Our September Veteran Artist Spotlight falls on visual artist & Architectural student, Michael Matthews!

During his 20 years in the Army, Michael Matthews deployed to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once, and once to Bosnia with the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, NY. Michael started the process of concluding his military career six years ago at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It was then that he regained his love for art that he enjoyed as a kid growing up in Baltimore, MD. As a kid, he mostly explored art through sketches and drawings. This time it was something new, he dove into painting with acrylics.

Since starting the transition process and retiring from the Army in the summer of 2018, he’s been on a path of learning. He earned an Associate of Applied Sciences degree in Building Trades in Carpentry from Montgomery College, and a degree in the Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the Catholic University of America. He’s currently a graduate student at The Catholic University of America working towards a Masters’s degree in Architecture, majoring in Net Zero Design with a concentration in Sacred Space and Cultural Studies.

He enjoys the challenges architecture presents, the attention to detail, the geometry, the architecture tectonics, and the many diverse facets of the field. Once he graduates from school, Michael plans to become a licensed architect and use his artistic creativity in designing spaces in the Build environment.

Today, Michael is a proud loving dad and lives in Rockville, Maryland.

CBAW: “What is your choice of medium, and why?”

Michael Matthews: “When I was a kid it was a pencil or an ink pen. The fluid movement of the pen as it glided across the paper was a feeling I enjoyed. Inspired by my military service and the Red Cross, I began painting with acrylics. I think acrylics invite the usage of so many sophisticated colors. When I think about the usage of color in my art, I think about some of my past experiences in the Army. While I was in Basic Training, the environment was limited in color exposure. It felt like we were only exposed to different shades of green and brown. There was a similar effect with my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. What I experienced down range was different shades of Tan and dusty green. For a kid growing up in the city, I think the limited diversity in color can be a bit suppressive. Whenever I would visit my home in Baltimore, whether by I-83, or I-95, I would intentionally take the route downtown through the city to see lights and different colors. Seeing color in art is something that resonates in my soul and helped me to escape my childhood. Today, there’s diversity in my palette and my choice of medium has a level of dexterity. Whether it’s creating art with model making, 3D modeling with computer applications, brush strokes with a paintbrush, sketching with pencils, or simulating space with markers, I like to think all mediums and modalities of creating are how I see and experience the world.”

CBAW: “How has making art impacted you as a person?”

MM: “Seven years ago my life shifted in gear. While at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center I met a lot of wonderful people that influenced my life in a major way. They reenergized my ambition and revived my sense of direction. So much so, that it helped pave the way for me to study architecture at The Catholic University of America. Since I have been studying architecture at CUA, the faculty, and students in the studio have embraced me like family. Building on my skillset as an army veteran and artist, the faculty there challenges me to become an architect and an asset with a deep appreciation as a person that contributes to society and the built environment. The transition hasn’t been a walk in the park. It’s been challenging but the students there have always assisted me when I needed help. There’s a unique culture in the studio.”

CBAW: “What do you hope someone gets from viewing your work?”

MM: “For me, creating art is therapeutic. It helps me process what’s on my mind. There’s never a time when I sat down to create a piece of artwork that I was not in deep thought about something, or what I was trying to create or recreate. I would like for the viewer to know careful thought and consideration are part of the process in my artwork. I hope that my art resonates with the viewer and evokes positive feelings and thoughts.”

CBAW: “What have you worked on most recently, Michael?”

MM: “Recently I played a small part in a project assisting with the reconstruction/assembly of the Weatherbreak Geodesic Dome for an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The project consisted of students and volunteers Led by Abeer Saha from the Smithsonian Institution, Tonya Ohnstad and Lorenzo DeAlmeida from the Catholic University of America’s School of Planning and Architecture, and Wyly Brown from the Washington University in St. Louis. The reconstruction and assembly process involved historical research, model making, and fabrication, which eventually led to the assembling of the Weatherbreak dome in the museum. This project was also featured in The New York Times.

We thank Michael for taking the time to chat and share his work with us. Make sure to check out his portfolio, available online, by clicking here. You can also connect with him via his LinkedIn page.

Michael also wishes to shout out the following for supporting him in his artistic and educational processes:

Kai Geschke: https://geschkegroup.com/

American Corporate Partners: https://www.acp-usa.org/

Sentinels of Freedom: https://sentinelsoffreedom.org/