Drive south out of downtown on Fairfield, past the neighborhoods that randomly switch from uber-swanky to rundown, and you'll eventually be visually bombarded with a bright red, pink and orange, bubbly facade climbing a few stories and accompanied by the blue, highly encouraging words, "Don't Give Up."
Art tends to be more cryptic in its message, but local artist and prolific producer of artwork Matthew Plett wanted the mural to pop out and encourage those who drive or walk past. It reveals a comfort with art and expression that started not in an elementary art class, but in front of the television.
"Like most children who didn't have video games growing up, creativity was one of the only outlets for my imagination," Platt explained in a recent interview. "Looking back, I think one of the most formative times for me, as an artist, was watching Mark Kistler on The Secret City on PBS every single day," said Plett via email.
A lot of artists take solace in the privacy of art creation. Obviously with the undertaking of a giant mural, privacy is not something you can expect. But rarely is that a reason not to do anything, especially when the community is such a big part of a local artist's motivation.
"I'm really proud of the mural on the side of the Wunderkammer building. It's pretty obnoxious," Plett laughed.
"That mural was by far my most satisfying time as an artist that I've had so far. The support from the beginning from so many friends, neighbors and people around me, and the flow of interactions I experienced with other people during the process, was incredible. It was genuinely one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Also, I got to work alongside Lissa Brown every day and be constantly inspired by her. It's awesome to work alongside a friend after eight years of talking to small children all day."
Plett is reluctantly a stay-at-home dad, so his daily interactions are focused on his two children. Plett's freelancing career began with their arrival. This became a good time to focus on his art and design, but a tricky one to navigate nonetheless.
"My wife Amanda and I have two amazing children, and I have been their primary caretaker for the past eight years or so. Much of my pursuit of creating has had to fit around the time I can squeeze in around the kids. Since they've started school I've had more time to create and take on work," he said.
Plett said that balancing his freelancing career and his caretaking duties can be a challenge. But when you're an artist, especially a prolific one, you find time to create no matter the circumstances. With the added responsibility of helping pay the bills, Plett oftentimes examines the situation to make sure he's on the right path.
"As a parent whose income only comes from working in my home, I constantly question if I'm making the right choice with my time. Should I be spending more time with the kids or cleaning the house? Should I be painting while the kids watch television? Is this too much television? But at the same time, you have to pay the bills. It's great to be blessed enough to be in the position to be available for my kids, and I have Amanda to thank for that chance."
Having the hours available at home is one thing, but using that time to take advantage of the moments needed to not only create new, but worthwhile, inspired work can take its toll.
"Every dollar you make has to come from something that you have to kind of think up yourself," he said. "And you have to work a lot longer for that to come about. Sometimes I just daydream about an hourly job where I would be assured of my income and schedule every week. But really I'm living a dream that isn't possible for a lot of people, and I have a responsibility to do the most with that opportunity. The idea of choosing clients that you are proud of is a huge benefit as well. Especially after working at various design firms, that freedom is irreplaceable."
Although he will likely be known best for his enormous murals like the one on the side of Wunderkammer and the one spanning the wall of Design Collaborative, Plett is also known for his stand-alone, smaller creations like the eclectically lettered "Undefeatable" print.
Plett has enough on his hands creating murals and designing something beautiful every day, but add in a family and the workload can get out of hand. But with a positive, grateful outlook and by focusing on both his personal and artistic goals, he's forging on and quickly becoming one of Fort Wayne's most respected, prolific and authentic artists.
"I want to feel like everything I make is genuine and authentic. It's important for me to be as real as I can," he says. "That also means figuring out who I am and what I'm here for on a daily basis. Still failing a lot of the time, but never stopping that grind and living in that tension. I think good art is a rare thing in human life that we can feel and experience together while being distinctly personal at the same time."