Interview with Matthias Brown

Matthias Brown is an artist and animator living and working in Jersey City, NJ. He has a BFA in graphic design from SCAD Atlanta and is the creator of TraceLoops - an animation experiment centered around hand-drawn, physical animations and experiments with the creation and perception of motion. TraceLoops has been used by a variety of brands including Converse, NBC, Hyundai, MTV, CNN, The Tate Modern, Ghostly International, and many others.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Matthias Brown. I'm primarily a traditional animator, but I don't really have a set medium I work in. 

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in North Carolina, then my family moved to South Carolina, then back to North Carolina, then Louisville, KY, with some time spent on Andros Island in the Bahamas when my mom was living there. I went to college in Atlanta.

Why and when did you move to Jersey City?

My dad moved to Jersey City while I was in college, so it became home during breaks in school. I started getting NYC proximity work while in college and kept it up after graduating. 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in art and animation?

I've always enjoyed art, my mom is an art teacher and my dad does a lot of personal, creative work on his own. I thought I might be a mechanical engineer when I was younger, or an architect. I wanted to solve problems and see that physically manifest itself, but realized that it's a long journey in those fields to have the sort of personal agency I actually wanted. I started animating in middle school, but soon found out that most animation work is being a small part of a team, where, if you're directing, you aren't doing so much animating and if you're animating, you aren't doing so much directing, so I ended up studying graphic design in college. Outside of classes, I got into glitch art and gif art. Animated gifs are short enough to have complete ownership and I found a form of animation that allowed me to both direct and animate. 

How would you describe your creative process?

I am a curious person who likes to know how things work and why they are the way they are. I like taking things apart, literally and figuratively, simplifying complex systems and ideas. Part of that comes from having a background in graphic design, where the speed and effectiveness of communication is more significant than most fine art. My creative process is seeing something, wanting to know how it works and learning through trying, then I have a skill that I don't know what it's for, but eventually I'll have an idea and that skill that had no purpose suddenly does.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

I really like Jersey City, where I'm at in the city, it's both very diverse but also residential. It's the sort of environment where you can see completely different approaches to utilitarian things. People are living their lives in very practical ways that I didn't grow up with. It makes me realize that what I understand as the mundane isn't the same mundane for everyone, that there are different ways to live. 

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Jersey City? 

I don't personally have struggles working and living in Jersey City. It can be difficult to get people across the river from Manhattan, but once people do, they realize how it isn't more difficult than going to a further borough in NYC. There's definitely an understanding that Jersey City is part of the metropolitan area of NYC, but I tend to prefer places that are slightly removed from the direct spotlight, both generally and personally.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Jersey City?

It's been growing, Jersey City is changing, but everything is always changing, otherwise things are stagnant. 

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

I do. I think it's very important to support whatever community you are a part of, the alternative is to make the lives of the people in your city worse, which seems like a villainous goal. Hopefully no one answers this question with a strong "nah".

If you could add or change something about Jersey City, what would that be?

Improve public schools and general infrastructure. I'm still pretty young and I didn't grow up in Jersey City, so I don't have much insight into what it's like to actually grow up here and my perspective is skewed a bit to sometimes find personality in the things that could be burdensome for people living different lives than me. 

Describe the perfect day for you in Jersey City.

It's a nice day, not too hot, I'd like the option to wear a light jacket. If I'm back in the habit of jogging, which I seem to pick up once or twice a year, go to Lincoln Park for a mid morning jog. At home, make a basic smoothie with fruits I got earlier in the week at Bergen Fruit and Vegetable, hang out a bit, answer emails and the like, pick up a sub from Our Hero's for lunch, head towards my studio at Mana Contemporary, work for the afternoon at Mana, head out for an early dinner, a dosa in India Square, make my way to the Loew's Theater for a monthly double screening and spend the next 3-4 hours watching two movies screened on 35mm in a 1920s historic theater run entirely by volunteers. I might have actually been able to convince someone from NYC to make the trip for the movies, but it isn't likely. After the double screening ends around 10:30, I can walk home and my friends from Brooklyn have to commute instead of me.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I recently started working with servo motors, I want to pursue that more. I don't have any specific projects to talk about.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

I would really like to work with Stones Throw Records in some capacity. I listened to anything they put out in high school. I've fallen off a bit since then, but I still get email newsletters from them and when I make the effort to listen to the music and watch the videos in those email newsletters, I consistently enjoy it.

What do you do to switch off?

I watch mediocre action movies on streaming services that I don't want to directly support, but do want to be able to see.

What does Home mean to you?

I moved around a decent amount growing up, so my sense of home is less tied to places and tends to be a mixture of routine and utilitarian objects that I've kept hold of to the point that they are a bit worn down, but clearly reflect that I've used them. A good example is a rapidograph pen I've had for years, there's both the routine of maintenance and familiarity of the object that has been worn down a bit from being carried in my pocket everyday.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Jersey City evoke a personal smell to you?

India Square has a strong smell of spices that you can pick up from a block out.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Mid morning, or mid afternoon. I like when places are open but not busy.

If you weren’t living in Jersey City and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

I would probably live in Atlanta. I went to college in Atlanta and have a lot of friends that live there. Atlanta is a unique city that is southern, but not how most people up this way think. Like, everybody there loves OutKast, but the music OutKast made wasn't country, yet it reflects the feeling of the south. Atlanta isn't aggressively celebratory, but definitely accepting, of non-performative idiosyncrasies in a way that no other place I know is. somewhere like NYC has people with idiosyncrasies, but it almost always feels performative when I encounter it. Maybe my perspective on that for NYC is skewed from mostly being around 20-somethings working in art and advertising.

jersey city by Matthias Brown

A selection of places in Jersey City - recommended by artist and animator Matthias Brown. See all of Matthias' favourite places here

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