I first picked up a brush during college at UCF in 1998. Back then, my friends referred to me as Matt Rosen. On a creative impulse, I purchased some blank canvases and just started doing my thing. I had been influenced by the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha, who both did a lot of stylized posters to promote night life in Paris during the late 1800’s.
To describe the work of artist Matthew Lee Rosen as a critic, I’d likely label the early stuff as pop art. The palette was filled with inexpensive dark red acrylic or latex paints. It came mostly from discounted cans of house paint from hardware stores. The paintings were basically a visual journal… a representation of college dating life. I signed them all as MLR, or occasionally M L Rosen.
One day, I find an ad in the paper for a roll of canvas about 6 feet long by several yards. It’s meant to be mine. The seller is located the boonies. So, I drive out to this farm to grab it from inside the barn. It was like a scene from a movie.
A rather scary looking, unkept greasy old man in overalls greets me as I approach. He’s like a farmer and mechanic morphed into one. Wearing a fake cast on his arm, he removes it to help me stuff the canvas roll inside my tiny little Honda Civic. We fold down the seats and open the trunk to make it fit.
This giant roll of canvas was a spring-board for new artwork. I always wanted to work in large scales, so I signed up for an art class to take advantage of the studio space. I was now painting wall-sized works!
After graduating college, I returned home for a brief time and found a job as a faux-finish artist. Imagine decorating ceilings in elaborate homes by painting cloudy blue skies. New brush tricks were learned, but it was quickly time to move on.
I still had plenty of canvas left on my giant roll, and eventually moved to the Gulf Coast. My best friend and I shared a small two bedroom house near the beach. The living room becomes the art studio, and I inherit a box of oil paints. My brush skills advance rapidly. Suddenly, the stylistic interpretation of the human figure becomes very distinguished.
I had developed a certain look, combining orange and red hues with a silver plating. This results in a fantastic series of nude women. Each piece is finished off with a silver stamp on an upper corner, which I custom made. It is an icon of sorts, identifying artist Matthew Lee Rosen as MLR.
Armed with a news series of artworks, I move to the Windy City in 2002. Immediately, I find work at galleries and museums, where I prepare and hang artwork. I thought this would be an excellent way to make connections and advance my art career.
I was being exposed to the modern art world at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in the West Loop, while also learning about curating shows at The Block Museum on the Northwestern campus in Evanston.
As my surroundings changed, naturally so did my artwork. Most of my paintings at the time were done with found objects like bed sheets and clothing, and I struggled to complete any of them. I didn’t even sign many of the works.
My influences were gravitating toward the careers of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, but I was painting less and working more to pay the rent. I picked up some temp jobs doing graphic design and soon discovered that my hourly rates as a designer were significantly higher than what I was earning at galleries and museums. My career path was about to change, and pretty soon… years would go by before I picked up a paint brush again.
Basquiat’s Final Dream by artist Matthew Lee Rosen
While the artist Matthew Lee Rosen wasn’t really living the dream, the freelancer was going places.
I was carving a niche as a presentation specialist, and traveling frequently to operate presentations for A/V companies at corporate events. My new career became the norm. For over a decade, I flew to ballrooms and convention centers across the globe to help design graphics on-site for corporate events.
Sometime in 2018, the artistic itch came calling again. My neighborhood of Rogers Park is filled with fantastic murals and street art. On a whim, I started photographing them on my long board. An idea struck: I’d create a Mural Map, and show others where to find all these great pieces of outdoor art. So, I set up an Instagram account with #MuralMap, and started seeking out street art on my frequent travels.
Discovering the works of today’s most influential artists like Tristan Eaton, Shepard Fairey, and D*Face, inspires the creative juices to flow again. I’m fantasizing about painting my own murals, and decided to create “mini-murals.” How would I accomplish this you ask?
- Start by purchasing some small scale train set models online.
- Paint and decal them with artwork.
- Photograph the mini buildings outdoors in real life-like settings.
Campbell’s Blow Pop – Mini Mural by Matthew Lee Rosen Water Tower – Mini Mural by Matthew Lee Rosen
The results are great, and the photographs look real! But, it just wasn’t a project worth continuing in the long term. Then, after a visit to my parents house over the winter holidays in South Florida… I had an “Ah ha” moment!
My mom was always begging me to take my childhood baseball cards out of the house. So, I finally did, and I fell in love with them all over again.
The smell of chewing gum & card stock triggered fond memories of these iconic 80’s designs. But, what could I possibly do with them all? They aren’t worth much money due to massive overproduction in the 80’s.
My diamonds often tell stories about the baseball card boom and subsequent bubble burst. They’re made with real baseball cards, adhered to plywood and covered with spray-painted plexiglass. I market my new baseball card artwork using my full name: Matthew Lee Rosen. But, I now sign my works simply as Rosen, using a script vinyl stencil.
It was a long path for my artwork to get from where I started in college, to finally making my baseball card art today. But the journey is was worth it, and I’m excited to see which turn I take next.