FUN WITH DICK & JANE: aka Matt Sesow + Dana Ellyn

Posted November 05 2014


Let me tell you a little about our artist heroes.

JANE: aka Dana Ellyn

I know Jane. I’ve been studying her. That’s the kind of sentence that would make Jane swoon. When Jane was a little girl she felt happiest alone, in her quiet room, drawing, painting, creating, studying and dreaming. Jane had the good fortune to connect with an art teacher. The teacher encouraged Jane. Jane attended a summer art program. It was an influential experience. Jane is frugal, competent, hard-working and earnest. She has a big heart. Jane loves her two kitties and all animals. She doesn’t eat any of them, ever. Jane loves to study. That’s why she would like the idea of me studying her. Jane knows herself, and she knows what’s important to her. Jane is a great success because she made the life she loves and she gets to study, and be alone, make art, travel, learn, grow and share. OMG, and Jane loooooves Dick.

DICK: aka Matt Sesow

Um, Dick, ok. Dick lived a wholesome Nebraska childhood. Yes, he suffered a traumatic incident at 8 when he lost part of his dominant arm to an airplane propeller, but that doesn’t define him and it didn’t stop him. Dick was a student athlete and general academic. He was fortunate to have some excellent record stores and the University of Nebraska nearby. While in Newcastle England for the Disabled Children’s Olympics, he saw Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was a watershed moment for Dick. He returned home and saw everything differently. He immersed himself in the punk and alternative music scene. It’s a good place for an individualist to find himself. Dick had a desire for something different, for experiences and to see the world. Combine desire with work ethic and persistence and Dick built the life he wants. Dick met Jane and fell in love. It’s a gooey vegan love story.

FOE: aka Nicole and Jim Shea

One of the best things about making FOE is that I get to do this. We love meeting and connecting with people. We love hearing their stories. We choose to work with Matt and Dana and that means we get to spend time with them. We learn and share, get inspired and connect. Then I get to write about it. I love that.

FOE: Matt! You be awesome! So, you are a professional artist. What is it that you really NEED to create art?

Matt: I just need some loud music, a few beers and a bucket of paint.

FOE: Dana! Cutie! We see things so similarly. I love talking with you. What is it that you NEED to create art?

Dana: The same thing I’ve always needed, solitude. I much prefer silence and being alone. The ability to be alone is, I believe, a quality you need to be an artist.

FOE: SUCCESS. Matt and Dana, you have succeeded. The lives you have now are a version of your young dreams and aspirations. It wasn’t a direct and easy path, but you made it. You are happy, productive, creative and making your living as artists. Tell us some real about your lives. I think it’s hard for people to imagine.

Matt: It’s a hell of a lot harder being a professional artist than a corporate worker with a 401K. I know, I’ve done both. Now, I get up every day and get to work. I don’t have weekends, snow days, federal holidays. I typically spend 12 hours a day working on the art. Time spent painting is the most valuable. But there is also a large amount of time spent packaging and shipping sold paintings or paintings to galleries, updating my webpage, answering emails, social media, you name it. We rarely have social time to spend with other people. We try to take one day off a week, but that usually involves art or ‘work’ in some way.

Dana: To this day, Matt and I (although we’ve been together for 14 years and married for 4 of those) continue to keep our own homes and studios. His place is 100% his and my place is ours. He is here about 3 or 4 days/nights per week. On the days that we are not staying together, we still go on ichat every morning, meet up for a run, at the gym and/or go grocery shopping and then return to our respective corners to work in our own habitats. In the early years, he used to thank me for giving him his time …. but he’s come to realize that I might even need more alone time than he. We’ve met our matches and it’s 100% perfect.

FOE: MONEY. There is truth in how people actually spend their dollars. Where does your money go, or not go?

Matt: Pretty much everything I spend is for the art. I don’t have a car, no cable, no smart phone. My monthly bills are just my health insurance and housing expenses. My housing is approximately 500 sq ft. I don’t have an oven or a dishwasher. My heat and ac are building controlled.

Dana: My frugality has been a very consistent part of my personality for as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I saved my allowance week after week. Today, I don’t have cable. I don’t have a car. My cell phone is woefully old but works just fine. When I spend money, I like to spend it on things that have value to me. I love to cook and eat so I justify my (almost) daily food shopping because I place a lot of importance on what I put in to my body. I also love to buy books. Every book is a potential new inspiration for future paintings (like the altered story pages in this show). When I treat myself to something, it usually has a purpose too. I’ve slowly been replacing my leather goods with vegan alternatives. And just this afternoon, Matt and I tried out a bar down the street from my studio that was featuring $5 “dark and stormy” cocktails (regularly $10 which I simply can’t justify). That’s where I started to write my answer to this question.

FOE: FUN. What is fun to you? And tell us about some fun you had here in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Dana:  I like to illustrate my learning. I’m a history nerd and I like projects. I often task myself with doing a series of paintings where I get to study and learn. In Washington DC the Cultural Tourism office has put up these amazing Heritage Trail markers that denote important events and sites. I’m doing a painting for each stop on the 15 different trails. When I was in Northampton, we visited theForbes Library. Dylan let us into the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum.

Matt: Our trip to Northampton to show with FOE was definitely FUN.  The days I spend with Dana are definitely fun. Dana is my vacation, she is my holiday. Meeting Dana at the gym or grocery store, from opposite ends of the city, that is fun to me. Fun is also selling a painting to somebody that is happy to have one of my paintings.  Fun is seeing a facebook or social media posting from somebody that has one of my paintings hanging in their home.  Fun is calling my mom or seeing my family.

FOE: Ah, work is fun. And your work is your fun, is your art, is your life. Beautiful.

Matt: And when we visit Northampton, we always go to the green bean. Emma served us some drinks by the fire at Wiggins Tavern with you guys. We would have gone to the Brewery, but it was closed for renovations.

Dana: We went to the roost a couple times this short visit. We also discovered the Tunnel Bar. We bought some healthy snacks for the train ride home at Cornucopia. And we’ve got a few new places we hope to try on our next visit. There is so much history there and vegan food options, that Northampton is a lovely place for us to discover.