Artist Interview: Lizze Määttälä

Lizze Määttälä’s practice reflects the abstract flexibility of unexpected materials. She explores forms and patterns based on the fleeting fluidity of memory. As a natural rummager of salvages, junkyards and flea markets, Määttälä turns unexpected materials into stunning structures and mixed media compositions. Uphill/Both Ways, currently on display in UMOCA’s Object[ed] exhibit, is about fragments that have been left behind and the affinity Määttälä has for these intricate, interesting, thrown-aside materials.

“My strength has always been in material sensibilities and editing,” says Määttälä. “I’m drawn to materials that are not overworked and have enough potential on their own without the need to manipulate them into something else. I’m inspired by possibilities of materials beyond their traditional uses and the practice of play that is needed to reach those unexpected potentials.” Määttälä collects her materials from salvage yards, NPS, dumpsters and from people who give her objects they think she might use—but she never knows what these materials will turn into until they suddenly click together. “I know when things are working when I start to get giddy,” she says.

Määttälä began working with sculptures similar to Uphill/Both Ways about two years ago. “After graduation, I decided to completely start over,” she says. “I didn’t feel the need to tell a story. I wanted the work to be work. Art to be art.” Starting from scratch led her to using scraps, rubber, broken objects and various components to create innovative and stunning contemporary art. “I found rubber and it makes me so happy,” she says. “It’s weird and repellant, but kind of sexual and silly. I have a material driven practice, and it’s playful.” Määttälä’s relationship with her work is as challenging as it is playful: she describes it as “constantly evolving. Sometimes it’s hearts and rainbows—other times, I want a divorce.”

Although some may view her work as a representation of modern materialism, Määttälä doesn’t have a specific thematic concept in mind while creating her pieces. “I don’t feel my work is conceptually representative of anything. I am more interested in patterns, relationships between materials, and the engagement they can create with one another.” Määttälä does, however, hope that museum-goers can appreciate her and her fellow artists’ artwork. “Artists defend themselves and what they do constantly,” she says. “It can be a romanticized career path, but it’s not. I hope viewers can respect artists and anyone who is bold enough to share part of themselves and what, in my mind, is beautiful.”

Määttälä’s unending respect for other artists is one of her many admirable traits. She thanks the artists who have helped and challenged her along the way to get her to where she is now. “Three years ago, I did an eight-week show in Philly,” she says. “It was challenging because you had to work fast. That was the best thing for me. I met some amazing artists whose work was different than mine, but they were the sweetest and most encouraging people who influenced me by remaining authentic and dedicated to their work.” Among the artists she thanks are Olga Balema (another Object[ed] artist), Alyce Carrier—whose show, Old Work, is now on exhibit at UMOCA—and UMOCA’s curator, Jared Steffensen.

As a professional artist, Määttälä has some words of wisdom for future artists, including making sure you have a studio space. “I can daydream and be hit with inspiration anywhere and quite consistently,” she says, “but those are thoughts. An accessible place to put those thoughts into action is essential.” She also advises artists to not try to please anyone. Instead: “It’s good to find people who have your back but can tell you when something isn’t working. It’s invaluable.” And finally, “Try to get your hands on as many materials as possible.”

Along with Uphill/Both Ways, UMOCA’s Object[ed]: Shaping Sculpture in Contemporary Art exhibit showcases the work of six sculptors who explore how three-dimensionality can be a language that reframes and expands notions of objecthood. “It is a huge honor and awesome experience to be a part of Object[ed],” says Määttälä. “It’s a strong group of women and I’m proud of the show and how the space is utilized. It’s like navigating through a city which may or may not have been intentional, but it works—and works well. I benefit from showing work anywhere, but [UMOCA’s] Main Gallery and the company I share it with has been phenomenal and humbling.”

Määttälä’s next show is at Nox Contemporary, curated by John Sproul, in November. But her other plans involve getting out more. “I have a handful of personal projects planned and I’ll be hiking with my dogs as much as possible,” she says. “If I’m not outside, nothing gets done.” Her last words of advice to Utah audiences? “Utah finally has the potential to be a swing state,” she says. “Get out and vote!”

View Lizze Määttälä’s work, Uphill/Both Ways, along with the rest of the Object[ed] exhibit, in UMOCA’s Main Gallery until December 17th. For more information, go to utahmoca.org/portfolio/lizze-maattala/. You can also purchase her art book, Sample Sale, for only $15 at UMOCA’s Art Shop. –Alex Vermillion