Jonathan Matas, Visual & Performance Artist

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Jonathan Matas, Visual & Performance Artist

City: San Francisco

Passion: Visual / Performance Artist, Impermanence Fundamentalist


Seattle-born artist Jonathan Matas grew up painting and creates beautiful murals that can be seen on public walls, galleries and even trains.

In January 2011, he was invited to make his mark at Facebook’s headquarters, where until recently he was an artist-in-residence. During his time there he discovered a playful new canvas and famously adorned Mark Zuckerberg’s laptop with one of his eye-catching designs.

Despite discovering his passion at an early age, Jonathan’s path hasn’t been without obstacles. He seriously considered turning his back on art to become a therapist a few years ago after battling a severe bout of depression.

But after taking a step back, he slowly and organically fell back in love with painting and has been blessing the Bay Area with his captivating artwork ever since.

A devoted meditation practitioner, he incorporates traditional Buddhist mind-training techniques into all of his creations.


I’ve been making art ever since I was a child. It has always been my passion, my first basic instinct, as I think is the case with most children. I was just really serious about it and it developed into my full-blown thing. It’s safe to say it’s pretty much all I’ve been doing my whole life, so there was never a decision to pursue it. It was default.


I hone my skills by just’s always been that way. I’m less of an artist that does well with goals - trying to make certain things happen - and more of an artist that has a tendency to organically work things out. Little by little, styles, certain habits develop and others are left behind, so I don’t really hone any skills. I just wander around.


Art was actually the first way I ever made money. I sold pieces in a few shows in coffee shops and restaurants around Seattle starting when I was about 12. When I was a teenager I sold shirts out of my backpack, homemade zines, etc. I used to go with my friends to Seattle’s artwalk and sell paintings and drawings in Occidental Park. I just kept going. Of course I’ve had many traditional jobs in my life too, but art was first. I have taught preschool, worked for a student union, sold books, waited tables and gardened, among other things.


I feel like I am failing all the time. I think it’s a feeling that arises for every artist, and all people in general. We have feelings of hope and fear that come up and dissolve. What we deem a ‘failure’ is based on our view, it’s not an objective ‘thing’.
When the feeling of having failed arises, I practice letting it dissolve in the same way I would if the feeling of accomplishment were to arise. Besides, what we call a failure may turn into what we call a ‘blessing in disguise’ and what we think is a success we may turn around and call a huge failure moments later. It all depends on our view.
I try to be careful not to apply conceptual labels to what happens in my life so as not to get trapped by dualism. Of course all these feelings and thoughts arise, but if they are released the moment they arise, then we don’t concretize them and turn them into our ‘stories.’


I see fear as being one extreme at the end of two poles, the other pole being hope. To be truly happy, truly content, we need to transcend both hope and fear. I do not think fear is the only problem and that hope is a proper antidote. That is not to say that being fearful or being hopeful is bad. They are not. They are normal, everyday flavors to all of our experiences, but ultimately they are trouble.
We are always striving for something and trying to run away from something else. So rather than talk about one specific big fear and how to overcome it, I’m more concerned with severing fear in general from the root. Fear arises in subtle and gross ways moment to moment. Doubt is a subtle form of fear; it has that flavor. The way I work with hope and desire, or fear and aversion, is to let them arise and recognize them as they arise without trying to reject them or embrace them. Usually we talk about ‘overcoming fear’ and that has the connotation of having defeated something, beat something, and you are the victor in that battle. That is one method. What I am talking about has more to do with letting go of problematizing fear. When we problematize fear it becomes another fear.
If fear arises and we look directly at it without inviting it in for tea and without trying to fight it off, then it dissolves on the spot. Practicing in that way has a profound effect on letting go of fear.


Are you trying to embarrass me? I’m constantly running out of money. How cliché of me to say, but it’s feast or famine. There are definitely many worldly sacrifices in being a full-time artist. When I am running out of money, I cope with the fear by trusting that I will somehow pull through, as I have done many times before.


Self-love is incredibly important to me. There was a time in my life when I was so hard on myself. I was basically suicidally depressed. I had to learn to love myself. It is a cliché thing to say, but you have to learn to love yourself before you can unconditionally love anyone else. But I will also say that unconditionally loving others is *the best* method to learning to love oneself. Generating the attitude of wishing happiness and freedom from suffering for all beings has a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves.


Anyone who works, with or without recognition, for the benefit of others inspires me.


Right now I am writing this from the couch at my life-long mentor Karen Stocker’s house. She has inspired me since I was 10 and continues to inspire me. She was one of my teachers at a Summer art camp and really took me under her wing. She is an amazing artist, but it is her genuine, constant compassion in every situation, always finding the good in others and never highlighting their faults, that inspires me most.


Don’t do it! Just kidding. I often fantasize about having a normal job; a job with regular hours and set vacations and someone telling me what I should be doing and when. It is challenging to be a one-man show in this increasingly complex world. If you are going to quit your job, go for it. The things I will suggest are probably no-brainers for most of you out there, but I’m not so good at this kind of stuff: learn to do your taxes, keep track of your expenses, do all of the things that it takes to run a real business.
Ok, I’ve figured out the answer to this question...My advice would be to be honest about your intentions; first with yourself and *then* with the world. I mean *truly* honest; the underlying intention. Most artists, creative types and humans in general, myself included, are to varying degrees fixated on fame or at least recognition. That’s hardly a noble intention. These days it is popular to have these PR campaigns that show the public how noble your venture is. It’s either to save the children or the planet or something like that. That’s fine and dandy, but from the bottom of your heart, how honest are we being? There is nothing wrong with wanting to earn money. We all have to do it. But please don’t talk about how your app or new kind of toilet paper or gimmicky art piece is about changing the world when it’s not. Please try to align your intentions with being truly beneficial to others. Even if it seems forced at first, if we generate this intention regularly, I truly believe the mind will follow along with our actions and speech. So I would say before committing to pursuing your passion, check to see where your motivation lies. If it is in a virtuous place, then you will have a great foundation to succeed.

My Inspiration

Honestly, what I think is most important for us today is to carve out time to be free of activity, to rest completely our bodies, speech and minds. This is my advice for myself too. I don’t give myself enough time to just rest, naturally, without my mind fixated on some mental object, or my body trying to get somewhere, or my voice trying to express something. I think creativity and inspiration are born out of this space of naturalness and are much more valuable than the forced and contrived creativity of trying to find some inspiring ‘thing.’
But if you really want to listen to something nice, listen to Chopin’s Nocturnes.

A Selection from Jonathan's body of work  

Two Truths  Facebook HQ  2012

Two Truths

Facebook HQ


Mark Zuckerberg's laptop  2012

Mark Zuckerberg's laptop


Union of Appearance / emptiness  Three- story staircase mural - Facebook    

Union of Appearance / emptiness

Three- story staircase mural - Facebook 


The Passion Co. is here to help you find and pursue your passion. Find out more about our upcoming programs here

Written By: Aoife Anderson

Photo Credit: Nina Menconi


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