Alumnus Belk has first solo exhibition in New York City
calendar icon02 Feb 2024 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--School of Art, Art History & Design alumnus Matt Belk (B.F.A. 2011) has his first solo exhibition in New York City. “Sunsets” is on display through Feb. 24 at The Hole in Tribeca.
Belk’s landscape paintings portray the natural world and are influenced by the sport of hunting. Using airbrush, tape and an X-acto knife, he layers plants, animals and other unexpected guests in his paintings.
“Until about a year and a half ago, I was only making figurative work,” Belk said. “Someone said make what you know. I started thinking about that. When I actually sat down with that question of what am I making and why am I doing it, I grew up hunting. But in the art world, you don’t really see too many conservative-side leaning viewpoints like hunting. For example, when you go and harvest an animal, that’s like a ritualistic thing for me. It’s always been this thing that’s very dear to my heart and makes me feel very grounded with the world. And so I was like, how do I show that in a way that isn’t oft-putting to any side of the political spectrum? I started showing the dogs, and they were hunting and holding a bird in their mouth, and I couldn’t believe the response right away. Sometimes with artists, you’re just throwing stuff out there, and then seeing what sticks. And then all of a sudden, the response you get, whether you think you need any notoriety or not, it feels good. And then you kind of follow that.”
He was surprised by the positive reactions he was getting.
“I never thought I would be a nature painter at all,” he said. “And now that’s all I paint. But I feel like I’m doing portraits—nature portraits. It’s like a fusion of fine art with wildlife art or something.”
Originally from Omaha, Belk’s mom was an artist and art teacher, which influenced him.
“I was amazed watching her draw growing up,” he said. “I remember looking at her drawing and thinking that it was a magic trick or something when I was younger. So I just knew pretty early on that I wanted to draw at least. But the thing is, it really didn’t hit me that this is what I wanted—that leap of faith that this is the only thing I want to do—until I was at Lincoln.”
Originally an undeclared major, Belk nearly failed out of the university before finding the School of Art, Art History & Design.
“I was failing out of all my classes, and it was either, all right, you do something here that you want to do, or you’re just going to quit college right now,” he said. “It was probably sophomore year, I was like I’m just going to join the art classes, and that was the first time I ever got A’s in my life.”
He found his home in the School of Art, Art History & Design.
“I love the art department there,” he said. “The professors there, Professor [Aaron] Holz and Santiago [Cal], I just have really fond memories of the professors in the institution there.”
His first drawing class hooked Belk on being an art major.
“I started taking the art classes, and I took a drawing class. The first drawing class I took, I was like, this is exactly what I want to do. The planets aligned. You see your future sometimes in little spurts of clarity in life, and that was one of them. I was in class when there wasn’t even class, you know, that kind of thing. It has become an obsession ever since.”
Professor of Art Aaron Holz said Belk is dedicated to his work.
“Matt is an incredible artist and person. He always came at creating his work in such surprising ways; always testing the boundaries. I remember when he asked if he could use the painting room to work over the summer and of course I said yes. But ultimately, we had to shut it down, because he was not only working there, he moved in and set up a living space for himself,” Holz said. “He has stayed in contact, and I have loved watching his development over the years. The Hole Gallery is an incredibly good fit for Matt, and his solo show there is huge for a young artist. The gallery pushes the way that work is exhibited and has strength in artists who’s technical manipulation of materials challenge conventions. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Professor of Art Santiago Cal also said Belk is an exceptional artist.
“As an undergraduate, he would make office hour appointments to just talk about art, life, and the future,” he said. “He was an incredibly hard-working student with the hunger to learn and an abundance of humor. Between his undergraduate degree and his current successes were years of hard work and perseverance. Matt is truly authentic, and it shows in his artwork. His paintings depict the seen to the unseen simultaneously. They are staged at a time of looming change, which creates an opportunity for the imagined to coexist with the known. I am so happy that Matt is getting the recognition he truly deserves. The Hole is one of the best contemporary galleries in New York City and Los Angeles.”
After graduation from Nebraska, Belk moved to the Pacific Northwest, living first with his father in the woods of Oregon.
“I lived in the woods for about two years, and then the money ran dry, and I had to move to Portland,” he said. “I got a kitchen job, and that supported the time. Money, for me, is time to make art.”
He met his wife and moved to Eugene, Oregon, after some time in Africa.
“In between moving from Portland to Eugene, my wife had two years in the Peace Corps in Africa, and I went to stay with her for a while over there,” he said. “That was just so cool, hanging out with the kids there and teaching them how to draw.”
They recently moved back to Omaha.
“My brother had children and my Dad is having health issues, and he moved back here,” he said. “We’re looking at property in South America in different locations, so we’re like, all right, before we make this big move to a different country, we’ll come hang out with the family for a year or two.”
Despite his recent success culminating in the solo exhibit in New York City, Belk said it’s on to the next project.
“How does it feel to have my first solo exhibition in New York City? If you were to ask me that question a year ago, I’d be like this is the craziest. This is what I’ve always dreamed, and now it’s happening. It feels really good. It definitely feels good,” he said. “But it’s like you think you have these goals set in your mind of what you want in life, and then when you reach some of those things, you think confetti is going to fall from the air, and it will be like a “You did it!” kind of thing. But, no, it almost becomes more complicated and now the goalposts move, and now where are we going, like get back to work. But it feels good. But the ability to take control of your destiny as an artist and where it’s going to go next, that is something I couldn’t even dream of before, to be honest."
Up next for Belk is a months-long residency in Sweden at the Carl Kostayal Gallery in Blidö.
“It seems right up my alley. I’ll be basically in the middle of nowhere in the dead winter of Sweden,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to dive deep into the work. I’m working on another show, so I’ll be working on eight paintings there.”
He likes both residencies and deadlines to help him stay on track to make art.
“You’re not going to progress as an artist, if you’re not working,” he said.
For more information on the exhibition, “Sunsets,” and to see more images from his work, visit https://go.unl.edu/mattbelk.