Heroes of Marin: Matt Tasley, Courage
by Janet Alexander
Courage, like beauty, can be said to be in the eye of the beholder, but the strength of artist Matt Tasley is belied by his tall, slender, slight frame. In fact, the pain he faces isn’t visible at all. Subsequent to being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001, Tasley began a 12-step program for recovering alcoholics, and is now 13 years sober.
“It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation,” Tasley says of the uncertainty surrounding the origins of his mental illness.
In combination with medication, Tasley manages his disease and disorder through oil painting. “It gets me through the ups and downs,” he says. He speaks in tones and shades with broad strokes of meaning—some thicker than others—forming a layered impression. The art of his conversation paints a portrait not of himself, but rather about something of himself. To know him is to understand him, a real piece of work that has to be felt before he can be seen for what he really is.
“I was born an artist,” Tasley says. He was also actually born to an artist—his mother was a photographer who encouraged Tasley from a young age to make art inspired by his childhood visits to WildCare in Albert’s Park. Tasley credits his artistic ability to his mother, his ability to make art to his father—a restaurateur who financially supported his art career—and lastly, Tasley adds, “I owe a lot of my creative talent to my education.”
However, as an undergrad at Maine’s renowned private liberal arts school Bowdoin College, Tasley was initially studying economics and later changed to environmental studies, before eventually settling on art.
“I had loved art since kindergarten, but had only taken one art class in high school,” Tasley says. “I hadn’t been trained before, but I caught on really quick.” Tasley went on to earn a master’s in fine arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara. After graduating, Tasley opened two galleries on Polk and Hayes streets in San Francisco—which have since closed—and currently makes art out of his studio in Greenbrae.
Tasley says he’s never painted while under the influence of drugs, nor while inebriated, likening the painting process to meditation that “brings you peace of mind and serenity.”
“When I make a painting,” Tasley explains, “I’m able to get out of my head of confused thoughts and focus on something for three hours at a time.”
Ironically, much of what Tasley paints are landscapes reimagined in his mind that he recalls from memory. Besides the natural environment, Tasley is also inspired by his favorite artist, Van Gogh, who he simply describes as “a troubled man,” and remembers seeing his artwork for the first time while walking through a museum in Europe.
“His paintings were alive, and evoked a feeling that I could relate to,” Tasley says.
For Tasley, seeing how Impressionist painter Van Gogh found beauty “in the dark times” has influenced his own artistic practice. In summarizing his work, he says, “I like capturing a sense of light.”
Born at Marin General in 1960, Tasley is a Marin native. He lived in Ross for most of his life (attended Branson high school), and was named the artist-in-residence at the Fairfax Pavilion this past year. Currently he resides in West Marin. Among all of the places that Tasley has called home, it is his one-year stay at the Buckelew Program that has perhaps proven to be his most formative.
Founded in 1971, Buckelew was Marin’s first community-based 24-hour facility serving local residents with a mental illness. After transitioning out of Buckelew, Tasley felt compelled to “give back what I received.” As a so-called peer, Tasley teaches free painting classes to Buckelew clients out of his studio—personally transporting students himself—as well as to the Buckelew Program’s Transitional Age Youth (TAY) program.
“It’s very helpful to have some sort of creative passion as a means of recovery,” Tasley says. “That’s why I like sharing my skills through teaching.” It’s Tasley’s continued work at Buckelew that earned him the nomination as the Pacific Sun’s Heroes of Marin Courage award recipient.
With 10 years of volunteer service to his name, which consists of working with Community Action Marin and the Pickleweed Park Community Center, in addition to the Buckelew MarinScapes program, Tasley also sits on the Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Believing that art as a form of mental health treatment fosters solidarity, Tasley offers the same advice to all aspiring artists: “Go to school and don’t let anyone discourage you.”
“The joy in expressing yourself and creating and sharing with others breaks the stigma and isolation that come along with mental illness and chemical dependency,” Tasley says. The power of art not only forges an alliance between communities, but is also a “useful tool in helping people to better understand themselves and cope with their diagnosis.”
As a living example of how art heals, Tasley represents the resilience of someone who defies what his past expects of him and subsequently, his artwork represents the fortitude of the human spirit. “Keep it simple,” Tasley says, “that’s my life motto.”
- Matt enjoys camping at Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
- His hobbies include being in the outdoors, hiking, bicycling and swimming.
- His two biggest passions are teaching and making art.
- On Friday, Dec. 12 the 1108 Gallery, located on Tamalpais Avenue in downtown San Rafael, will be hosting an opening reception for the exhibition of a retrospective of Tasley’s work. Art sales will support the gallery, which hosts a monthly show of artworks exclusively created by members of the Transitional Age Youth Program of Community Action Marin. Tasley’s work will be on display until the closing reception on Friday, Jan. 2. For more information, visit www.buckelew.org, and you can see more of Matt’s work by searching his name on Flickr.