Local artist explores the meaning of masculinity

By Malena Khan
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

It’s Thursday afternoon and prior to teaching an art class at Towson University, Matthew Sherwood walks through the MFA studio in the Center for the Arts. He passes paintings of city landscapes, abstract sculptures and finally stops in front of a piece that is familiar to him.

The painting is unique to those that surround it in the studio. There are  red, white and blue stripes in the background and a man with his son to the right of the painting. The focal point of the painting is a 3-D bear protruding out of the painting and a man holding a gun after shooting the animal.

Baltimore artist Matthew Sherwood with one of his paintings exploring masculinity. Photo by Malena Khan

Baltimore artist Matthew Sherwood with one of his paintings exploring masculinity.
Photo by Malena Khan

It is clear that the artist of this painting, Sherwood, has a distinct story to tell and uses painting as a way to convey it.

Sherwood gets his inspiration for his art from his upbringing in a suburban town in Ohio where he spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities. He grew up a Boy Scout, was an Eagle Scout and worked on the family farm during the summer.

At age 4, Sherwood received his first pocket knife and BB gun. By the time he was 11, he had taken hunting courses and earned his hunting license. Aside from engaging in outdoor activities, Sherwood always enjoyed making art.

“Art was one of the few things I felt talented in, it made me feel special,” Sherwood said. “I used it as a tool when I was growing up to engage in or play with the things that interested me. Most of the time, it was the things that my parents couldn’t get for me. For example, I made my own Power Ranger sword as a kid because my parents couldn’t afford to buy one for me.”

After being in Ohio for most of his life, Sherwood moved to Baltimore in search of a fresh start and a new environment. When he moved, Sherwood had hopes of going to school to become a nurse while doing outdoor photography on the side. His talent in art took him in an entirely different direction.

“Coming out here to Baltimore was an entirely new world with so many new opportunities,” Sherwood said.

A painting done by Matthew Sherwood. Photo by Malena Khan

A painting done by Matthew Sherwood.
Photo by Malena Khan

Sherwood decided to follow his passion in art and earned his bachelor’s degree in painting from The Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010 and then earned his master’s degree in painting from Towson in May 2015.

“I was told my whole life that you couldn’t be an artist while having a family or receiving a regular paycheck,” Sherwood said. “I have a passion for art, so no matter what I knew that I needed to hold on to it.”

Despite what his family told him about pursuing a career in art, Sherwood had faith in his talent.

Sherwood said that it was his high school art teacher who inspired him to pursue art. He said his college professors amplified his excitement and his passion. This pushed him in the direction to be where he is today. These teachers gave Sherwood the desire to want to teach so that he could share that same excitement with his own art students.

Masculinity is the theme in many of Sherwood’s art work. After his move to Baltimore from Ohio, he realized that masculinity is defined differently by different people.

Sherwood said that when he lived in Ohio, he was taught that a real men was someone who knew how to hunt, drive a tractor and get their hands dirty while working outdoors. In cities like Baltimore, he said, being masculine means working five days a week to provide for a family.

Seeing how people in different parts of the country interpreted masculinity made Sherwood think about what masculinity means to him. There is no set answer, and that is why he enjoys painting about the subject.

“When I think about masculinity, I think about male dominance, being big, strong and tough,” said Rachel DeGiacomo, a student at Community College of Baltimore County. “The art that Matthew Sherwood makes undeniably reflects his ideas about what it is like to be a man in society.”

The city is a completely different world of masculinity when compared to masculinity in suburban Ohio. Through his art, Sherwood is able to invite people to his own ideas about what it means to be a man.

“Masculinity is a stereotyped mental status of what it means to be a healthy male,” said Paige Talhelm, a Towson alum. “There is no set standard. Masculinity is not a spelled out thing. Matthew Sherwood plays with the idea of masculinity in his art. This is not typically discussed or expressed by artists in Baltimore.”

As an artist, Sherwood enjoys making people face their own ideas and think about the things that are not frequently discussed.

“I have fallen in love with Baltimore,” Sherwood said. “For as much flak as Baltimore gets, it seems to be the people here that really come together and make it great. The city is a completely different world of masculinity than where I come from. I like to think that I’m the good parts of each.”

 

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