One hot summer day in June, Matt Tumlinson found himself doodling a sketch of a European skyline in the dirt on the tailgate of his truck. It caught the eye of so many; a local newspaper even wrote a story about it. An artist whose talent spans a wide variety of mediums, Tumlinson has always had a passion for creating. For the last seven years he has been fortunate enough to turn his life-long love into a highly buzzed about career. He’s inspired by stepping outside of his bubble, and his beautiful creations grace the neighborhoods of San Antonio and the world.
Where did you grow up? How did you become an artist?
I was raised in Early, Texas, a small town of about 2,000 near Abilene. Both my parents were teachers, and the plan was for me to teach as well up until I started selling my art. I was always kind of artistic growing up, but it has evolved over the years. I later went on to Texas Tech University and majored in history.
You use many mediums in your art, including bullet casings. How did that come about?
In college, I got a job working for my uncle on the southside of San Antonio. He had just bought a gun range. Despite growing up where I did and being around guns, I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with them. When I started working at this gun range, my understanding of firearms changed. It didn’t get less complicated, but I understood more of the nuances of guns. You’d see people who were responsible gun owners, and then you’d see people who make you think, “oh, that’s why we need stricter gun laws.” The experiences there were confusing, so I used the artwork as a metaphor for taking something that’s usually seen as a destructive force and turning it into something creative.
What made you think to turn the bullet casings into art?
Above the gun range was a small apartment, and I would live up there during the summers while I worked. Art was my hobby, so I was always working on something, and one day I just started laying them on top of each other, lining them up. My first one was an oil painting of a Comanche chief on the casings. The painting is tied to the message. I give people both sides of the gun debate, which is nationwide. People bring their own paths and their own experiences to this artwork. One person can see something entirely different than someone else might see. It’s a metaphor for who we are as people; how we can see our own experiences in things, and someone else could see the exact opposite. Currently, my work is sold in galleries in La Jolla, California, and at Texas Treasures in Boerne, but I also have a studio at Hausmann Millworks here in San Antonio.
Firearms are a part of your art, but they’ve also worked their way into your discussions throughout your travels. How have you gone about dispelling stereotypes?
When I used to travel, and people would hear that I’m from Texas, they would automatically draw certain conclusions. In a way, I had to articulate why those stereotypes existed and be the face of Texas. Even though I’ve never been a big gun person, I knew a lot about that world. I would explain firearms as a tool, and that those who own them should act responsibly like they would with tools. I would explain that it’s not the same here (Texas) as its portrayed in the media. But then I’d go home to my little hometown and be seen as this liberal guy. I had to be fluent in both of these opposite worlds. The best way for me to start a conversation was always with my artwork.
Along with painting on bullet casings, you also work on canvas and guitars, and you paint murals. How did that come about?
It’s something I’m really, excited about. I’ve been painting murals for three years. I’ve been doing them in Rankin in West Texas, and I’ve also become part of the San Antonio Street Art Initiative which is organized by local artists. They’re doing murals all over town, and it’s really neat. I did one of George Strait on St. Mary’s Street and it went viral, and George commented that he liked it, so that was really, cool.
When you’re not busy painting, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My wife Allison and I really like exploring San Antonio, but now having a 2-year-old, our son Jack, that has slowed us down a bit. We try to go out and do something new every week in the city, and there’s always something cool going on. I think it’s a good time to be living in San Antonio.
Not many can say they’re truly passionate about what they do for a living. How does it feel getting to make a living doing what you love?
Well, I’ve ruined myself on ever holding down a normal job. I work twice as hard, but I love what I do, so it’s all worth it. I don’t think I could work any other way. People often say, “when did you become an artist?” and I always reply, “I’ve always been one, I just get paid for it now.”
By Christie Cuthbert
Photography by Janet Rogers