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In the Studio With Matt Raghunauth (Quarantine Edition)

Painting has always been a creative outlet for artist/UX designer Matthew Raghunauth, but it wasn’t until after graduating college that his art practice took off and found a permanent place on his daily calendar. In light of COVID-19, photographer Chloe Cusimano hung out with Raghunauth at his home-studio via Messenger to talk about his art practice, finding a work-life balance, and how he plans to help others during this pandemic.  By using this image capture method, Cusimano aims to highlight how, as a freelance photographer,  she is adapting new mediums in this time of isolation (without putting it in words.)

Can you describe where we are right now?

We’re in my studio apartment right now. I moved here just a couple of months ago. I used to have a separate studio space, but since moving I’ve had to condense that down. So I’m in a little corner of my apartment behind my couch that I call my studio.  

You work in tech.

Yeah, I’m a UX designer at a health tech company. We primarily build and provide the online learning platforms for nurses who are doing continuing education online. If nurses are transitioning from nursing school into hospitals there are certain courses they must complete to transition into their practice. A lot of time nurses need to renew their licenses and certain certificates. 

How did you get into painting?

I’ve always been artistic and loved drawing and painting since I was little, but I never learned about color theory or anything like that in school. Any formal techniques I’ve picked up over the years began via watercolor classes my parents signed me up for over summer vacations. They have always been very supportive of this aspect of my life which I’m so thankful for. Then jumping forward to college, I always made sure I saved room for elective drawing or painting classes each term. But mostly I am self-taught. 

Where do you draw your inspiration?

Process: I had a design professor in college, his name is Christopher Davison, he was really inspiring to me. His personal practice is more process-based rather than being focused on the final outcome. Learning from him really expanded how I thought about my artistic process. Now I really enjoy painting without caring what they will look like at the end and focus more on the decisions I’ll make while in the process of painting that will lead me to new outcomes better than what I could have originally planned. I think it’s always good to be open to change because it will only elevate your work.

Style: I draw a lot of inspiration from things I see in everyday life. So I’ll use color palettes I see in interior design or shapes in architecture that I like. My ultimate favorite artist is Matisse. I love his loose and painterly strokes and bright colors. My work doesn’t necessarily look so much like that, but I will definitely pull out color swatches from his work to try to replicate for my own paintings. His work is really vibrant and loud and I love to see that in my work too.

Subject: Most of my paintings are of people. I paint people I care about and love. A lot of my work is of family members and friends. I haven’t painted my cat Sal yet, but everyone tells me I should. I love looking through old family photographs, so I’ll paint scenes from those often. The paintings of my friends are often scenes from memories I hold of them. Sometimes I’ll change aspects about them to show how I picture them in my head over time rather than just focusing on one memory. Each painting is like a little moodboard of them with them in it.

Last summer after a breakup, I did a lot of self-reflecting which led me to painting three large self-portraits. I was never confident painting myself and it wasn’t a typical thing for me to do, but painting the triptych really helped me learn a lot about myself in a time when I realized I had lost my ability to define who I was outside of that relationship. So in the case of those self-portraits, I was motivated by my emotions which proved to be really cathartic for me.

How do you make time for tech and painting?

I follow my google calendar as much as I can. I read a lot of productivity blogs and articles and have learned that the best way to keep up with something is by measuring it and having that measurement automated. I’ll send you a picture of what people think is a psychotic google calendar. . . But yeah I rely on it so much, I block off time to eat, go to the gym, clean, paint, spend time with people, everything.

Wowwwww. . . The color coding is incredible!? I’m sure having this calendar really helps to stay busy and manage anxiety, especially right now while working isolated for an extended time.

This calendar has saved me! I know myself and I know my attention span, so I’ll adjust it if I need to, but if I’m home and see myself dilly-dallying for too long I’ll look at the calendar and be like ughhhh okay.

Has working in a self-quarantine environment impacted your art practice?

If anything it has helped me to focus on work by forcing me to be inside rather than getting distracted grabbing a beer or lunch with friends. I’m in a really fortunate position where I’m allowed to work from home and keep my job while saving time to work on my art practice leisurely in between work responsibilities. However many of my friends work in the service industry and are out of jobs, so I’ve been thinking of ways to help them and people alike. I have a huge inventory of old prints so I’m going to do a print sale and donate those funds via various Philly cafes like Elixr, Green Line, and ReAnimator who have already set up fundraisers. Before learning about existing fundraisers, I wasn’t sure how to redistribute earnings, so I’m really thankful to those who have spearheaded fundraising operations for people like myself to contribute to.

What goals have you set for yourself in 2020?

I try not to think too hard on future plans. I’m happy right now because I feel a balance between my artwork and my tech work I do for a living. I’m proud of myself for finally reaching a point where I’m self-sufficient and also have time for self-care which includes my art practice. There are times where I feel myself caring more about my art, but I try not to overthink it because without my tech job I wouldn’t be able to afford the materials that allow me to paint.

Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.

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