“I know I’m too old for that but f*ck I love Chance [the Rapper].” One thing that struck us about Matt Mastrud, known formally (informally?) as Punchgut, was his honesty. There wasn’t an internal edit about how he was sounding to us, there was just the man, and consequently, the artist. A mixed media artist from North Fargo recognized for his concert posters, large scale spray painted installations, Wandering Ghost gallery exhibit, and soon-to-be Drekker can art, Punchgut treads the line between dark and light in a unique way. There’s humor in his pieces, even ones that deal with suicide, and it was an honor to be able to glimpse him at work in his home studio.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
I am Punchgut. That’s my artist nickname. My name’s Matt Mastrud, but everyone remembers Punchgut so that’s what I go by.
Where did the name Punchgut come from?
My youngest brother when I wanted to start a website said that I should call it “Jerkface Studio”, but Jerkface was already taken. So then he told me to call it “Punchgut Studio” so that’s what it started as but then everyone would ask “Are you that Punchgut guy?” and that’s what stuck… because Matt’s forgettable.
What kind of art do you make? What are you working on now?
I do anything really. I do logos, illustrations, original art like this [points to spray painted piece], concert posters… I’m getting ready to an illustration for the Roughrider Convention. It’s all over the place.
Where are you from?
About a block away. I know some people think that’s cool… some people think, ‘you ain’t gone nowhere!” (laughs) I grew up just around the block, on Forest Avenue.
Describe this space.
This is my garage and this is where I do a lot of the bigger and messier pieces. I’ve given up putting cars in here. This is what it is now. It’s got a heater up there for winter. The ground gets a little colder in winter so that’s when I wear knee pads. And sometimes it doesn’t let the paint set right so I just crank up the heat more. But Fall and Spring are the perfect times in the garage. It’s kind of chaotic because I like messy when I’m working. Usually I don’t have the door open, though, because there are some scary bugs that fly in. There was something the size of a bat, I don’t know what it was, but it looked like a flying crayfish, that flew in last year and scared the sh*t out of me. But the other part where I do the illustrating is in the house and it’s all black and white.
When did you first start creating art?
I was always kind of doing art. I’m kind of shy, and stressed out all of the time, anxious, so I’d disappear in my own little world like in classes and stuff. I’d draw monsters so I wouldn’t have to socialize. I still kind of get that safety vibe from it. I can go back here [in my garage] and disappear for a little bit.
It’s all I really know how to do. Well, I can do other things, like give horrible f*cking interviews (laughs) and I can make messes... I’m always just thinking about doing things a little bit differently.
Did you grow up in a creative household?
Mmm yeah I think my mom was kind of creative. She did a lot of scrapbooking. My youngest brother Nate is a tattoo artist and my middle brother Anthony, he’s an artist but he just kind of keeps it to himself. He draws eyes. For some reason, he just always draws eyes. And if the eyes are f*cked up, then the whole thing is worthless (chuckles), which I guess is kind of true.
Did you study art in school?
I went to, I don’t know what the school’s called anymore because it’s changed its name so many times, but I went to Northwest Tech. I did that to learn the computer side of it.
Like this, where I’m transferring big collage images (started from a project for the Forum). I did a couple before that were small transfer images and then agreed to do a huge one, which I had no idea how to do, but I decided I could figure it out. And it worked but it was a lot, a lot of boards... but I figured it out and it looks great in their Art Department.
Have you always been able to make a career out of art?
So far. Right now I work for CI Sport downtown, but I work out of my house for them doing website stuff and images, and then I do Punchgut stuff at night.
What’s the hardest part about being a professional artist?
Sometimes the bills get tough. Sometimes I think it’d be easier if I could sell insurance… I don’t even know how it works (chuckles) but those people seem to do well.
What keeps you from doing something else then?
Um, when I’m doing a piece out here or an illustration and I go to sleep, and when I wake up, I want to see it right away. I think, ‘Did that really turn out how I thought it would?’
A few years ago I would come out here and drink a lot of beer and I would get f*cking hammered. In the morning I’d come out and not even remember what I worked on. But now I’ve been sober for two years. I was really stressed that once I became sober I’d lose that creative edge. I wondered if it would change my whole way of thinking, but I think that it’s helped a ton. I think it’s actually made my art better.
It comes easier to me now. It’s a lot crisper. It still dabbles in the dark stuff, but that’s just me. I love the contrast of dark and funny. Some people just see the dark stuff as dark stuff and they don’t see the light in it. I’ve been really into black and white recently. But yeah, I don’t have that fog. Trying to work when you’re half hungover and grumpy, and kind of depressed when you come down... I don’t have that anymore. So I’m either not depressed, or levelly depressed all the time now. (laughs) But I know that now I get a lot more satisfaction from seeing where the art comes from.
How has your anxiety growing up played into your art and point of view?
I still have anxiety. I still get stressed out. Some days I know I just have to get out of the house. I’ll binge on horrible sh*t on Youtube, get all sad, and before I wouldn’t know how to get out of that funk. I would try and do art. But I would get done and just be exhausted. I know now that I need to just get out of the house. You don’t have to constantly work. When you’re struggling and bummed out, you’re just spinning your wheels. Now I go out, I’ve got my scooter which I putter around on, play Pokemon Go, hang out with the kids, go to the grocery store… and I feel like I’ve gotten a much better hold of that.
What’s your favorite part of being an artist?
One thing I’m getting ready to start is a new website. It’s called “T-shirt Wasteland” and it’s artists that I’ve admired sending me their work that I put on t-shirts. For some nerdy reason, getting the artists’ files has just been a huge nerd fest for me. So I’ve gotten files from like Adam Turman out of Minneapolis who’s an amazing illustrator, Paul Relenter who does black and white collages that blow my mind… Wandering Ghost was really fun, too. I’ve always b*tched about the Fargo art scene and everyone can b*tch and moan about it, but do I have any right to complain if I don’t try and do something different. So that was something I started to do with Jeff Knight where the art from artists we liked was on exhibit for one day and then shut it down. And people were really happy. They liked it.
The next Wandering Ghost is going to be at Drekker. Those guys are huge fans of art.
What do you want Fargo’s art scene to be?
I want it to be weird and fun. For me a lot of what I struggle with when it comes to art is the anxiety and stress that I always deal with but going into a snobby art scene makes me go off that charts. It’s too much for me. I want art to be fun and laid back. It doesn’t have to be stuffy with pinkies in the air and strawberries.
You can make it fun and inviting -- that’s what I really want it to be, inviting. You know those galleries that have florescent orange dog sh*t in the corner? I like that part a little bit but I could see how that could turn off people. A lot of us spend a lot of our time being intimidated by a lot. We see photos on social media of everyone on beaches smiling and I think, ‘Where’s this damn happy beach?!” (laughs). Art should be a night out where people can ask about it, talk to the artist, without huge explanations about the piece. A lot of times when people ask me what I meant to do with a piece, they usually come up with something better than I did and I’m like, “Damn, that’s gooood.” (laughs)
Who are your inspirations in art?
Mmm. Frank Kozik, he is the king of concert posters. And then it’s, I don’t know, man, it kind of changes. One of the beautiful parts about social media these days is that you can follow lots of people and it can change every week. Some weeks I’ll see stuff by Skinner and think, “Shit! I wanna draw all the time!” and then I’ll see great stuff from Print Mafia… the best way is just to mix it up.
[resumes spray painting] I know that when I do spray paint I should wear a ventilator or something, but… (chuckles) I smoke at the same time and there’s a filter on the cigarette, so the filter must be doing its job.
Do you have something you hope people take away from your work?
I think anyone can be an artist. I’ve talked to some kids who don’t think they can draw. A lot of people think they have to do something as good as the best person, but anyone can draw. Some of my favorite drawings are super simple black and whites. Like on the Internet? Whoever drew Dickbutt was brilliant. (laughs)
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Probably on this couch, but it’s a Hideaway. I’ve upgraded that sh*t.
I hope that a couple of the websites take off and I have a little more space to be creative in other ways, but I always want to stay creative. Even if it’s more Wandering Ghosts or start something completely different.
How do you approach a new piece?
Everything starts scribbled down, really rough. That’s one thing I’ve learned. I’ve got a folder of images saved on my computer that I’ve found. Then I’ll sketch in a notepad an idea that I think will look cool. When a time comes where I don’t have something to work on, I’ll go back to those files and sketches. It’s impossible to just sit there and say, “What should I build now?” when you know that you have time.
How long does a piece usually take?
I never keep track.
What inspires you?
A lot of stuff. Music has always inspired me. A lot of lyrics, I mean the “27 Club” has been something that I’ve wanted to work with for a while... old comic books, but sometimes I’ll just be driving and see something.
What’s on your playlist right now?
Chance the Rapper. Kanye. It kind of goes all over the place. I saw Norah Jones came out with a new song last night… she sounds dreamy.
What advice do you have for other people who want to be an artist?
You have to have a website. I’ve noticed that for Wandering Ghost we’ll say, “Can we see some of your work?” and they just have jpegs. Get something out there that you add to, but put it somewhere, even on Instagram. Don’t be afraid. And I know that’s something that artists struggle with, but a lot of people like seeing that.