When senior Matt Koester was five years old, he opened his first art gallery. It was in his family’s basement and he hung pictures on the wall that he tried to sell to family for a dollar apiece.
“I would make stuff with markers and stuff like that,” Koester said. “Sometimes I’d illustrate Beatles songs. Sometimes I’d illustrate cats, Pokémon, family members.”
He says he sold maybe two or three pictures.
Koester has always been artistic. Around the time that he hosted his first gallery, he dictated a series of children’s books to his mother called Mrs. Duck. Growing up, he spent time with his grandmother doing art projects and making things. He was always watching cartoons.
By fifth grade he was creating comic strips and distributing collages of Elmo to classmates that he made using Microsoft Paint. It was a way for him to gain recognition and find a place among his peers.
His family was always encouraging of his art, even if they didn’t understand what he was doing.
In high school, he learned Adobe Photoshop and graphic design, but when he came to college he didn’t have Photoshop anymore and started working again in Microsoft Paint. While visual art has been a big part of Koester’s life, he has experimented with many other mediums, working with animation, video and photography as well as making music on his own and with collaborators.
He joined forces with senior Mike Sockol during his freshman year and started collaborating on music under the name Jezebeau. Currently that project is inactive, but he still works on music on his own and occasionally performs at shows on and around campus. He hopes to release an EP this term.
“I move laterally between mediums. I feel like if I’m stuck somewhere I can take a break and come back and I might have developed some of the skills I needed or grown some of what I wanted,” Koester said. “I have no shame in procrastination. So that can be art to distract myself from doing music to distract myself from doing writing.”
He worked in public relations at WVKC his sophomore year and produced posters for the radio station. This position helped boost his confidence as an artist and allowed him to begin to take his work seriously.
The summer after, he was producing a lot of geometric art. It was then that he made a new art gallery.
This time it came in the form of a Facebook photo album. The night he made it, he had stayed up all night making art on his family’s computer while he was finishing an incomplete for his History of Education course. It was some of the best work he had ever done and he decided to make it public. The creation of the album was a huge turning point.
“It was a point at which I was like, ‘Ok, this is something I’m sharing with the world and this is something that I want people to see and if people don’t like it that’s okay,’” he said.
The collection of his artwork is called “Microsoft Pain,”, each piece was made in Microsoft Paint. It is still being updated today. This August, Koester started to sell shirts with images from the album on them.
He buys the shirts at thrift stores and irons his artwork onto them and sells his work for $5. He isn’t making a profit, but he is getting a foothold on campus and getting people to wear his work. The Knox community has embraced it.
“Something happened this year where suddenly people know that I’m an artist and they respect my art and they want to engage with it and they want me on their staff. And this had never happened before, really I’d never been someone who had been approached.”
This year he is working for “Folio,” “Cellar Door,” Student Health Advocacy Group (SHAG) and Photo Club. He’s designing posters to publicize the organisations and encourage people to submit their own art. He doesn’t always feel like he’s deserving of the recognition because there are so many great artists on campus.
“All I’ve done is carved out a niche,” he said.
He has high hopes for this year and is in a good place, artistically and personally. Koester said he went through a big personal journey this summer. He started going to counseling and taking antidepressants.
“I’m a much more confident person now, much more comfortable. I have my bad patches, but it’s like day and night being here,” he said.
He’s become more authentic and is becoming more comfortable with just being himself.
He’s moved away from geometric work and more toward digital illustration since then. Koester is planning to collaborate with other artists on designs for shirts, including Agnes Dussault ‘16. Recently, he says he’s been able to move away from being so self-critical and trying to be obtuse and has been able to be more accepting of who he is.
“I’m living in a setting where I’m finally comfortable pretty much just being myself, pretty much just being open about who I am and not feeling shameful about it. That took forever,” he said.
After Knox, Koester does not know exactly where life will take him. He is majoring in Creative Writing and is interested in learning about how to make children’s books and cartoons this term. He might get involved with the DIY scene in Chicago post-graduation and hopes that art remains a part of his life and would love for it to be a part of his professional life as well.
“If I become a celebrity, I’ll be a damn good celebrity,” he joked. “I’ll be a renaissance man because I’ve got my writing degree, I’ve got my art, I’ve got animation, I’ve got photography, I’ve got video.”
He encouraged other students to submit their art to the various publications on campus and embrace the art scene, noting that it is changing this year as key players have graduated. He is going to keep experimenting.
“I think I’m making some growth right now and I think I’m moving onto something new right now. I don’t know exactly what it is, but that’s kind of always been my thing. I’m a little improvisational,” he said. “It’s a great time to be an artist on campus. We have a lot of hierarchy that’s being collapsed right now, that has collapsed right now, because they just need people to be doing it. This is one of the rare places where they just need art.”