Hometown(s): Evanston, IL
Current Location: Lindenhurst, IL
Current Role: Freelance Artist & Aspiring Environmentalist
Nominated By: Ben Bruster
Reason for Nomination: Matt is an absolute rock star! Originally, Matt and I became friends as members of the same fraternity and, then, as fellow geography majors. Our friendship grew through study abroad, as we traveled with 80 Augustana students and faculty throughout China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Hawaii. Matt and I were roommates for practically the whole trip. Through this, I learned how dedicated and loyal a friend Matt is. Then and since, he has listened to me and supported even when others did not—even he remained unsure what to say. He is a great listener who has a beautiful heart. Unfortunately, I think due to his quiet disposition, not enough people appreciate Matt for who he is and all he offers as a friend. For these reasons and more, I think he typifies a “Ray of Light.”
A Short Bio.
Matt Henry was born in Chicago, IL in December 1995 to Jamaican parents. Not long after Matt’s birth, his parents divorced but remained near each other. As a consequence, Matt and his twin brother, Ben, were raised across two different households: his mother’s home on Chicago’s Northside and his father’s home in nearby Evanston. Growing up mainly between Chicago and Evanston, itself an inner-ring suburb, Matt was shaped by “an interesting mix of cultures, attitudes, and landscapes” throughout his childhood. “It was like white and black and everything in between,” he remembers. “I grew up in an area where there were a lot of Mexicans on Clark Street.” Later, Matt, Ben, and his mother moved to West Ridge, where there is “an enclave of mostly Indian and Pakistani people.” A large Hasidic Jewish community also lived nearby. Though moving and being raised across households often proved difficult, Matt credits these aspects of his life for informing his sense of place and his knowledge of other cultures. Living near Lake Michigan wasn’t bad, either!
As a child, Matt developed a true love for the outdoors. Climbing trees, chasing squirrels, and running on the playground always brought him joy. He also came to love plants, admitting that, “At one point, [he] thought [he] wanted to be an ethnobotanist…someone who studies how different cultures around the world make use of plants in everyday life.”
Matt’s life was significantly shaped by art as well. A dedicated consumer of cartoons and anime, he developed a rich imagination and perspective on the world. This fascination would lead him to begin experimenting with colored pencils, pens, and whatever artistic mediums he could get his hands.
After graduating from Niles West High School in Skokie, IL, Matt attended Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. There, he majored in Geography and Environmental Science, while also running track and participating in various multicultural groups. These activities and studies, combined with his earlier, formative experiences—namely, time spent outside—congealed to direct him toward ecological restoration. Currently, he maintains a firm desire to utilize his degree and pursue work related to plants and conservation, though he feels unsure where exactly this journey will lead him.
Not one to worry, Matt is using this time to “go inward” and to truly identify “where his heart is” and thus what line of work he feels drawn to. Among other things, he is also using this time to reflect upon his upbringing and identify the forces that have shaped him. In his words, being of Jamaican heritage has, “Had a strong influence on his identity from early [on]. I remember always listening to Gregory Isaacs, Third World, or Shaggy in my grandad’s truck…I was really just exposed to a lot.” Often, he allows these experiences to inspire his art, too.
Though Matt is not where he expected he would be at 24, he feels grateful to be alive and pursing the things he loves. And, in this way, this time is truly “a blessing in disguise.”
The [Not So] Serious
BB: If you had to live off of three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be? Why?
MH: If I had to live off three foods for the rest of my life. Watermelon with the seeds, Irish moss, and sweet potatoes. Watermelon is my favorite fruit by far, and I think I could pretty much survive off that alone for an extended amount of time. Irish moss has all the vitamin/minerals your body needs to survive. Sweet potatoes are just easy to make, and I’ve always been a fan of them.
BB: I understand that you are a gifted artist. Can you describe your artistic process and what mediums you use?
MH: I usually just use any type of quality drawing pen like Pentel, Sakura, usually the Japanese brand ones. I prefer a couple with good quality colored pencils. I usually just use the mediums I just mentioned on high quality drawing paper. More recently, I’ve tried taking up painting with acrylic on canvas, so that’s been interesting. When I’m inspired to do a piece, it just comes to me. I don’t like forcing myself to do a drawing, because it never comes out authentic. The way I do art is very detailed, though. I’ve always loved detail, intricacies, vibrant colors, and telling stories with my art. What you see on the paper is what naturally just flows from me processing the world, delving into a space of ancestral memory, re-imagination, or just pure visual aesthetic. I think a lot of what I’m unable to express through words can be seen through my art.
BB: What inspired you to start creating your art (drawing)? I think it started with the animated shows I started watching from early. Just like
MH: Saturday morning cartoons, Cartoon Network, Toonami. I think shows like Pokemon, Yugioh, etc. really set that foundation. I think I was always drawing on something though like most young kids I’d draw on any surface I could find around the house. Haha. I look back now and I remember seeing a bunch of lines and scribbles in old books around the house. I always wanted to create things from my own imagination I mean I’d definitely look to stuff for reference, but a lot of what I came up with was straight from my own world.
BB: If I were interested in viewing your work, where would I go?
It only showcases a few of my pieces, though. Originally, I had more on there and it’s definitely not updated. If anyone would like to view my work, there’s some pieces on my handles like Instagram and Twitter. Or just email me at email@example.com, because I have pictures and PDF files of most of the work I’ve done.
BB: Matt, I know that you are passionate about botany, horticulture, and growing your own food. So, someday, if you are to have your own garden, what would you like to grow?
MH: Sweet potatoes, peppers, Moringa, papaya, avocado, mango just to name a few.
BB: In what important ways do you see that you have grown over the past couple years, since graduating college?
MH: Man, life since graduation has definitely taught me how important self- preservation is. By that I mean not letting any or everything into your space disrupt your peace. So, first you gotta find that peace.
BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why?
MH: Back to my people in Jamaica or somewhere in Africa. It hits different mentally, emotionally, I would say being in a place where people that look like you are the majority. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere in West Africa, like Ghana or Nigeria, but honestly the chance to go anywhere else would be cool, too.
BB: What excites you most about everyday life?
MH: Every day is a new day. The ability to live in the present moment.
BB: If you could give one piece of advice to anyone, what would it be?
MH: Try your best in this life.
Matt, thank you for affording me your time through this interview process. I had a blast learning more about you and trying to write a piece of your story! Thanks again.
Author’s Note: All responses are found as they were written, except in the few cases when subtle rewriting improved narrative flow.