Member Spotlight - February 2022
Matt first became interested in art while attending elementary school. It was during his elementary days, that the first part of his artistic path would be paved by his late mother JoAnn. Family trips to the city were numerous; taking in the masterful works of art at The Art Institute of Chicago, cheering on the Chicago Blackhawks at both stadiums, and being exposed to the abundant cultural offerings that the windy city provides. Although his path to becoming a ceramic instructor at Fine Line was not a direct one, he arrived at this moment with passionate persistence. Matt was born in Elk Grove Village, raised next in Barrington, then moved to Elgin following his first year of high school. It was at Larkin High School where his first piece of wheel thrown pottery was born.
Upon graduating from high school in 2005, he was unsure of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Matt would go on to attend Elgin Community College. A few of his family members were somewhat skeptical of art as a means of financial support, so Matt decided to go for a more traditional route. He began taking general education requirements with the intention of pursuing a math and science degree. One of his first electives taken in fulfillment of this degree was Ceramics.
ECC has an outstanding art facility, and Matt credits ECC and its fine art department with giving him the impetus to pursue a career in art. He considers Howard Russo, Professor Emeritus at ECC, as one of his foundational mentors. Mr. Russo showed him the ropes and encouraged him to stretch himself to take a variety of art classes.
At the same time, Matt became a competitor on ECC’s intercollegiate forensics team. Marta Walz, Professor of Communication Studies, played a crucial role in developing Matt’s foundation as a working artist. She recognized his affinity for public speaking during a Speech 101 performance, and asked him to join the speech team. On this team, Matt would go on to compete twice on a national level.
While at ECC, Matt took every class he could. The experiences at ECC in art were very comprehensive and extensive, and exposed him to many artistic and life experiences. Having no real idea of what he wanted to do when he first went there, he says that ECC encouraged him and helped him find his path.
After earning more than enough credits required for an Associate’s Degree during his four years at ECC, Matt had the opportunity to transfer to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, New York. He spent two years there, learning and growing his craft alongside practicing artists, friends, and mentoring professors. In that small village of western New York, ceramic art and science met. In Alfred, Matt gained a deep appreciation for not just the artistic side of working with clay, but also the science behind it. It was incredibly inspiring to him.
After finishing at Alfred, Matt was involved in a nearly fatal car accident in 2012. Following his recovery from that accident, he felt very committed to pursuing his art. He attended Northern Illinois University from 2015-2018, earning an MFA in studio art with a concentration in ceramics. While he was studying in DeKalb, Matt chose to primarily focus on sculpture. He believes that going to graduate school taught him valuable life lessons, while introducing the many possibilities of working in art related fields. Over the past 16 years, Matt has dabbled in wood, metal, drawing, painting, printmaking, molten glass, weaving and knitting, but his pursuit of clay has remained constant.
After Matt finished his MFA, he wanted to find a full time job in the field of art, but those kind of remunerative jobs are difficult to find. While searching for a job in a college or university in a tenure track or studio position, he happened to stumble across the Fine Line for the teaching opportunity it offered. A friend saw the posting about an opening at Fine Line at NIU and told Matt about the position. He has enjoyed teaching here, where there never seems to be a dull moment. He appreciates the energy of the students, as they often keep him on his toes. As an educator, he believes in the idea of playful experimentation, often improvising on the spot during class demonstrations. He hopes that he can inspire his students to do their own exploring, eventually finding their own distinct voices within a diverse ceramic community.
Matt’s own art deals with a lot of improvisation. He listens to improvisational music and lets it affect his work, loving every minute of the creative process. It is this process that is the driving factor in his works. He is not necessarily trying to make a specific point within his work but wants to communicate generally and vibrationally through his art vessels. If someone feels a particular way about one of his pieces, he is happy with that, as each person comes to art with their own perceptions. He believes life and art are about balance, intent and being able to express oneself and defend that expression.
At the moment, Matt has a full-time job at NIU as operating staff on campus. He balances that with his teaching responsibilities at Fine Line and still makes time to do his own artwork. In his makeshift studio within his two-bedroom apartment, Matt is still able to turn out works with relative ease. He often brings works in progress with him to campus, anxiously awaiting a pottery filled break time.
Matt is not sure what will happen in the future but is enjoying what he is doing now. He’s either focused on teaching, cleaning, making, or catching up on sleep. He hopes to continue experimenting with his own art and is open to whatever life will bring.
If you have not had the chance to see Matt’s work, go to mattbrejceramics.com. He can also be found on Instagram @mattbrejceramics.