often think about my colors like artificial flavors. Taste the rainbow! 

What motivates you?

The love of making paintings! It gives me so much joy and deep sense of purpose so it’s easy to find motivation to keep doing it. In fact, I don’t think anything could motivate to stop at this point.  I believe in the visual world I’m building and I’m enthusiastic to take it in all directions. There’s a-lot of possibilities within my  style. I love the ritual of starting, finishing and enjoying a piece, knowing that you made something cool from nothing and then doing that same process all over again. The best painting is always the one I have not done yet!  Im definitely compelled to keep bringing this scenes to life.  

How would you describe a perfect day?

I could think of too many combinations and activities that would make for that. Some I’ve experienced and others I have not haha. At the core of any perfect day is time with the people I’m close to but also some time alone to vibe out and some amazing food and desserts of course! Late night snacks are a must. 

Alright Matthew. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

Off the top of my head it’d be Big Lebowski. its so memorable and distinct but it’s impossible to pick just one.  A few years ago, I watched a classic movie every night for like 4 months. I still haven’t seen so many great ones. Ive gotta watch more

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

You Can Do Magic by America, Superheroes by Daft Punk, A Night To Remember by Shalamar, Only One Can Win by The Sylvers and too many more! 

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