HIGHArt is Highsnobiety's ode to all things artistic. From our “museum store” pop up in Miami, a print magazine, and exclusive content and product with collaborators like Chito, Honey Dijon, Parra, Matt McCormick and more, we’re going deep on the art world. Explore HIGHArt here.

California has a psychic effect on the mind. “You've got the Hollywood glitz and glam, you've got the rugged outdoors, you've got the Western,” describes the artist Matt McCormick from Los Angeles. “But if you go 40 minutes from here, you're going to be in Bakersfield and it feels like you're in Texas.”

McCormick often paints images of cowboys, New Mexican landscapes, and wild horses, making suggestions of privacy that perhaps no longer exists in the contemporary condition of universal surveillance, or a vast expanse for discovery that also exists nowhere except on the blockchain. In other words, solitude and privacy are states rapidly vanishing, yet they remain core to the illusions and fantasies America likes to tell about itself.

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This vanishing feeling is core to what makes McCormick’s painting so seductive. They feel like requesting one last song on the jukebox right before the bartender announces last call. There’s a kind of romance to it that feels indulgent, nostalgic, and cunningly romantic. His work draws from American painters dedicated to documenting and exploring the iconic landscapes that makeup America, such as Edward Hopper’s empty streetscapes with the long drawl of sunlight, or Wayne Thiebaud's cakes with gooped up paint as appetizing as frosting. They also reference the cowboys of Madison Ave advertising who appear in Richard Prince’s appropriation art as well as the saccharine Saturday Evening Post covers painted by Norman Rockwell.

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As a kid, he was exposed to art and illustration. “My earliest memories are crawling around my dad and mom's studio they shared together in San Francisco,” he says. His father was a painter, and his mother was a photographer, and they worked professionally painting large-scale backdrops for films, and commercials. He also grew up exposed to the southwest’s multicultural influences. “I grew up obsessed with Chicano, lowrider culture,” he says.

In school, McCormick had the identity of being the art kid. In grade school, he would pen drawings all up and down his arms, which he dates to his early interest in tattoo-artist, which he started in his early twenties in New York. He would work during the day inking tattoos, and on his time off, he would teach himself painting.

Much of his experience in art has happened outside of the major institutions. For instance, he didn’t go to art school. He’s never had gallery representation. He thought at the time, “Well, I'm not going to sit here and wait for someone to invite me to do this thing. If I want to do it, I'm going to do it." While both his parents had gallery representation, he has a memory of when his father showed new work that he was passionate about to his gallerist, who instead tried to pressure him to make work like his earlier paintings for which he was more well-known. “I never liked that this person that wasn't making the work was trying to tell him what he should make, especially after seeing how excited he was about the new direction that he had gone,” McCormick says.

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Matt McCormick
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Matt McCormick

Today, McCormick makes most of his sales direct-to-consumer. While a blue chip gallery would take a 50% cut of sales, McCormick sees all of the profits. Buyers usually find him on his website and send him an email, or even a DM on Instagram. People will book an appointment for a studio visit, after discovering his work online.

Which is to say that McCormick is savvy with social media. His first big exposure came when Tyler the Creator shared some of his work on Instagram. At the time, McCormick was working as a tour manager for Odd Future, a group that included Tyler and Frank Ocean. “Combative is not the right word, but he was an intense kid,” he says of Tyler.

On the road, Tyler often encouraged him to make work. “Any of his friends that he sees trying to do creative things, he's really supportive and he was just like, ‘You need to be doing this. You need to be doing your art,’” says McCormick. On tour, he would bring his art supplies, and in-between shows, Tyler would give him certain prompts on-the-spot, like “Draw a horse with a mustache.” McCormick would, and then Tyler would take a quick photo of it and post it on his Instagram.

Though life on the road took its toll. At one point, McCormick got addicted to heroin, and Tyler essentially fired him, saying that if he wanted to continue working he had to get clean. So McCormick left the road to get sober, bouncing around couches in Los Angeles. “I was homeless and it just seemed like the whole world was crashing down around me,” he says.

One of the ways he pulled himself through early sobriety was through art. “I just started drawing and painting every day. I had a rule of doing about three drawings a day.” You can see the heavy influence of drawing his work today. Partly inspired by Raymond Pettibon, McCormick often combines expressionist painting, illustration, and comic-style drawings.

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Matt McCormick
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Matt McCormick

Once McCormick was back on his feet, Tyler invited him back to work as a tour manager with a full-time salary. Yet this was exactly the time when McCormick’s art was about to take off. He says, “I remember going to an artist friend of mine and asking him what I should do. And at first he didn't really give me an answer. And I was like, ‘Come on, man. What do I do?’ And then eventually he said, ‘You should go with the art thing. I think that's what you want to do.’ And I did. And it's the best decision I think I ever made.”

Today, McCormick approaches art almost like running his own label, with different formats like clothes and sculpture, at different price points. “I'll make paintings that might cost a certain thing, but I'll make clothing that is more affordable or prints or other different entry points for someone if they like my work. There's something for everyone.”

Each of his works bears a stylistic trait, an essential Matt McCormick quality, that translates throughout his oeuvre. It’s rich in the history of American art, from Pop Art to the Pictures Generation, but it’s also inviting to people like who he was when he first moved to NYC. He says, “My main goal is to make work that someone who knows the history of art can enjoy, as well as someone who doesn't know that and just wants to look at art for the first time—that to me is the dream.”

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