Creators, Makers, and Doers: Matt Grover
Posted on 9/8/16 by Arts & History
Matt Grover sculpts high quality materials into functional and aesthetic forms. Using a blend of metals and woods and inspired by the natural world, Matt’s work ranges from residential and business furnishings to architecturally integrated public art. This niche fulfills Matt for now, but he looks forward to the possibility of expanding his reach and scope into new regions and markets.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do? How do you describe the work that you do?
So, I think I’m kind of a cross between a fabricator, designer, artist, and furniture-maker. So, all in the same kind of vein but different genres. One craft, like furniture-making, makes my artistry technically better and the artistry makes my furniture-making technically, or artistically, better. I think they lend themselves well to each other and it keeps everything interesting. Also, the skills of having to deal with a customer when you’re making a custom piece of furniture really transfers over well to designing a piece of public art, because you’re designing to a specification rather than a free-form design. So, it was good to have that background. It’s helped a lot.
Do you prefer furniture-making, over public art or sculpture?
At times, I do, because once I have a design for a piece of furniture, it’s just start-to-finish, going from point A to point B and then point C and I’m done and it’s delivered. Assuming I met all the criteria, everybody’s pretty happy and it’s really easy. Then again, it can be just really technical and that’s when I feel like I like art better. But it just really depends on the project. I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. It’s just nice to have a change of pace back and forth. As far as artistry, it’s really liberating as far as what you can do. But then there is, as far as public art, a lot of technical aspects that can be almost frustrating at times and you just have to work your way through them. So, it all balances out in the long run.
How did you get your start in furniture?
As a kid, I actually did wood sculpture and different types of sculpture and was around artists growing up. So, I can say I started as a pretty young kid doing sculpture, but then got into sports, competitive cycling, and skiing for years and years, and went away from the art because I just didn’t have the time or wasn’t in an area where I really had a studio or a shop. After years of being in the bike industry, I just decided I’ve got to get my hands dirty again and went back to it. I went to BSU and learned how to weld through their welding and metal-fab program. They had some really excellent teachers. And I had a basic foundation of that, but I really feel like I learned how to weld properly and how to really metal-form and work with metal enough to at least work with fabricators or do a good amount of it myself. The woodworking—that was mostly self-taught and (I) learned through watching people while I was growing up. Both of my grandfathers did woodwork on the side as hobbies, so I got to inherit a bunch of their tools. I guess it was in my blood as far as that goes. It’s something I’ve done for a really long time, and I think I developed the skills over the years. As far as artistry, I didn’t go to school for any design or art at all. That was mostly self-taught.
Can you talk about the materials that you are drawn to and that you enjoy working with?
I definitely like wood and metal pretty equally. As far as metal, I really like stainless steel. I think it’s just such a clean metal and you can do a lot with it, but it is not a super-easy metal to work with. As far as wood, I like all different types of wood for furniture and for art. But, I like mixing the two, so, a lot of my pieces will have wood and metal in them as well as furniture and art.
What is it that you like about that combination? Can you describe the aesthetic that you’re going for?
I think it has a certain aesthetic when you do mix the two materials. I’ve always liked the look of metal with wood. Or vice versa. I think it allows you to do some type of designs that you couldn’t do just with all wood or just with all metal. Usually the metal in the pieces that I do, tend to be pretty geometric and really clean and simple, and then with the wood I’ll put a piece that is pretty free-flowing and have more curves and more of a 3D aspect to them. It’s kind of fun to mix the two and have a good contrast as well as a good combination of those two. It really seems to work well with the type of designs that I do.
Where do you find ideas for the work that you make?
Most of the things that I design, as far as artwork, they are really inspired by nature. I like to look at water for a lot of the art that I’ve done in the past and for a lot of the sculptures. I’ve done kinetic sculptures that mimic water flow and also I’m working on a fountain for the Watershed that is a graph of snow-water equivalent in our snowpack that feeds the Boise River. So, that was really inspired by water in and of itself. And most of the other pieces, I’ve kind of been drawn to that or just forms in nature—trees, leaves, mostly plants rather than animals, though. As far as furniture, I tend to go with a fairly clean design that really showcases the materials themselves, like the wood or the metal, rather than trying to have a form that overshadows the materials. I try to keep things really clean and simple, but nature-derived.
What is your focus when working on furniture?
I make all types of furniture. I’ve done chairs, tables, desks. Right now, I’m making a custom bike rack for somebody, for their home, to showcase their really nice road and mountain bikes. I also just built a dining room table for them as well. But, for the furniture, it tends to be what customers are wanting, so it can be anything and everything. I do a lot of tables actually. Dining room tables seem to be what I’ve been doing lately. I guess it’s just what people want. But I like doing bigger pieces like that, too. It’s a challenge. It’s a technical challenge to get raw, rough-cut wood into a really flat, straight table. It looks like it’s really easy when you’re done, but it’s actually really challenging to get something all put together that will last, you know, a couple of generations. People tend to want to buy something like that and keep it in their family for a long time, so it’s kind of fun to work with a customer and get something that they’re going to have for a really long time. It seems like I’ve done mostly tables this last couple of years and a few chairs. Most years, I’ve done chairs for the Chair Affair competition here in town and have done pretty well with that. For that one, I just go wild with the design and come up with something fun and creative and just see what I can do. I’ve also done one restaurant, State and Lemp, here in town; I did all their chairs and tables for that, which was a fun project to get to do.
So, between art and furniture, you’re able to stay busy full-time?
Yeah, it’s worked out well. The last almost five years I’ve just done it full-time. It’s a good town for word-of-mouth referrals, and I don’t really advertise. It just seems like I’ve stayed busy enough to not have time to do that. I guess that’s a good thing. I just recently—in the last year or so—I’ve got(ten) into doing some public art pieces and that has kept me real busy, since those are almost more of a project management type of deal rather than just concentrating on fabricating the piece.
Are there any resources that are lacking for your business to be more successful? Or your practice in general?
You know, I think that Boise has a ton of resources as far as availability of materials. You can get anything shipped here pretty easily. There’s a couple of good metal distributors here in town, between Pacific Steel and Gem State Metals. You can get just about anything. There’s more and more places that are doing waterjet cutting and C&C machining and some great little machine shops. It takes searching them out, but it’s the easiest place I’ve ever lived to find those things and to actually get work done in a timely manner. So, between that and having other fabricators to work with, I think there’s such a wealth of resources here that I don’t understand why there aren’t more artists.
But, on the same terms, the market here is really small. It’s great to have all those resources but if they get too saturated then there just won’t be enough work, as far as furniture and art. It’s one of those things, I’ve gotten to the point where I know I may have to start looking outside of town for public art projects. It’s great that we have tons of development and construction going on in town, which usually means public art to go along, but I think if I want to continue to do that I’ll have to look outside of town a little bit more. It’s something that’s exciting, to try to get a job outside of town and work with another city on a piece. I’ve yet to do that, though. I’m basically trying to develop a portfolio of public art to do that and use that as a stepping stone. As far as furniture, it’s a small market. It’s a really small market. So, I think you just have to keep your quality extremely high to keep getting work here, and that’s what really speaks for itself. People have come and gone here in town, and I think the only thing that was lacking to have kept them in business was quality. You have to have really high standards and keep to them in every project you do, no matter how small.
Finally, do you have any words of advice?
Boy, all I can say is, if you really do want to become serious at pursuing something, make sure that you keep quality as absolutely high as you can with anything you do. It’s always a fine balance if you’re running a business to keep the costs of something down and look at how much time you’re going to put into a project. As an artist it’s really tough to keep and value your own time, but you need to do that. So, really getting a good grasp on running a business, as well as keeping your quality and integrity up, is really important. Always strive for the highest quality you can and I think that will take you further than anything else.
Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.