Presented by The Glenrothes
How many times have you had an idea that went unrealized? What vision would you bring to life if you could? How would you do it? And when would you have the confidence to declare yourself a master of your chosen pursuit?
We’ve recently pondered these questions, inspired by the story of The Glenrothes. Today, The Glenrothes is a symbol of single malt luxury prized by connoisseurs and collectors. But 150 years ago, it was merely a vision. James Stuart was a mill owner in the small Speyside town of Rothes, and he was passionate about whisky. He envisioned a riverside distillery that would create a single malt like the world had never experienced. Eventually, after years of hard work and dedication, his dream became reality.
Still, passion, commitment and a willingness to grow seem like givens. We were more interested in practical steps we could take to realize our wildest visions. So we reached out to another kind of visionary, a contemporary working artist. Matt Spire is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and abstract painter who started painting at age 12 and has been on the path to mastery ever since. After a recent event during which Spire invited InsideHook readers to paint alongside him, we asked him for some pointers.
Trust Your Gut
Like every good ‘90s kid, a young Spire first wanted to be like Mike — but musicians like the Beatles and Bob Dylan quickly replaced Jordan as Spire’s primary idols. Occasional trips with his mother to her office confirmed Spire wasn’t destined for a traditional 9-to-5. An after-school oil-painting class sealed the deal. “It felt like home, I never wanted to leave,” Spire recalls. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking about a career, but I knew that class was a place of peace, where I could be myself.” By acknowledging and honoring his creative instincts and letting his intuition guide him, Spire opened the door to self-expression. Trusting your gut allows you to forge the path that’s true to you.
Find Your Tribe
Finding a supportive community of like-minded individuals can be instrumental in the journey towards mastery. Spire found his at the Art Institute of Boston, where he studied graphic design and typography. Though he didn’t pursue digital design, his time in Boston — and the artists he met there — continued to inform his art. Spire spray-painted as a hobby and started getting noticed by restaurants and nearby businesses, who’d ask him to paint murals. Those first paid gigs set him on the path to become a working artist. More importantly, they caught the eyes of more seasoned, serious painters. They knew their stuff, and if Spire wanted to be around them, he had to know his. Through discussions, critiques and collaborations, Spire gained valuable feedback and new ideas that helped him hone his skills.
Learn Your History
Determined to prove himself, Spire became a devout student of art history. He journeyed to Amsterdam to study Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and de Kooning. He discovered Keith Haring, Frank Stella and George Kondo and realized many of his favorite artists didn’t start out studying painting. The musical quality of Kondo’s work piqued Spire’s inner music-lover, and Haring’s broad brushstrokes spoke to his graphic design study. He found himself melding the qualities of the artists he loved with his education and personal interests.
“Taking those [graphic design] ideas and bringing them to painting gave me an edge. I didn’t know all the rules, so I could break more of them,” Spire says. He continues,”You find what you love and you’re good at, study the greats and your history, know your place and expand on what was done before you.”
Narrow Your Focus
All that led Spire to grab a big paintbrush and two buckets of black and white paint — no distracting colors or limiting frames. As a hip-hop head (remember, he’s a ‘90s kid), Spire imagined the background of his pieces as the beat, and the linework on top as the lyrics.
“Trying to write my own thoughts was too distracting, so I used the words of others,” Spire remembers. “I’d hear a cool lyric in my headphones and copy it onto the painting.”
His first piece in this style, inspired by the late, great MF Doom, was called “Doom Lyrics,” and it was a key moment in Spire’s development. Spire started to narrow his focus, create his own lane, develop a distinctive style and explore his subjects with more nuance, depth and precision. By focusing on specific areas of interest, he refined his skills and created a body of work.
Open Yourself Up
True masters are open to new experiences, influences and perspectives. Spire’s favorite music inspired his work, and painting in turn opened him up to more diverse subjects and genres of music. He found jazz, house music and more experimental, non-lyrical forms; his works at our live painting installation were inspired by the unwritten, improvised flow of jazz.
“Channeling a Miles Davis song with no words, playing off the sounds with colors and depictions that aren’t quite as literal, drawing from life but making it more abstract and maintaining a figurative practice — that’s what makes it more advanced,” Spire says.
Opening himself up to various art forms and sources of inspiration allowed Spire to expand his horizons and bring fresh dimensions to his work. And not just music — the art of making a cocktail also played a role. How do you keep it balanced but still interesting? The question can be applied to any creative endeavor.
“Being an artist, keeping odd hours, I made friends with bartenders and chefs who were just as into what they were doing as I was,” he says. “I got into making cocktails, and a lot of my jazz-inspired works were influenced by the stories of the monks in Chartreuse making liquor. I created The Glenrothes scenes in much the same way.”
The takeaway here is that being receptive to new ideas and experiences fosters growth and allows a person to continually evolve towards the realization of their vision.
Ultimately, the journey towards mastery in any pursuit is a lifelong endeavor requiring dedication and perseverance. Trust your instincts, find a supportive community, learn from the past, narrow your focus and open yourself up to new influences, and you’ll be on the path to realizing your vision. As Spire discovered, that path is as much about self-discovery and personal growth as it is about artistic skill.
“True mastery means being the most open-minded,” Spire says. “Not trying to impress anyone or even impress yourself. I don’t know if I’ve achieved that yet, but I’m on the path.”
All photos courtesy of Aqua Rose (@aquarosephoto)
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