Featured Kustom Artist: Matt Grosso
Super talented artist and all around swell guy. Matt Grosso, everybody!
This feature and Q&A with Matt originally appeared in Gnarly Magazine issue #7. Grab a copy!
I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, hanging out most days in my dad's chassis shop, trying to learn anything I could. From an early age I was heavily influenced by anything lowbrow and weird, Robert Williams, Ed Roth, von Dutch, Gene Winfield and the Barris brothers. I wanted to paint and kustomize anything I could get my hands on. I spent most of my time listening to punk and hardcore, drawing or working on hotrods. Trying to grow my own style. From flakes and kandys, flames and striping I wanted to do it all.
This led to me learning to tattoo, which changed my world. Forever thankful for my brother and one of the best friends for showing me how to hold a machine. Now I feel lucky as hell to be able to combine all my passions into this craft. It’s been pretty rad to chop up and paint someone’s hot rod, and then tattoo them with weirdos and other cool shit.
I am forever thankful and grateful to those who let me do what I love to do. Now living in Richmond Virginia, when I’m not tattooing to the punk and hardcore that fuels my head, you’ll find me in the garage, paint fumes and flake flying, or at the drag strip. I dig anything fast. Or maybe I’m at the beach, drawing. Either way, there’s probably a margarita nearby and a brush in my teeth.
If yer looking for me, check out my Instagram:
@lil_matt_tattoos, my Facebook for dumb jokes, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for the tattoo shop, truetattoorva.com. I work with some rad artists, so check em out!
Gnarly: What was your very first artistic inspiration?
Matt: Oh man, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by lots of cool art at a young age, but I think Dave Bell’s cartoons in Street Rodder Magazine, and definitely Robert Williams Appetite for Destruction piece. Even before I knew it was a Guns N' Roses cover, I was like woooooaaaahhhh...
What’s a typical workday look like for you?
Well, since the tattoo shop opens at the ass crack of noon,
I get to wake up at a decent hour and get through my morning routine. I like to get into the shop around 10-10:30 to get ready, tweak on my art for the day and mentally prepare. Once we open, I usually do one or two appointments a day, 8 hours solid. I mean for 8 hours, I shit talk with my friends, listen to music and draw on people. It’s pretty rad! After work most nights I draw for 2-4 hours a night for upcoming projects. Or on those occasional nights, I don’t have to draw, I paint or work in the garage. I’d like to mention I have a really awesome wife who puts up with all of it, haha.
What is your art background and what were you doing before you were a professional artist?
Man, I’ve always been drawing as long as I remember. Around 10 years old I was given an airbrush and I was beyond stoked! After high school, I tried college, Savannah College of Art and Design. I didn’t do well with the structure and came home, and focused on custom paint and hot rods.
Who inspires you –past or present– from an artistic and creative perspective?
Hell, I find inspiration in all sorts of art and places. Early ZAP comics, R. Crumb, Von Dutch and Ed Roth, Von Franco, Zombie, Lee Goode, Mark Balfe, Robert Williams is the coolest! Squindo!! Jack Rudy, the Barris brothers, Gene Winfield, Kyle Kdaddy Gann, Darren McKeag, dude I could go on!
You work in many mediums. How do you find time in the day to do it all?
Haha did I mention I have a really rad wife? I have a hard time sitting still, and I get my joy out of creating, it’s relaxing to me. I try to balance it out, and I have to prioritize tattooing, but making time for the cars and paintwork keeps me sane. I love trying new things or doing more than one type of art. I think it all pushes each thing I do more and more. But when I get the chance you’ll find me at the beach, margarita in hand!
What would you say is integral to the work of a professional artist?
Managing yourself and staying focused! Learning to say no to those projects you don’t have time for. And get paid for your craft! It’s always been my hardest struggle to do that. I just like doing cool shit for my friends!
How has your style and workflow evolved over time?
I love looking back, I’ve never thrown out a sketchbook. I think every piece, canvas, tattoo, rooftop, paint job, I’d always find a way I’d like to improve upon it! I’m always trying to get more color, smoother color or depth out of each piece.
What do you like about your work?
Haha man, I’ll pick everything I do apart. No BS though, I really like making my clients happy. As long as I’ve given 100% and they are stoked, it’s been a good day. Also, line work! Tattooing felt like a smooth transition from striping and painting, and line work is what brings it all together. I’m definitely not the best, but I feel my lines are crisp.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
Controlled chaos! I love color, the louder the better!
What is your dream project?
Right now, it’s to finish my '52 Chevy kustom. All good things take time, right? As far as work project, I really wanna do some large scale hot rod type artwork, back pieces, or something.
Can you tell me an artist who you’d like to be compared to and why?
Haha man, this is a hard one! I have so many influences, and try to be as versatile as I can be. The dudes I look up to keep pushing themselves which keeps pushing me. Someone’s always doing something way cooler!
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? By whom?
Two pieces of advice that will always stick: An awesome guy, Danny Nunemaker, taught me how to paint. 12 year old me was so upset about running the clear off a tank. I was so upset. He told me no one will ever die from messing up a paint job. It’s only paint, so just relax! My brother Tracy, who taught me to tattoo said, “If I ever tell you that you did a nice tattoo, you’ll think you made it. And if you think you’ve made it, you’ll never get better.”
What are your professional goals?
I want to keep doing what I do as long as I can! I would love to travel more and guest spot and do conventions. I am grateful I can provide for my family by being an artist and can’t wait to see where it takes me!
Favorite movie / book / monster / band / artist?
Caddyshack / R. Crumb's Bible of Filth / Swamp Thing / Blood for Blood and Pennywise / Von Franco, and tattooer / illustrator Dave Tevenal.
What's your favorite dumb joke?
HAHAHAHA! It changes daily. ... A pair of jumper cables walks into a bar. Bartender says, "You can come in, just don’t start anything..."
I used to date a girl with a wooden leg, but I broke it off...
How do you know when a project is finished?
I try to find that fine line between done and too much! And sometimes I will come back to a piece after staring at it for a few days. If I’m tattooing, I’m done when the white goes in or my client taps!
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Normally I draw anything. Sketch stuff even if it isn’t finished. I look at other artists and get inspired by their hustle. And some days I just put it down, take the hot rod for a drive and realize tomorrow is another day! Halfway down the road and my mind usually spins!
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
Music! I need noise and to be surrounded by my art collections. Definitely music, from punk and hardcore to some hillbilly thrash stuff.
Name your top three most rewarding projects.
Tattooing my dad. Both half sleeves. Means more than I can write in words. Redoing my wife’s '51 Ford for our wedding. She’s had the car longer than me, but I was stoked to put my spin on it. Being asked to tattoo people, strangers, friends, family! It’s crazy when I think about it, these people want me to mark them permanently. Forever!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Haha, don’t be a dumbass! Manage your time better and put yourself out there, dumbass.
Thanks for reading our feature on Matt Grosso. For a hard copy of issue #7, featuring Matt and many other talented artists, order a copy today!