Artist Next Door: Matt Feiner

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Photo by: William Kurtz

A few crates filled with bicycle gears, pedals, and other parts sit on a shelf just outside the entrance to Matt Feiner’s New Haven apartment. In a sense, these crates are way stations between the twin passions of Feiner’s life: bicycles and art. Feiner — who owns The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop in New Haven will use the parts in crafting a miniature golf hole for an exhibit being presented by Artspace.

Since opening The Devil’s Gear in 2001, Feiner has been dedicated to forging a community of bicycling enthusiasts. And as that community has developed, Feiner has led in creating ties between the biking and arts communities in the city, often leading bike tours for events like City-Wide Open Studios (CWOS) and the site-specific Night Rainbow project this past April.

“I love the connection between the arts and bicycles. (Artspace director) Helen Kauder really gets it — makes sure there is a bike tour with every art event,” says Feiner.

He says he expected perhaps 10 cyclists would show up for the Night Rainbow ride on a Wednesday night. Instead, more than 100 riders showed up to participate.

In a serendipitous way, Feiner’s passion for bikes fed his commitment to art. In the early 1990s, he did some work on a bike for the Australian artist Anderson Hunt, who was then living in New Haven. Hunt looked around the basement and asked Feiner, “You share this with an artist?” But it was Feiner’s work.

With Hunt’s backing, Feiner first had a show at the Daily Caffe in New Haven and shortly thereafter at the Alternative Museum in New York City.

“Bicycle assembly, the creation, construction, and tuning are so much like art,” Feiner says. “It really feels like art when you finish it, put the tape on it. When it’s right, it’s perfect and you know it. Pump up the tires, take it down, and suddenly it becomes kinetic.”

Feiner’s own (non-two wheeled) art-making consists of collage, drawing, sculpture, and large-scale, immersive installations usually involving collage. He always has a sketchbook in his backpack. Feiner enjoys the immediacy of collage.

“It’s not welding. It’s not putting down oil on canvas in layers and layers,” explains Feiner. “I’m stapling it, Scotch taping, and cutting things out with a razor blade. I’ll flip through a magazine and start tearing out pictures and make a collage very quick.”

Much of Feiner’s work is based on dreamscapes. For Feiner, dreams are both a wellspring of creativity and a source of intense and ongoing anguish. He suffers from recurrent, intense nightmares, likely a form of untreated posttraumatic stress disorder from incidents in his childhood. (He was thrown down a flight of stairs when he was 3 and had his face mauled by a dog a couple of years after that.) Creating dream-based imagery is a way of both exorcising the terrors and asserting control.

“It’s not necessarily about the dream I just had but about ‘dream’ in general, the ‘dementia’ of dreaming,” explains Feiner. “How strange things can become.”

Feiner’s daily art practice includes making collages from imagery torn from The New York Times. (As part of this year’s CWOS, Feiner will have a full room in the Alternative Space to create an installation with his Times-based collages.) Each panel is as large as a Times page. Feiner tears out images from that day’s paper, finds a single-page ad to use as the background canvas, and lays out the images to “try and make them say something.” Feiner doesn’t glue his collages. Rather he tapes down his image fragments and then accents the edges of the tape with a black Sharpie, operating under the old theater adage “Accent what you cannot hide.”

Feiner’s installations take dream logic to the next step. “I like when it wraps around you and it’s above you and below you and you can’t get away from it,” Feiner says. “That’s what a dream really is: You’re enclosed in it, wrapped up in it. Most of the times there’s no discernable exit.” Feiner says that when he is dealing with difficult issues in his life, it’s hard for him to create art about it when it is happening.

“But once it’s processed in my head, I can turn around and do art about it,” he says. “My brain needs time to assimilate it all.”

The hurt from the 2011 murder of Mitchell Dubey — a friend and one of Feiner’s employees at The Devil’s Gear — remains an open wound. The pain was exacerbated by the recent trial in which Tashain Fair was acquitted in Dubey’s killing.

“I know there is something in me about Mitchell,” Feiner says, “but I can’t do it right now.”

Feiner, originally from Madison, returned to New Haven in 1998 after a stay in Austin, Texas. He expected his return to be short-lived, some psychic recharging after the difficult end of a relationship that led to the creation of a full-room installation called Hard Time With Heather. But he returned to an environment changed by the first City-Wide Open Studios. Instead of artists toiling in isolation and overshadowed by Yale University, Feiner found a budding artistic community.

“I remember walking downtown and City- Wide Open Studios was going on. It was smallscale but was still grand in its presentation,” Feiner recalls. He soon met CWOS founders Marianne Bernstein and Helen Kauder. “I realized they were looking out for the unestablished artists who were not getting the attention, the funding, and the resources they needed to blossom,” he said.

Article by Hank Hoffman 

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