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Multitalented Artist Tackles All Kinds of Mediums
By Jessica Laskey
You can learn a lot about Matt Bult by looking around his studio. Sprawled out on the top floor of the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation on X Street, Bult’s studio doubles as a display space for his myriad talents.
Large ink-on-foam-core paintings share wall space with realistic portraiture. Wooden birdhouses encrusted with found objects are displayed on a shelf below a series of diorama-like boxes inspired by Joseph Cornell. A twisted metal sculpture sits on the floor across from a wall hanging created from a deconstructed wooden pallet found outside of Taylor’s Market.
Bult has created every single one of these pieces. Though the styles differ drastically, they all share a common appreciation of color and a boldness that speaks to Bult’s fearless creativity.
“I like to do something different every time,” says Bult, seated on a couch in the middle of the studio that doubles as a chic sitting area and office space. Toward the back of the room in front of a large picture window sits his easel and a table lined with tubes of paint at the ready. “I like to work on lots of things simultaneously because it keeps me interested and stimulated. If something’s too successful, I automatically want to abandon it.”
The 62-year-old has certainly found his share of success. Bult is the stepson of celebrated painter Wayne Thiebaud (Thiebaud married Bult’s mother when Bult was 3). He attributes early exposure to art—from painting with Thiebaud as a kid to “being dragged” to art galleries, museums and dinner parties with art world dignitaries—as one of the reasons for his interest in the field. But make no mistake: Bult has always made his own way.
“I’ve never gone into a gallery and said, ‘Wayne Thiebaud is my dad, you should give me a show,’” Bult says with an easy laugh. “I’ve always been determined to make it on my own merits.”
To that end, Bult honed his skills with an AA degree from Sacramento City College and a bachelor’s degree in art history from UC Davis. (Because he knew he was going to “paint my whole life anyway,” he decided against pursuing a studio art degree and instead focused on learning the history of who and what came before him.) He’s exhibited professionally since 1983 all over the country—including at a San Francisco gallery owned by his late half-brother, Paul Thiebaud, and locally at Archival Gallery and Elliott Fouts Gallery.
Bult says his parents have always been supportive—his mom made a point to buy a piece at every one of his shows. Because the family has always been close, Bult soon joined “the family business,” helping his stepfather manage the logistics of his international career out of the Thiebauds’ home office in Land Park. (Bult and his wife live just a block away and their two sons live in the neighborhood.)
Four years ago, Bult helped create the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation, which is housed below Bult’s studio in the sleek, modern building that Paul Thiebaud designed. The bright white space contains drawers upon drawers of Thiebaud’s artwork, newspaper clippings and other media that are used when an exhibitor—like the Museum Voorlinden in Holland, which presented Thiebaud’s first-ever European retrospective—needs information for an upcoming exhibition.
“It’s great to have everything in one place,” says Bult, who manages to coordinate everything as the president of the foundation—with the help of his eldest son Alex, who also works for Thiebaud—without owning a personal cellphone, wearing a watch (though he’s exceedingly punctual) or knowing how to use a computer.
“I’m a total luddite,” he admits, “but I don’t really need any of those things. People know how to reach me and Alex helps with the computer.”
And when he’s not working, creativity is just steps away.
“Any free time I have, I walk upstairs and get to work,” says Bult, who also writes “short snippets” in the style of David Sedaris and plays music. He used to play in a band, and a beautiful vintage drum set and several Fender electric guitars take up a chunk of studio space. “The medium supplies the direction—it’s all about making choices.”
Looking around his colorful studio, it looks like Bult has made all the right choices.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org