Art Notes: Upper Valley artist takes side step to painting

Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hangs one of his paintings at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. The painting – a rendition of Spanish painter Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X with inspiration from the style of Polish painter Olga Boznańska – is one of several Mazur will be exhibiting in a show that opens at the museum on Friday. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hangs one of his paintings at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. The painting – a rendition of Spanish painter Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X with inspiration from the style of Polish painter Olga Boznańska – is one of several Mazur will be exhibiting in a show that opens at the museum on Friday. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

Paintings by Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hang at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. In an effort to use up old paint he had around the house, Mazur challenged himself to paint a series with only blue, orange, black and white. “When I started working in those colors, I started thinking in those colors,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Paintings by Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hang at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. In an effort to use up old paint he had around the house, Mazur challenged himself to paint a series with only blue, orange, black and white. “When I started working in those colors, I started thinking in those colors,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hangs his paintings at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. Mazur has always incorporated art into his life, from playing in bands to producing his long-running zine, but recently he started painting as a way to tap into his creativity without any preexisting expectations. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Matt Mazur, of Wilder, Vt., hangs his paintings at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. Mazur has always incorporated art into his life, from playing in bands to producing his long-running zine, but recently he started painting as a way to tap into his creativity without any preexisting expectations. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Alex Driehaus

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 3:07 AM

As much as anyone in the Upper Valley, Matt Mazur has always seemed to me to lead a life of fluid creativity.

He knew he wanted to be an artist from an early age, and since 2001 he has played in multiple bands, produced “Oh You!” a long-running zine, and has turned out countless drawings.

But even people who make art seem effortless run into obstacles, and in 2018 and 2019, Mazur was stuck. He did what creative people do; he took a step to the side and kept moving. More specifically, he took up painting.

“I wanted to start painting, because I wanted something where it was a little more free-form,” Mazur, who grew up in Hanover and now lives in Wilder, said Tuesday afternoon at the Main Street Museum.

A show of his paintings opens there Friday evening with a reception starting at 6, part of what looks like a busy installment of the monthly First Friday art walk. David Fairbanks Ford will play songs on the museum’s rebuilt 1930 Aeolian Stroud player piano with a mic set up for people to sing along with, and there will be snacks and a bonfire.

“There was a lot of stuff going on in my life in 2019, 2018,” Mazur said.

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The extent to which what’s going on in someone’s life is my business I tend to decide on a case-by-case basis. Suffice it to say that Mazur was “locked” as an artist and turned to painting “to shake things up.”

He had a bin of acrylic paints, some of it quite old. Much of it was pumpkin orange and sky blue.

“I always like being limited in art,” Mazur said.

So he starting painting with those two colors and black and white and “kind of used up as many of those ideas as I could.”

From there he moved to oil painting, which he could do using less toxic materials.

His sister had given him some canvases, and he felt he should put them to use.

Mazur’s painting process is as pleasingly unpretentious as “Oh You!” which is full of warm, off-beat humor. In a charming undated interview with James Napoli in Junction Magazine, Mazur described his zine’s guiding spirit: “The main idea is that there’s no joke at anyone’s expense, if I can possibly help it.”

From what I’ve seen, his paintings are in that mold. Most are portraits. Some are done from memory, some are based on something he’s imagined. One is a kind of homage to a Velazquez portrait, but with beady black dots for eyes taken from another portrait Mazur likes.

Overall, the work turns the trick of being at once deeply serious, yet gracefully amusing.

The looseness of painting, particularly as compared to other visual art forms, worked its magic.

“It felt like I was moving forward all the time,” Mazur said. “I think it helped me sort of understand how I was stuck.”

He started making music again, too, he said.

Given the number of artists in the Upper Valley, it seems likely to me that creative breakthroughs like Mazur’s are happening all the time, in a variety of forms. Artists don’t often talk about it as plainly as Mazur has.

That tells me something about how Mazur functions as an artist. At 40, he has done an uncommon thing: He has made a life in art in which he feels comfortable.

For the past 15 years, he has worked at the Hanover Co-op, and the mix of a job he likes and making art with a circle of friends suits him.

“I think what I realized is that I kind of like working and creating. They kind of feed off one another,” he said.

“I’ve kind of gotten to where I wanted to be at that young age,” when he first decided he’d like to be an artist, he said.

I don’t think the Upper Valley could produce artists like Mazur without the Main Street Museum, which is far and away the most welcoming of the area’s art institutions.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mazur was preparing for the museum’s weekly movie night, in this case the ninth annual “Tom Hanks-giving,” which sounds self-explanatory to me. Friday’s events are free, and the museum never turns anyone away for lack of funds. If you’ve got funds, though, the museum will gratefully accept some or all of them.

More First Friday

In the same vein as Mazur’s work, the drawings of Denver Ferguson exude a sense of independence from the wider art world. I wrote about Ferguson’s work in February, before he and White River Junction’s Kishka Gallery took it to the Outsider Art Fair in New York. Kishka opens a month-long show of Ferguson’s drawings on Friday with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m.

Also opening Friday is a show of work by the artist-members of Two Rivers Printmaking Studio.

A reception is planned for 5 to 7 p.m.

Plan to walk around the village to see what’s going at JAM (Junction Arts and Media), Scavenger Gallery, Revolution Vintage, Long River Gallery, the Center for Cartoon Studies and other arts studios and galleries.

Holiday entertainments

Shaker Bridge Theatre opens a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” on Thursday evening in White River Junction’s Briggs Opera House.

The show recasts the classic film as a radio play, performed as a drama onstage, a movie within a radio play within a stage play. (Between the art events, and two theaters with plays in production, Friday night sounds like a potential parking apocalypse, or an argument for carpooling.)

For tickets, go to shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

With Lebanon Opera House closed, City Center Ballet has had to get creative to stage a holiday production in place of “Clara’s Dream,” a takeoff on “The Nutcracker.”

Instead, from noon to 4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, the Lebanon-based ballet company will present “Drosselmeyer’s Workshop,” an interactive holiday performance, in the Powerhouse Mall.

In addition to dance performances in front of the mall’s Christmas tree, the events will include a chance to take a photo with the Sugarplum Fairy, a Nutcracker scavenger hunt, craft kits and seasonal raffle baskets.

Non-holiday entertainment

Bethel musician Spencer Lewis performs Saturday night at the Seven Stars Center in Sharon. I know, I know, “Bethel musician” is an inadequate descriptor for Lewis, who has turned out more than 20 albums of inventive folk music. For tickets ($20 in advance or $25 at the door) go to sevenstarsarts.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.