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Collage Artist’s Whimsical Expressions Resemble a Puzzle on Canvas

Surrounded by forested areas in Wayne, New Jersey, Matt Gabel would lose himself often as a youngster. Outdoors, he routinely grew captivated by the smallest of details — muddy pawprints, the precise way a plant reflected the sun, pollen blowing from a breeze, a salamander under a rock.

Returning home, he’d draw sketches, typically of Army men and dragons or something from his favorite J.R. Tolkien books. “But I’d always incorporate something from nature, a rock or a mountain or foliage,” he says.

Today Gabel is a collage artist who shows regularly in the New York City area and at Rose Squared Art Show hows held at Anderson and Brookdale parks, picturesque pocket parks that lend themselves to browsing and buying.

Like many artists, his road here wasn’t direct. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York and initially illustrated for children’s books. He moved to Florida for a spell, where he met his wife, Karen, and returned to New Jersey when hired by artist Jeff Koons to work on a collection of celebratory paintings. A few years later, Gabel created a series of artwork of legendary sports athletes, including Peyton Manning and several boxers.

Gabel went on to work as a residential painter and decorative artist capable of painting life-size murals. He has found his niche with collage, something he dabbled with as a freshman in college. Back then, he snipped pieces from magazines, piecing them together to replicate a poster, the edges overlapping.

Decades later, his return to collage follows a far more intricate, personalized process. It started with a brainstorm one evening.

“I had all these painting in my garage that I never felt were all that good,” Gabel says. He cut them up and when two abstract pieces paired well together, he placed them on a board and began inlaying them instead of overlapping them. 

“I felt the overlapping was clumsy. I liked the look of inlaying them like a puzzle,” he says. “At night, I would refine them.”

A neck injury ended his span as a house painter but opened up a new career as an exhibiting artist. He laughs recalling his first outdoor art show in Montauk, New Jersey, when he arrived with several of his collage paintings and nothing else.

On site he realized it was BYOT – bring your own tent. “I ended up going to get one at the surf shop across the street,” he says.

Gabel paints every piece in his collages, working in varied media — watercolor, enamel, ink and more — storing all in ordered flat file folders until he is ready to start lying them on a pre-primed wood panel that serves as a blank canvas. Once he’s ready to start inlaying, he works rapidly, without a pre-conceived notion in mind.

“I randomly place them wherever they fit my eye,” he says. “Every side of the paper is painted and they’re inlayed so there are no blank spots.”

Gabel believes part of his inspiration dates back to the natural scenes that he unknowingly stored in his mind. Faith and family also influence his process.

The end product include cityscapes, trees, women, each remarkably cohesive and exquisitely designed with a spontaneous feel that mesmerizes the passerby who often becomes a patron. And then a repeat patron. 

Look for Gabel’s tent at the Rose Squared Art Shows this year..