Matt Lively is creating behind-the-scenes artworks of the Richmond Symphony

By Joan Tupponce, VCUnews

The VCU alum’s ongoing project is a case of ‘artist supporting artist’ and is giving him fresh insight into the intricacies of making beautiful music.

Artist and Virginia Commonwealth University alum Matt Lively is spending as many days as possible capturing moments from Richmond Symphony rehearsals on canvas. Each painting is completed by the time members of the symphony finish their two-hour rehearsal.

Lively started the project in March and has finished eight paintings to date — most measure 10 inches by 10 inches. He hopes to continue painting through the summer.

“Our musicians are in awe of his presence, and similarly Matt is in awe of all of the musicians,” said Amy Buhrman, assistant director of marketing and sales for the symphony. “The musicians love it. When I introduced Matt, he received applause.”

Originally, the symphony asked Lively to paint a mural, but he suggested doing something that would tie the visual arts together with the symphony, pitching the idea of painting while the symphony rehearsed.

A painting by Matt Lively of a Richmond Symphony rehearsal. (Courtesy of Matt Lively)

“I thought we could share the paintings and the process with social media. People could in turn share it and talk about it,” said Lively, who graduated from the VCU School of the Arts in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture. “I’m thinking about expanding on the idea and do something like bigger studio paintings and also sculpture.”

Lively normally paints objects, landscapes and concepts, not people. So painting symphony members has been a different experience, he said.

A new perspective

He has learned a lot about symphony music since he’s been attending rehearsals.

“I always thought of the conductor as waving a magic wand, but I have found it’s a collaborative process,” he said. “I’m amazed that the conductor could know which of the seven cellos was off based on the speed or sound of the wood. The more I sat in on rehearsals, the more I could hear some of that. I’m also starting to learn some of the language, how they refer to notes and instruments. It’s like learning a new language. When you are exposed to it, you pick up on it little by little.”

Watching rehearsals and seeing the musicians in street clothes rather than their usual black-and-white stage attire has given Lively a different insight, he said.

“This is the first time I have seen them as real people, people you could see out cutting the grass, be your neighbor,” he said. “I’ve also seen the work that goes into rehearsals and how important that is.”

Lively plans to have a show in October and auction off the originals from his painting project to raise money for the Richmond Symphony.

“Matt wants to donate part of the proceeds back to us,” Buhrman said. “What I love about this relationship is the fact that artists really suffered during COVID and this project is artist supporting artist without any clamoring to get to the top of that relationship.”

From ‘Star Wars’ to saving the environment

Lively was 7 years old when he knew he wanted to be an artist. He made the decision after seeing “Star Wars” in the theater and not being able to figure out the intricacies of art and moviemaking.

Matt Lively has completed eight paintings so far of Richmond Symphony rehearsals. (Courtesy of Matt Lively)

“I started drawing a lot because I was thinking about that visual (manmade) stuff.  In the beginning, I started drawing things from the movie that I could remember. My mom would get me books on moviemaking and art, some written by artists Frank Frazetta and Francis Bacon. Both artists still have an influence on me.”

Lively discovered that moviemaking included painted backdrops, which were similar to matte paintings.

“I thought that would be a way into moviemaking. So I decided to get good at painting,” he said.

“The more I was painting and making things, the more opportunities I found.”

Lively continued with art through his years at Midlothian High School in Chesterfield County.

“My high school art teacher, Buddy Terrell, was an enormous influence. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to get into VCU,” Lively said. “I went to VCU because of the art school. It was the only place I wanted to go.”

Lively wanted to learn more about sculpture, especially the tools involved in the art form.

“All of my teachers at VCU were mentors to me, especially retired emeriti School of the Arts faculty Elizabeth King and Lester Van Winkle. I still talk to both of them,” he said. “Being in the sculpture department opened up so many options for me in ways of thinking and materials. I learned about two-dimensional and three-dimensional art as well as digital art.”

Matt Lively Lively plans to auction off the originals from his painting project to raise money for the Richmond Symphony. (Courtesy of Matt Lively)

When Richmond-based sculpture artist Paul DiPasquale talked at one of Lively’s classes, it was a turning point, Lively said.

“I learned how to make a living as a sculptor. Before, I didn’t understand how I could get out of school and start doing gigantic sculptures. He offered clues and tricks of the trade to accomplish that,” Lively said. “I got out of school and started making a living as an artist right off the bat.”

One of his recent and most unique sculptures was a galvanized rain harvesting system for Binford Middle School in Richmond. Rainwater falls from the roof through a gutter into troughs resembling white clouds. The rainwater then falls through the clouds down onto a plant area. Previously, the water fell from the roof and sprayed onto the sidewalk and into a gutter.

“I did this sculpture with the Alliance for the [Chesapeake] Bay and Tim Harper. It got a reputation not only for the art but also because it was helping our environment. It decreased the amount of pollution going into the rivers by a measurable amount,” he said. “I liked it because it incorporates everything I do and what I wanted to do. From the road, you see facades of clouds. It makes me think of my original idea of painting backdrops for movies.”

Matt Lively and musicians Russell Wilson and Mary Boodell of the Richmond Symphony. (Photo courtesy of the Richmond Symphony)

Lead Image: Matt Lively with Valentina Peleggi, music director of the Richmond Symphony. (Photo courtesy of the Richmond Symphony)