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Walnut Street

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Elevating the Art of the Ordinary

Matt Pavone Raises the Flag

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

From his garage studio in Aldie, artist Matt Pavone creates art that combines drawing, woodworking, print-making, painting and the layering of iconic images of mid-century American life to create large, colorful, evocative works.

Matt’s work is, at its heart, nostalgic. Though he is only 41, many of his cousins were older and brought with them iconography from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  His best work evokes a childhood near the New Jersey shore where multiple households of his extended Italian family lived, played and drank coffee. Not surprisingly, the Italian-made moka pot with its hexagonal shape has found its way into several works, embellished with colors to raise it to iconographic status.

Speaking to his process, he uses a large canvas of interlocking hearts to explain that much of his work is created using wood cutouts that he uses to transfer colors in layers. It can take days for each layer to dry before applying the next layer, and any given work can hold as many as 70 pressings to create depth, which means Matt has many works in progress at any one time. As a happy accident, the stamps themselves take on an impressionistic, one-of-a-kind beauty that has caused the artist to employ them as centerpieces of other works.

“Art is to me, language,” Matt says, which helps to explain why he uses so many universally familiar objects that “speak” volumes to his viewers from their own experience. Bowling pins, for example, tumble over themselves to remind him of shared family outings at the local bowling alley, and his first surfboard from Ron Jon’s first ever surf shop in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which hangs on the wall, has found its way into many works. “Art expresses who I am, through colors and through the play of the objects. It's about having that dialogue, me with the canvas first, then after I put it out into the public, it’s a dialogue between the viewer and the art. I can't interfere with that. I can only focus on how it makes me feel when I create.”

We might call that emotion comfort – that feeling you get when encountering objects that were collected by those you have loved to surround you with memories of them.

In that context, Matt developed a love of the American flag from two World War II veterans, brothers, who lived across the street from each other on Matt’s family’s street, and who flew Old Glory every day. “It wasn't just a Fourth of July or a Flag Day or a Veterans Day thing. Every day, there was the American flag. And so as I was growing up, I associated that image with just the normalcy of life.”

Matt has painted many flags, often with what he calls a “bubble-gumming” coloration reminiscent of a Brooklyn sidewalk where all the colors of gum combine to create a form of abstract art. His latest creations have included three-dimensional objects like steet signs and leather horse tack. He’s fascinated by how the symbology of flags can communicate even across language barriers. “I embrace that when I'm approaching the flag, because ... the American flag has meaning and context. There's something very special about it. I'm cognizant of that, and I'm also aware of sensitivities surrounding the flag. My art is based on my interpretation of my experiences and my emotional connection with color.”

Matt’s association with flag art is enhanced by his annual July 4th lectures at The Artists in Middleburg Art Studio on “The Art of the Flag.” His workshop goes back to the Revolutionary War and traces how the actual flag has changed, but also how artists like Jasper Johns and his White Flag gave rise to pop art by focusing their artwork on common, everyday objects. Jasper Johns also made use of the flag for fundraising, creating his flag “Moratorium” as a lithograph for the Committee Against the War in Vietnam in 1969.

Matt has done the same – using his flag art philanthropically. His first flag painting was donated to the Department of Agriculture where he writes regulations as his day job. The placard identifying him as the painter led many of his colleagues to ask for copies of the work, so he had the idea – additionally inspired by the stress of losing his mom to cancer in 2016 – to donate prints of subsequent works to charity. The first of those went to The American Cancer Society, sales of which brought in $1,500. The next version supported work to fight Crohn’s Disease and colitis, which runs in Matt’s family, then helped the Special Olympics out of Prince Edward Island in Canada. He also has donated art to the Loudoun Cares annual art auction. For Mobile Hope, he donated a print of his interpretation of the Venus di Milo. The flag named American Valor is destined for the American Veterans Center annual gala in November. The painting’s coloring, intended to honor those wounded in service, draws from the Purple Heart medal. All told, his donations total about $15,000 – and counting.

You can often catch his art at The Artists in Middleburg, and he will be showcasing his artwork at The Global Local on July 7 for their First Friday in Leesburg celebration. Soon, his work may also find its way into Brew Birds, his local coffee shop. Because, you know, Matt has always appreciated a really good cup of coffee.

Editor’s Note: June 14th is Flag Day, which is celebrated as the anniversary of the 1777 adoption by the Continental Congress of today’s modern flag design with the 13 alternating red and white stripes representing the original 13 colonies and stars representing the states, now 50. It wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance of Flag Day, and President Harry Truman signed it into law.

  • Patriotic Living Room
  • The Artist at Home
  • Matt Leads "The Art of the Flag" in Middleburg
  • American Valor
  • Old Glory
  • Coffeepot
  • Horse Flag
  • Walnut Street
  • Matt With a Book of Prints
  • Hearts