Inside the Studio with Matjames Metson

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A golden wasp detail awaiting assemblage onto a larger work in Matjames Metson’s L.A. studio.

As he prepares for an exhibition at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) in February 2013 and another at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in 2014, CARTWHEEL featured artist Matjames Metson is at work in his Silver Lake treetop studio that doubles as the most fascinating treasure box this side of the Mississippi. This weekend his artwork is featured in the alumni showcase Art/Work at The Loft at Liz’s, opening Jan. 19, 2013.

Trinkets, artworks and hardware around Metson’s assemblage art studio whether harsh or delicate, have thing in common: They’re old; in most cases, antiques. A beat-up chair has a scrawl in black and yellow that switches my inner soundtrack to punk rock upon stepping inside the studio. In contrast, there are delicate details everywhere. On a worktable are small, precise cut-outs from a vintage hardback. Resting against a toolbox is a hand painted, hand carved, incredible golden wasp.

How many of the materials in your studio are old, and how many are new?

The only thing new is long strike matches, glue, and paint. Everything’s old, mostly from before 1930. One of the main supplies is the past. Everything has an assumed history. Old glasses, watch straps, keys, thread, nails, measuring tapes, pocketknives, old maps, old letters. Old printed ephemera, basically.

What does that mean, an assumed history?

A lot of the people in these photographs are people who got their picture taken once in their life — they’re American people. I found a cut-up telegram recently that’s a lady getting news of her husband’s death. This was at an estate sale where everything had been pretty much bought, and this was one of the things that had just been passed over. I unearthed it under a pile. And it’s probably the most important, significant piece of ephemera in the whole house.

It’s not found objects, it’s telling a story from an object that’s found. If you saw Translator the documentary, I say, ‘If a house can be haunted, why can’t a pencil?’ And why not, there’s so much residue. What did that pencil write? Who lived in their house? What was the reaction to that Western Union telegram? I got a bunch of letters from soldiers on the Italian front in World War II. Each letter says, ‘Not much new is going on around here. I’d tell you more but there’s censors.’ It says that in each one. So what really happened on that side of the letter is lost in history. But the fact that the guy’s in war and he can’t say anything about it, that’s on that piece of paper forever. It’s this resonance. And it’s my job to put that somewhere, because it doesn’t have a place. It’s like that with all the material, it all has a resonance like grooves on a record.

Where do you collect and find objects and materials?

I don’t consider the material I collect and use in my work ‘found objects.’ I have to go out and look for it in really creepy places…

There’s always an aura in every place. It’s not anything you can put your finger on. It’s a haunting.

How do you know that you’ve found something worth using? Like, how did you know that when you found the jeweler’s vice that’s on top of Her Tears, that it was a jeweler’s vice?

That’s another side effect of this, is you end up knowing all kinds of strange things. Well, I have a background in antiques already, and architectural hardware and architectural elements.

Can you explain the different technique you use for works such as Inventor in Series?

It’s the chaos formula. I use the debris and leftovers from making the more structured, organized pieces. Inventor in Series is a combination of both. It’s exploratory, but I pulled it back into being mine. There’s a singularity in what I do, but I like exploring as much as possible inside it. Another example of that is the figures at the top, such as the wasp I carved and built — it’s exploring craftsmanship. Even the different levels: some pieces go all the way back to the wall, and some things are way up front. So it’s experimenting in depth. People are so used to looking at a flat thing, so maybe I’m making it difficult for people to look at stuff.

What or where does the wasp come from?

The wasps come from things I drew. Those are remnants from graphic novels I did for a long time before I made this kind of work. There’s a lot of symbolism that I brought over from the stuff I did 20 years ago. As far as this is from illustration, my illustrations are kind of like this.

How do you title your pieces?

The titles change depending on the ephemera that’s used. Sometimes it’s just a number. Or I’ll take words that I see, that appear. Because it’s sort of a cut-up of what happens. It’s a literary cut-up.



“If a house can be haunted, why can’t a pencil?”


The 2-3 foot structures of these artworks are built completely from scratch, principally out of long strike matches. L to R: Inventor in Series, Eclipse Studio, Her Tears, Prudential Realty, Jones, Golden Wasp Company, Her Mother.


Metson uses 90 percent antique glass. All glass in this tower is from 1910.

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On Her Tears, second from left, are a jeweler’s vice and Victorian era photography. (Read more about Her Tears here).




In making “minis” Metson challenged himself to make 50 things that are different but the same.

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Metson spent the better part of two decades living in New Orleans. He now calls Los Angeles home.


Inventor in Series combines two of Metson’s techniques. (Read more about Inventor in Series here).

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Golden Wasp Company (middle) is topped by a wooden carving of a wasp. (Read more about Golden Wasp Company here).

The Loft at Liz’s
Art/Work opening reception Jan. 19, 2013
453 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90036
(323) 939-4403

More about Matjames Metson:

Shop online: Matjames Metson is a CARTWHEEL featured artist and select works are available for browsing, inquiries, and purchases!

Coming up: Read about Metson’s participation in the 2014 Fowler Museum exhibition.

See Metson’s Three Wasps Chair that was sold at Miami Project Art Fair, Dec. 2012.

Read about how Metson met Hudson Marquez in Marquez’ CARTWHEEL Interview, Dec. 2012.

Read CARTWHEEL’s recap: “Method Attic” at Coagula Curatorial, July 2012.

If you’re interested in staying up-to-date about Matjames Metson shows, events, and artworks, send us an e-mail at with the subject line: More Matjames Info Please!

1 Comment

  1. bryan chagolla
    January 16, 2013

    Great interview…

    Matjames will also have some new work at Altered Space Gallery, on Abbot Kinney, in a group show called “CON-Dense” which also opens this Saturday January 19.


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