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Surreal Life: Willmar artist draws inspiration from sub consciousness

Matt Braun pulls much of the inspiration for his paintings from dreams. He says the images trickle through his mind like a silent movie, and he likes the way those films required viewers to fill in the blanks with little more than muted gesture and mime as a reference. DAN BURDETT | TRIBUNE 1 / 2
Matt Braun talks about his artistic process during a recent interview at his Willmar studio. DAN BURDETT | TRIBUNE2 / 2

At the end of a sparse and dimly lit hallway two floors above The Barn Theatre in downtown Willmar is a triad of once-bustling offices that now houses the art studio of Matt Braun.

The space is tidy and minimalistic, drenched in subdued tones.

Dozens of vinyls are neatly arranged in a whitewash sitting area and feature do-wop classics, belters from the Roaring Twenties and the psychedelia of the late-1960s. Beyond a thin wall, an oversize easel shoulders a large canvas dominated by the likeness of the flapper-fashioned mannequins grouped mere feet away, the governing feature of a hand-crafted set piece seemingly pulled from the umber pages of a pulp noir.

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Braun has been painting since before the sun rose. Most days he’s in the studio until mid-afternoon, sandwiching those hours between 12-hour shifts Friday through Sunday as a CNC operator at a firm in Benson.

In many ways, the studio is home: a refuge where his sub consciousness comes to life, a place to lose himself.

Since the days of his youth, when he would view his father’s artistic creations, Braun has thought of the world as a canvas.

Much of the imagery within his art comes from dreams, for which he seems to have a remarkable penchant for recollection.

As he explains it, the images trickle through his mind like a silent movie. He is roused by the surrealism of that time, the way the films often required the viewer to fill in the blanks with little more than muted gesture and mime as a reference.

He also draws from the early 20th century comic strip “Little Nemo in Wonderland.” At the center of the stories, created by Winsor McKay, was a young boy named Nemo who dreamed himself into wondrous predicaments from which he awoke in the comic’s final panel. The comics would often touch on the psychology of dreams and commonplace fears the likes of falling.

Similar themes underscore Braun’s art, each piece designed as an adventure, a nonlinear journey through a warren or labyrinth of perception.

“Memory-related feelings of identity recognition which interest me aren’t things I can paint. They’re entirely subjective,” Braun said. “My solution is to equate the recognizable stylistic features in actual objects and places with the feeling of identity recognition which substitutes for those objects in memories and dreams. So, in effect, I’m creating a dream world, not made up of memories but made of stylized physical objects. It’s a completely artificial world in which stylizations unify the disparate elements, almost like they’re mythic deities.”

His latest piece will be showcased this weekend during the annual Studio Hop. It was birthed after reflecting on the architecture of the Peterson Shoe Store downtown, particularly the upstairs space, home to Braun’s previous studio.

A multi-canvas piece, the work features the mannequin dais and is designed as a panorama.

“There will be a small stage-like setup with a curtain,” Braun said. “You will move through the curtain and see the panorama obstructed by a railing with three mannequins mounted to it, each in front of a separate canvas. They will have hollow heads, but will have masks which look identical to the mannequin masks in the picture. You’ll look through a mask, and as you swivel the mask, you will pan across the picture. The mannequins in the picture will be the same as the ones at the viewing area.”

Braun has never sold a piece, his art merely a creative release afforded by a “well-paying job” and time. He spent a number of years living on the East and West Coasts after graduating from Laguna College of Art and Design, a small, private institution, located in Laguna Beach, California, but was drawn back to Willmar, the city of his youth, because “I realized everything I care about and what inspires me is here.”

He’s been intrigued at times by the idea of gallery exhibits but has yet to determine how he wants to engage the market.

For more information on Braun's work, call 320-298-5194. A full list of artists' studios for this year's Studio Hop can be viewed here.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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