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Q&A: Matt Larson and the Art-O-Mat
by Tina Aguilar 2 Sep 2010

This week, guest blogger Tina Aguilar tracks down the artist whose work she purchased from the Art-O-Mat at the Park Lane Whole Foods (“Kerplunking Culture Since 1997! Don’t Go Around Artless!”).

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Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities at El Centro College.

Art-O-Mat at Whole Foods

Art adventures abound everywhere we go, and out of the blue I spied a project that I was surprised to see at Whole Foods Market at Park Lane.  Have you wanted to collect art or even get your own art out to the masses? You are in luck because Dallas has its very own Art-o-Mat machine to peruse. Photography is what caught my attention as I gazed at the dispenser choices and then slid in my $5 bill. Matt Larson, a Florida artist, offers a glance into a natural landscape with an ethereal focus. As I pulled out the slip of paper with his blog tag and request to track ownership, I was excited to see it was shot from his iPhone, and I had to learn more about his artwork.

In 1997, Art-o-Mat started as a one-time piece that was part of a solo installation of 12 works by artist Clark Whittington in Salem-Winston, North Carolina, where you could buy photographs for $1 from a refurbished cigarette machine. Originally he had an idea about an art vending machine and, “one day over lunch a friend saw his sketches and told him about discontinued cigarette machines.” Whittington found a local company that was decommissioning machines. His concept magnified into the collaborative art group named Art in Cellophane. All local artists across the world are encouraged to submit work for consideration. Whittington’s philosophy is simple, “we want to connect artists with patrons and allow artists to reach people.” Selling over 25,000 pieces a year, Whittington says, “human to human contact is a lot more valid than clicking on a screen to view or select art.” One of Whittington’s latest machines has found a home in Australia. Dusty Edwards, Whole Foods Market, Associate Marketing Coordinator of Decor, notes that, “he and his colleagues knew of a machine in the Mid-Atlantic region in Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.,” loved the idea, and “bought some art from it when we saw it. With Dallas having a lot of art in the community, along with the recycled statement of the machines, it seemed like a perfect fit for the Park Lane store.” They plan to consider future regional placements and soon will put one at the Montrose store location in Houston.

Tina's Art-O-Mat purchase, Matt's work

Tina Aguilar: How did you find out about the Art-o-mat?

Matt Larson: Wow, good question. We found out about the Art-o-mat probably 10 years ago or so when the Tampa Museum of Art use to have one in their lobby—way back. About two years ago we saw one in Charleston at the college … we were viewing an exhibition there while on vacation. We thought it was so cool and it just happened to be about the time we launched our blogs (my wife is a photographer too). I think that’s when the light bulb lit—we both thought it would be a great way to promote our new blogs to drive traffic. Plus as added value, it’s a blast to do and the pieces are fun to collect. Art-o-mat has a great website and the quality of the artists participating is incredible. After a little research, we realized that many were using the medium to promote their work, create collectable pieces … all while having a great time doing it.

T. A.: Tell me about your process and using toy cameras.

M. L.: I like the concept of using toy cameras that were meant to just point and shoot, give to kids, etc. and making serious pictures with them. Not sure why but I do get a thrill when I see a $20-50 camera make an image suitable for a gallery or museum wall. That is the challenge here for me. I think this is all just a 180-degree turn-around from working with so many art directors over the years telling me what to do and what not to do. This is me just out and about making images for me of things I see. It’s simple, raw and true. No real tricks or bells and whistles.

T. A.: How do you decide what to create and send?

M. L.: For Art-o-mat … I try to send out things that look really interesting and different … landscapes shot in my style of focusing on something from 4’ away as opposed to the quintessential infinity shot that everyone seems to do. I like to do the opposite of the norm. I like to be different. And I like to break rules. One does not need an expensive camera to make art is another message of mine.

T. A.: Do you have a favorite camera?

M. L.: No. I love them all.   The Holga, Diana, and my Argus Bean are all equal and I have different uses for each of them, believe it or not. There is a method to the madness. For example, I always use the Argus Bean camera in sepia mode—it’s capable of making the most beautiful image with no toning or anything. The Holga and the Diana have different softness factors to them, so I use those accordingly.

T. A.: Were you surprised to hear from Dallas, Texas?

M. L.: Yes, on my Art-O-Mat insert to my images on blocks I have a call to action that says, let me know where you purchased your camera … I get emails all the time and love to hear about the purchase too. They all have stories to tell me—like yours!

T. A.: What is your Polaroid Book Project?

M. L.: In 2008, I shot a whole year with my Polaroid 600 camera just before Polaroid stopped producing the film. I knew from day one it was a project. I was happy to just publish my first book on Blurb called the Polaroid Project and it features about a forth of the images shot that year. My next book in progress will be images shot with my iPhone.

T. A.: Is there a certain theme for your next series for the Art-O-Mat?

M. L.: Not really, I’m pulling from all bodies of work and from all cameras. I ship them in sets of 50 and always try to include five different images in all my shipments. I like the people to be able to buy more than one and get a different image. I’m a collector too now and often buy more than one work from an artist. Go check out on the Art-o-mat site the gift box of 10 images in a carton. It’s so cool and it’s fun. Each piece goes to an answer you gave while placing the order. It’s a blast and you’ll love it!

Matt Larson welcomes a visit to his blog. If you are interested in submitting work for the Art-O-Mat machines, you can log on to www.artomat.org for more information. Take time to check out the Art-O-Mat machine at the Whole Foods Market Park Lane store in the vino section. For the collectors out there, two machines can be found in Keller at Art251 or, if you feel like a drive, two-hours away at the Longview Museum of Art.


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  • Linda Cooke

    I own three pieces of vending machine art purchased in mid-1980’s inside the employee cafeteria of Frito-Lay corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas. Artists were anonymous, cost was $1.00 apiece. As I remember, it was a temporary “art student” exhibit using a re-purposed cigarette machine as the dispenser.
    My favorite was a food-safe cellophane package containing three organic fortune cookies and a handwritten card listing ingredients. Besides being the best fortune cookies I’ve ever tasted, each cookie had it’s own custom fortune. One said “Don’t get left behind. Get right behind. . . Art Guys.” Second one said “You have just broken a piece of conceptual art. Now eat it.” Third one said “Disregard this message entirely.”
    Another purchase was a clear plastic container holding two identical brass bullet casings. One end looks like the lead point of a .22 caliber bullet, and the opposite end is fitted with a pink pearl eraser like a pencil, giving one pause for thought about the consequences of violence . . .
    Very Cool — I loved this idea then, and I still do!!!

  • The beautiful blue art-o-mat machine here at the art251 contemporary art gallery in Keller is our pride and joy. Over the last 2 years since we opened we have watched a new generation of art lovers, collectors, fans, addicts drop the $5 token in the slot, pull the handle and take ownership of an original work of art. The notion of putting art in the hands of the general population through a re-purposed cigarette machine is innovative and admirable. So, hats off to Mr.Clark Whittington. Oh, and bear in mind that each art-o-mat machine itself is a unique work of art as well.