[Originally published in Patron magazine]
Quin Matthews has a studio in a trendy section of Uptown, dresses in impeccably pressed shirts and wears tortoiseshell glasses. He also exudes a professorial demeanor that is frequently overshadowed by flashes of well-honed humor. His assistant, Natalie, brews espresso for guests with a sleek high-tech machine (that I secretly covet) and Matthews occupies an office with an array of monitors that are the tools of his trade. It looks like a set for a television show about a guy who’s “creative”—which is highly appropriate since that’s precisely what Matthews is known for. He’s engaging, avuncular, and enthusiastic about a host of things, all of which touch upon art. He casually mentions that a family member is thriving at 93 and ponders whether he wanted to live that long. The answer is a resounding “yes.” He smiles and says, “I just want to see what will happen next.”
It’s clear that he savors life and finds so many things interesting that there’s no shortage of items on his “to do” list. Moreover, he’s an inveterate traveler. For example, he’s certainly the only person I’ve ever met who has made multiple trips to Latvia. In a quick conversation he also mentioned destinations in South America, China, and the Czech Republic. He was in Prague during the Velvet Revolution when the communist regime was toppled and the victory was marked by the election of playwright and human rights activist Václav Havel. As luck would have it, Matthews was there and he filmed the event. This is only one example of an array of stories that could only come from a man who is well-educated, well-traveled, and well-spoken. Visiting with him is both a privilege and a joy.
Matthews received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Business Council for the Arts, and after a conversation with him it’s easy to understand why. He relentlessly pursues film projects related to musical and visual artists as well educational institutions. He rubs shoulders with royalty and loves to tell stories of artists who, entirely comfortable in his presence, reveal material to which most filmmakers would never become privy. He’s just so darn nice. It’s easy to see why they fall under the spell of his conversation and wit. Plus, he’s thoughtful. He’s sensitive to the creative spirit and gives it a place of honor both in the breadth of his work and in his daily pursuit of simply “looking.” Matthews is nothing if not an astute observer. He showed me two Otis Dozier paintings hanging on the walls of his entryway. One was a piece he dredged from a garbage can. Speaking solely for myself, I’ve never had a sharp enough eye to catch a find like that. He also snagged another piece at a garage sale, a Lloyd Goff etching of Akard Street. Good catch.
Recently, Matthews has been engaged in chronicling: the circuitous survival of baroque music that originated with Grover Wilkins’s Orchestra of New Spain; the Perot Museum; the 100th anniversaries of both SMU and Hockaday; the history of the Meadows Museum’s relationship with Spain; and the list goes on. (And on.) He also enjoyed showing me a short clip of an older piece he did on the art of tattooing that was commissioned by Dallas Contemporary. It revealed a blonde firefighter sporting both rippling muscles and an elaborate portrayal of Tibetan deities on his well-buffed body. And from that he rapidly switched to a documentary about a remarkable 400-year-old violin obtained by a student and taken back to its original home of Cremona, Italy, for a stellar performance. In other words, the range of subject matter is a bit staggering. It’s also a great deal of fun.
Yet another documentary that is clearly one of Matthews’s favorites is a piece on James Magee, easily one of the most important artists of the current generation and also probably one of the most eccentric. Magee is clear that he doesn’t want people to know the location of his work outside El Paso, dubbed “The Hill,” and he also doesn’t want images of the inside of the three buildings he’s already constructed to be shown without his permission. Matthews honored his wishes; however, he showed me other footage, including Magee making a trek up a dusty hill to open the doors of what Matthews and I both agree is an artistic “cathedral.” Quin jokes and pointed to the screen and says, “Look. There he is with Sancho Panza.” The reference, of course, was to Don Quixote and his sidekick. This is precisely the kind of thing that makes conversation with Matthews entertaining. He weaves story, recollection, literary references, and tales of musical virtuosos effortlessly. You can only wish that you’d be fortunate enough to sit next to him on a long plane trip. After a few minutes I find myself remarking that I should have paid a hefty sum for the price of admission. Truly. It’s as engrossing as a trip abroad and you get to keep your perfectly brewed demitasse cup of espresso. What could be more lovely?
Matthews began his career as an on-air journalist in Austin in 1973. He migrated to Dallas and worked for WFAA until he began his well-known series on WRR known as Art Matters. He has row upon row of digital files that are the archives of approximately 2,600 interviews that include luminaries such as Stanley Marcus, Jerry Bywaters, Van Cliburn, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra. However, any list of guests on Art Matters would be a disservice. The people and subject matter are overwhelmingly diverse and, eventually, the material of all the interviews will become part of the DMA’s collection. Under the aegis of Maxwell Andersen, it’s clear Matthews’s interesting and illuminating records will have a secure and welcome home. Plus, Art Matters is not discontinued. It’s merely going through a transition. Plans are that additional interviews will be made and broadcasted in another format that’s soon to be determined.
If there’s a recurring mantra in his studio, it’s “There’s just too much, just too much.” He refers to the cache of things yet to explore, the artists and musicians with whom he’s yet to speak. Moreover, if you want to feel energized about the direction Dallas is taking, he’s an inspiring spokesperson for the city. He’s filled with praise for Jaap van Zweden as well as the aforementioned baroque music that’s being staged in Dallas and a long roster of other things. If nothing else, there are more of Otis Dozier’s paintings to be discovered in unlikely places and yet another trip to be undertaken. I have no idea what age Matthews is, but one thing is certain. He’s still young—very young. He has plenty more espresso to brew and plenty more travels to undertake. In fact, when our meeting concluded he was racing off to a class. He’s learning Spanish. Ah, yes, the language of Cervantes, the sixteenth-century author known for wit, narrative power, and humor. How fitting. Cervantes is in good company—the best, in fact.