Interview by Savanah Mandeville
Matt Myers’ career as a costume designer and muralist have produced otherworldly works of art that are truly breathtaking. From Period clothing to Wearable Art, his range of experience and talent is undeniable. He has been the Costumer for Missouri Southern State University’s theater department for 10 years and before that worked as a freelance artist in NYC for major clients, including Disney, for several years. He has designed beautiful costume collections for local plays including Carmen, Moulin Rouge, The Miracle Worker, and Death of a Salesman. Myers let us pick his brain and find out all about his career and what inspires him.
Tell us a little bit about the types of costumes you design.
I design mostly costumes for theatrical productions – plays, operas, musical performances, historical presentations. I’ve also begun to do some gallery work which is allowing me to combine different disciplines. The “Wearable Art” is meant to be displayed in a gallery and/or walk a runway, but is also the starting point for digitally altered photographs incorporating painted images. I’m also considering some videography if I can acquire the skill. My intention is to use the costumes in a variety of media and to make them available for other artists (primarily photographers) to include in their own work.
What are some famous or recognizable designs you’ve done?
I’ve designed costumes for Heartland Opera Theatre’s operas Hansel & Gretel, La Traviata and Carmen and Ozark Family Opera’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. For Joplin Little Theatre, I’ve done The Miracle Worker, Death of a Salesman, Gypsy and others. I designed Missouri Southern University’s Exit the King and The Tempest. I’ve also done quite a bit of Show Choir Design for Moulin Rouge, Pirate, Circus and Magic Shows.
Tell us about your background as a designer. Are you formally trained or self-taught? What led you to where you are now?
I have a degree in Illustration from Ringling College, but no training in Costume, so I’m self-taught in this area. I have found that basic design principles translate from one discipline to another pretty easily. I grew up in Kansas City, went to college in Sarasota and lived in NYC for ten years before moving to Joplin. I was looking for a move out of the City and when it came about my Grandfather could no longer live in his home in MacDonald County, I moved in. I’ve since moved to Webb City.
As to what led me to where I am now, that’s complicated. The major event that led me to eventually pursue costuming was 9/11. I was working as a freelance artist, doing mostly murals and painting series for the Hospitality Industry (Hotels, Nightclubs, Cruise Ships). When 9/11 happened, it changed that industry significantly – there was a lot of uncertainty about traveling and tourism. I worked with an Art Consultant who was suddenly faced with significant increases in the cost of doing business due to increased security and licensing requirements. She chose to close down which had a big effect on me. I was also doing a lot of work with Disney Development Company, a Disney subsidiary that constructed many of the resorts in Disney World. At about the same time, they merged with Walt Disney Inc. and immediately had access to Disney artists they hadn’t had before. So I lost one of my major clients. After that, I limped around for a few years – Joplin doesn’t provide much opportunity for a career in the arts and I couldn’t afford to relocate to one of the major markets. When I heard of a job opening at Missouri Southern as a Costumer in the Theatre Department, I applied. I had theatrical experience from doing it as a hobby and that included costume design and construction experience. I got the job and have been at Southern for almost ten years. Working as a Costumer has led to other opportunities in that area.
Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
I have always been a figurative artist. Because I always focused on the human body, it followed that clothing would be an element of my work. In doing historical artwork, I did a lot of research on period garments. It was a short leap from painting garments to actually creating them. So I would say my primary inspiration comes from the human body and the ways we decorate it. I am interested in the restrictions and fashion “rules” we adopt. What shape are we displaying and how are we disguising and decorating our bodies at any particular time? After that, it’s color and pattern and texture – how do they combine to make something visually interesting. In my fine art, I’ve always been a Symbolist; my work functions as a metaphor for a more abstract, emotional expression. Now that I’m beginning to direct the garment construction into a more artistic direction, I’m looking to incorporate those conceptual elements. It seems the lack of focus and my interest in multiple artistic pursuits has come together to inform the art I’m beginning to create now. It’s nice to feel all those seemingly random pursuits I’ve spent my life on have had a focus after all.
Have you ever won any awards for your work?
I think the best award I have received was for an illustration I did as the event image for Sarasota’s Florida Winefest several years ago. It was selected by the Society of Illustrators (the premiere professional organization for illustrators) as one of the best illustrations of the year and included in their annual publication, “Illustrators 35”. In connection, that painting was exhibited at the Museum of American Illustration in New York. Other than that, I’ve received several “Best in Show” and “Best Costume” awards from various sources.
I really am not a fan of awards because although they make you more “legitimate” as an artist, they don’t really mean much. An award is what a random judge thought on a particular day. I can’t get too excited about winning an award and I can’t get too upset when I don’t. Of course, when an award is being offered, I want to win it – but I don’t like the part of me that is greedy for glory so I try to avoid the whole award thing.
Where can people see your work? Do you have a website or social media?
I am currently putting together a website to display my work. Since I’ve followed a variety of different paths, I’m have a bit of trouble deciding what to include and how to present it so it all makes sense. Should I focus on what I’m doing now and would like to do more of in the future or should I include everything I’ve ever done including the kitchen sink? It’s been a challenge and the website designer I’m working with is probably extremely exasperated. Thankfully, she’s been very kind, at least to my face. Once it’s up, it can be found at mattmyers.gallery.
Thank you, Matt Myers!