What influences a person to become a visual artist? For some, it may be the quiet and meditative process of focusing on the canvas and the sheer act of creation. For others it may be the desire to bring mental images of dreams and longing into reality. Tulsa artist Matt Moffett’s inspiration came from a lifelong appreciation of art and the wish to commemorate a beloved pet.
“I began painting by making my own pet’s portrait to honor his life,” says Moffett. “When I couldn’t find an artist to do the job, I thought that I could just do it myself.” Moffett had never taken a painting class so he worked with Tulsa businessman and friend, Danny Ziegler of Ziegler’s Art and Frame, to learn the basics of oil painting. Now, 17-years later, he continues to paint and serves as the executive director of the Tulsa Girls Art School.
“In my artwork, I focus on pets because they give unconditional love and deserve to be honored,” says Moffett. His work can be described as fanciful. For each commission, he sits with the pet owner and asks questions about the owner-pet relationship and then weaves imagery of their life together onto the canvas. In the brightly-colored paintings, pets sport crowns and scepters, while others wear glasses or headdresses of flowers. Each piece of art shows the character of the pet and the love of the owner.
“I was influenced to be a painter by my mother who painted nursery murals when I was growing up. I’m also heavily inspired by Gustav Klimt, John Singer Sargent and Kehinde Wiley.”
Moffett is also known for his surreal and idealistic paintings of Tulsa’s skyline and landscapes. In fact, one of his pieces become the art for the 2015 Tulsa Mayfest poster.
The love of art came early in Moffett’s life as he watched his mother paint nursery murals. He would have started painting as a youngster but a teacher advised him that he did not have the talent for art. Daunted by this advice, Moffett decided to go in another direction and majoring in Spanish and teaching at the University of Tulsa. While working at TU, his dog Alejandro passed away. To commemorate his life, he painted the pet’s portrait and immediately friends and patrons began commissioning Moffett to paint pet portraits for them. It was then that he realized that he could live his dream as an artist. He left TU, taught art at Eugene Field Elementary and painted commissions during his personal time. When the owner of the Wild Fork restaurant in Utica Square asked Moffett to exhibit some of his personal work in the restaurant, Moffett countered with a proposal to show his student’s works to raise money for an art-themed courtyard with a fountain and metal sculptures. “I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to sell our art and make money for the school.” When the restaurant agreed, Moffett and his students reconstructed their brightly colored tempera paintings into mosaics by cutting them into strips and turn them into 30” x 40” paper weavings. They were an immediate hit and all of the pieces were sold raising more than $9,000 for the school garden.
Matt’s imaginative teaching style and fearless fund-raising caught the attention of Tulsa business-woman and philanthropist Mona Pittenger. “Mona purchased the yellow weaving at the Wild Fork and was impressed that we raised so much money in one week,” says Moffett. “She asked me if I would like to open a non-profit after school art program and offered $350,000 for me to start it.”
Each year, Tulsa Girls Art School admits 12 third-grade girls who participate in the program for nine years, grades 3-12. “This year, our new students are from Sequoia Elementary. We rotate enrollment of students from an elementary located closely to the studio area in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood. We currently have a total of 54 students who stay in the program through 12th grade. “They attend more than 100 art classes a year,” says Moffett. “The school teaches 13 art mediums including painting, sculpture, ceramics, wood work, fiber art, sewing and designing, glass blowing, black and white darkroom, printmaking and metal work.”
“I like to help students find their artistic voice and then see how far they can go and what they can create,” says Moffett after recently returning from a trip to India where he taught art to more than 1,000 students at Colonel’s Brightland School in Agra (location of the Taj Mahal).
“I was invited to teach in India through a friend I made touring the country earlier in 2015. He was my guide. I learned that he had his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris and had been a private guide to French and US dignitaries. Sharing dinner with his family, I found out that they ran the very large Brightland School in Agra serving more than 3,000 students. He asked me to return in December and teach art for a day.”
When he arrived, Moffett was met with 1,000 smiling faces of students grades 4-12. He told the students about his art school in Tulsa and shown them pictures of his students and their artwork. He then engaged the students to produce an origami art installation. “The best part of the day was when they sang songs for me. I was so moved that I decided to sponsor a 7th grade boy and pay his yearly tuition.” Moffett plans on returning with additional artist friends in December of 2016 to teach at the school and produce a mosaic or mural with the students.
Moffett credits synchronicity and serendipity for each turn in the road that brings him to a new and unique artistic outlet. To see Moffett’s work or to learn more about the Tulsa Girls School of Art, visit m2tulsa.com or TulsaGirlsArtSchool.org.