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Q&A: Matt Grimmer talks art, dropping out and returning to college


Bay City "super-sophomore" Matt Grimmer poses Sept. 16 with one of his drawings in the Bovee University Center.

When asked about his class standing, Bay City student Matt Grimmer smiles timidly before calling himself a "super-sophomore."

As a freshman, Grimmer completed his first semester at Central Michigan University with a 0.49 GPA. Grimmer subsequently dropped out and returned four times before withdrawing and deciding he was finished with college. He spent the next three years between Texas and Michigan, working various low-paying jobs, touring with punk rock bands and mastering his craft under Michael Pritchett in Salado, Texas.

Grimmer returned to CMU last spring for a degree in studio art, feeling more prepared for school and the "real world." Grimmer now wants to focus and commit to his art, but still keep an "open eye, open heart and stay true to [himself]."

Central Michigan Life sat down with Grimmer on Sept. 16 to discuss purpose, art and school.

What would you say you learned from leaving school?

When I was in school, I felt like my life was structured so that I would go here, leave college, get a job and find my own place. My three years showed me that you can fail and mess up, and that life is still awesome, fun and excellent. 

Mentally, I don’t think anything can tear my life apart as much. Any bumps in the road just feel like extra experience. It’s nice when things go wrong because it’s a challenge and it’ll help you deal with it better in the future.

Is there anything you would change if you could?

I would have focused on relationships with my friends more. 

During my phase, I got really selfish and everything became all about me. 'As long as I keep worrying about myself, everything will go okay.' That’s not really how it goes. With art showcases and bands, when things weren’t going my way, I decided to leave. That’s true with college too. When I freaked out and didn’t know what to do, between fight and flight, it was always flight. 'School isn’t going well, I need to get out.' When the band wasn’t working out, I would ditch. That’s true with Texas too – Michigan wasn’t working out, so it was time to run.

How did your hiatus affect your art?

While I was making art, it was centered around this aesthetic of crazy shows and a hectic/chaotic environment. The weirdest thing wasn’t how the punk thing affected my art but how leaving it affected my art. I was used to drawing things that were more cartoonish, and I felt like I was really finding my style. After leaving, I’m doing more oil paintings and it feels like I’m starting over. In that phase, everything felt really natural and I was having fun. I think that’s the main thing, I just had fun, threw things together and didn’t care what people thought. Now that I’m out of it, I think more about my audience.

It’s really tough, sometimes I feel like I’m betraying myself. Am I happy with the change? It’s like growing up. I’m happy that I can try new things, but it’s tough because it’s uncharted territory, so I’m trying to bring in aspects from my old life. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked who I was in my punk scene, but it was a scene.

Why did you return to school?

I was working at a barbecue place in Texas and I had saved up $1,500. My car broke down, and I thought, 'Well I can invest $1,500 in a new car and keep working my minimum wage job or quit the job, scrap the car, take the $1,500 and take a train back to Michigan.' Between the two options, you can see which one I picked. 

It seemed like the perfect time. I realized I was stuck at this job, not making a lot of cash and life gave me a little nudge. It was comforting having more direction after spending years taking whatever opportunities came about. It feels good waking up knowing what you’re going to do instead of having to make a game plan. School’s given me time to think instead of always act.

There was a point where I realized I can’t keep running away from things my whole life. I’ve done it so many times and it doesn’t work out. I’m not trying to run away from problems anymore; I've got to solve them like an adult. I wish I could tell my younger self that sticking through things that are tough and seem somewhat impossible is totally worth it.

Has anyone ever told you that you look like Vincent Van Gogh?

That's a huge compliment to me! That’s why I’m not really worried about my career, because [Van Gogh] made 800 pieces and only sold one to his brother’s wife. If I don’t have a lot of money or a place to stay, I think, 'Matt, you’re a failure.' But then I remember that this is just how life is sometimes. Even if things seem rough, as long as I’m working on art and trying my best to represent something, it feels like I’m winning. 

I have this admiration for people who are crazy, unstable. Michael Pritchett, people call him the Van Gogh of Salado, would go on his balcony and yell obscenities at people. Together, we would drink and scream and shout and argue and fight and it was crazy and emotional.

It felt like the tortured artist thing. We talked about how you pour your heart and soul into a blank piece of paper, and you make pretty much a work of art out of absolutely nothing. The process is beautiful, but sometimes un-admired and people don’t understand. I’m definitely attracted to people who see the suffering in their works of art. When I think of artists, I think of someone who took big sacrifices and hated themselves for what they were doing but still went through with it, so Van Gogh is a huge inspiration. I can totally imagine him holing himself up in his room and getting angry and not understanding himself. The thing with the ear - I really get that.