Astoria Characters: The Color-Blind Artist

Consider yourself forewarned: The art studio is small, and Matt Albano’s personality is prodigious.

Things may get a little cramped in here.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt Albano, aka Oddball Matt.

When he opens the grey metal door, it’s like the scene from The Wizard of Oz where things morph magically from black and white to Technicolor.

Paintings paper the walls in cascades of color, their hues accented by works stacked around the space like sardines.

“Don’t worry,” Matt says as he runs his fingers through his grizzled bird’s-nest beard. “All the paint is dry. You can set your stuff anywhere.”

There are Pollack-like plops of paint everywhere; they even carpet the floor.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt’s motto.

“Would you like to sit?”

He points to a paint-splattered table and chairs set that folds up all in one piece, the kind of contraption you’d take to the park for a picnic.

Matt’s exuberant artworks, big, bold and bright, look like they’re bouncing off the walls.

So does he.

Let’s get the excess paintings and preliminaries out of the way so we can concentrate on the matter at hand.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
What’s on the wall.

You can call him Matt.

Or Oddball Matt, which is what he uses for his social media accounts.

If you’ve been following his career, you may not recognize him. He’s changing his image.

It’s not surprising that he is as flamboyant as his paintings.

He stopped shaving his bald head and is letting the sides of his hair grow as long as they like. They are more than obliging.

“People are afraid of this,” he says as he tugs on one of his locks, making it stand straight out like a cartoon character who has stuck his finger in a light socket.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
What’s on the floor.

His eyes – and most of his face – are magnified by goggle-style glasses that make him look like a guppy peering out of a fish bowl.

It’s unclear whether he needs them to see or whether they’re for effect only.

There is the sense that he’s testing himself to see how far he’ll go with this new eccentric look, which is probably a good thing for an  artist who wants to stand out.

For Matt, painting is an athletic and aerobic event as well as an emotional pursuit.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt with his painting pal.

He’s one of these guys, you see, who can’t sit still.

He throws paint like karate chops, he jumps from the floor to a wooden crate, thrusting his brushes into new territory.

“I like to work on more than one canvas at a time,” he says, waving a huge brush, the kind the guy at the car wash uses to get off the grime, in the air like a sword.

His first works were on canvas, but now he’s producing pictures on seamless photo backdrop paper and creating reverse-glass images.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The studio is filled with artworks.

He’s using Latex house paint, which may not be a good idea if he’s aiming for longevity.

“I should mention that I use bright colors because I’m color-blind,” he says, almost as an afterthought. “I can see bright colors, and they excite me.”

He picks up one of his favorite brushes, which is the size of a mop head, and cradles it in his lap.

He feels more comfortable, he explains, when he holds it.

Once Matt gets the idea for a painting, he doesn’t like to stop the in-the-moment flow, even if that means not taking a break for hours.

Sometimes when he works late into the night, he turns on music and dances with the dressmaker’s dummy he’s turned into a revolving sculpture.

Although Matt’s always been an artist at heart, he’s never been able to make it a full-time career.

Growing up in a conventional household in Westchester County’s Greenburgh, Matt was, he happily admits, an oddball.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt’s ‘American Gothic’ pose.

“I was always a bit of a delinquent,” he says. “I was the kid who drew on the desks and who wasn’t good at math. I only felt like myself in art class.”

He begged his parents to send him to art school, but they encouraged him to enter the family’s plumbing business instead.

Matt did take some art courses at a community college.

“I hated what I learned,” he says. “At heart, I’m much more of an Expressionist. Anybody can learn technique and master it.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Detail of a reverse-glass painting.

Matt, who is 37, stifled his artistic aspirations until he was 30.

“I worked with my dad, and I was supposed to take over the company, but I couldn’t do it,” he says. “I used to be late to work because I was so unhappy there, and my dad fired me several times.”

While he was fixing pipes, he had been doing video and graphic design work on the side, and when he started making money from YouTube videos, he moved to New York City, where he got a job at a warehouse that rented camera equipment to movie and TV shows.

These days, he’s a freelance second assistant on film crews.

“I’m the guy who claps the slate board,” he says, adding that there’s a lot more to the job than that, but you get the idea.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt is obsessed with painting.

Matt doesn’t know what drives him to paint, but it is a powerful, uncontrollable force.

“If I make a line, I never go back over it. I never like to second-guess myself,” he says. “It causes too much anxiety for me to rework the paintings.”

His works have deep personal meaning.

“I funnel the story of my life in these paintings by the use of hieroglyphs,” he says, pointing to a painting depicting rows of prescription bottles, a reference to the meds he took as a kid for attention deficit disorder. “I use them to present my personal experiences in a grand and bright way.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Matt works with big brushes and rollers.

Matt likens his paintings, which he calls Neo-Expressionist and Neo-Rococo in style, to city light poles plastered with fliers and graffiti.

“There’s no cohesive story to my work,” he says. “Some stuff is secret, and some things are like a key in a drawer for me.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Victory dance.

Matt is not sure where the next brush stroke will take him.

He’s not overly concerned because his best work is produced spontaneously.

“I’ve done better not steering my life in any direction,” he says. “I let things happen naturally. And if I see something strange, I pursue it.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Still life of the artist.

In addition to painting, Matt likes to write and sketch.

Last year, he wrote the lyrics for a Christmas single he produced.

“I was inspired by a white dove I saw on Christmas Eve,” he says.

And he’s always open to trying new things. Recently, he began taking ballet lessons.

They come in handy for those light-night dances with the dressmaker’s dummy.

 Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling