Portrait of the artist

The following remembrances are a mere handful of so many we have received. Please check metrotimes.com for more memories and photos, and feel free to share your own thoughts, which we will continue to post online. These letters have been edited for length.

Gerry Blake, father

When Matthew was a little boy we would take him to his grandparents to visit. He would go directly to his grandfather's workshop in the basement. He would go through all the drawers looking for "stuff."

I grew up building model airplanes with my father. One drawer Matthew was always drawn to was the one filled with propellers. That just might be how his first art and design collective got its name.

Recalling Matthew's achievements in life are many but his greatest achievement I believe was last Thursday at the Piquette Model T Plant where there were over 600, tear-filled family and friends sharing their love of Matthew with us.

Carol Blake, mother

Matt was always a free spirit and he passed away doing what he dearly loved, playing the drums.

He was one of the most loving, caring, sensitive people I have ever met. I'm saying this not because he was our son, but because it is so very true. You need only to talk to anyone that ever knew him.

He took the worries of the world upon his shoulders. He felt extremely sad that the world and his beloved Detroit were in the condition they were in and he was trying so hard to make changes for the good of all.

Enis Sefersah, artist

He was a complete character. He intrinsically had something that thousands of people would try to get, would work at for years, and he just had it, in terms of art and music. He was a tweaked character, a ticking time bomb, always making this incredible artwork. He worked hard, but he just had it in him. He was already there and beyond that.

Don Thibodeaux, friend

Matt's gone! It's hard to believe. No more conversations about art; music; politics; Detroit; golf; and family and friends. No more Dumpster diving; art days in the studio; lunches at the market; shopping for tools; arguing over finds in the trash; bitching about our government; talking about our fathers; comparing notes on being home owners; or, concern about each others' health. There's no more jokes; no more favors; no more keeping up on friends. Matt is missed by all who knew him; like a brother; a close cousin; a teacher; a favorite actor or musician; or like a former lover. I feel deep sorrow for his family; his wife; his students; his band mates; and those of us who golfed and created art with him.

He was one of those people who you looked forward to seeing when out on the town in Detroit. He's going to be missed an awful lot in the Detroit art and music scene because there was no one like Matt Blake. I, along with my close circle of friends, will miss him dearly, but at least there are some deep memories of his wit and charm we'll have for the rest of our lives.

Dave Krieger, photographer

The measure of a man isn't the successes he's had but the chances he takes. Matt stood out among many as one never satisfied with the status quo. He dreamed big and was in constant motion. Never content to accept the restrictions of art, music or life. He went out the way any of us would like to think we would choose — doing something we love and beating the hell out of it.

Ben Hernandez, friend

If you knew him … you would know that it is true when people tell you that he was one of the sweetest, warmest, most considerate and polite individuals around. It was almost unreal. He would always be ready to give a kiss on the cheek to any woman that he had met more than twice. It was an endearingly old world aspect of the man that I was always amused by. There was always a sly nudge and wink attached to those kisses. He meant it but he was also playing a little game with that Cheshire smile. Truly he was the angel on everyone's shoulder but, more endearingly, he was the devil on the opposite shoulder spurring you on to ignore societal standards and do things your own way.

This is the man who, when a certain area gallery director became horrifyingly intoxicated at a party at his house, put his arms around his drunken friend and sat him down on the couch in front of the fire while simultaneously slipping an entire stick of unwrapped butter into the sloshed art dealer's unsuspecting pocket. Angel and devil, sweetheart and curmudgeon — that was Matt Blake to those who knew him well. I honestly owe damn near all that I am now to the man. For those who know me from Detroit Art Space it may be a surprise to know that Matthew introduced me to the Thibodeaux family as he was building the massive stage that so many performed their earliest area gigs on. It was Matt who set me up with a place to live, behind a half-sized wall he built for me in the basement studio we shared for a time. It was Matt who got me a job doing Web design when I was in most desperate need. It was Matt who made me realize that art and artists didn't have to be lofty and pretentious to make good work. It was that lovable crank who taught me that it was OK to be me. He was a real life inspiration … I will miss him forever.

Jerome Ferretti, artist

Matt was an angel who touched us all. Unfortunately his work was done and the powers that be took him from us. Matt inspired me in many ways. His unconventional methods had profound influence on my work. I sat in with his band Bogue many times on stage and in private sessions along with guitarist and genius composer Dan Maister who left us earlier. My wife and I heard a song by the band Friday night on a commercial radio station around the time of his death. At the time it struck us unusual, but how ironic this became.
Matt loved my pizza and could eat a mountain of it but he was as thin as a rail. I'll miss his coffee visits and kooky jokes and nicknames.

His first date with his beautiful wife Hazel was at my home, I immediately fell in love with her and admired their relationship. Matt struggled early with some substance issues but was successful in redeeming himself. I golfed with him the day before his untimely death. My heart is truly broken, my beloved friend is gone too early, my tears won't stop. I will be strong for Hazel, but I'm afraid I'll slip and the floodgates might open. I celebrate his life, his work, and I'll miss him so.

John Werden, aka "Uncle Russ"

He was like a son to me. We golfed on Thursday, with (Dave) Krieger and Jerome (Ferretti), and then him and I sat out in front of Avalon bakery and talked for hours. When he'd leave, he'd always give me a hug and kiss on the cheek and tell me he loved me.

You know, that day, Matt had wanted to get back to the woodshop to do work and instead he said, "What the hell, live a little."

Jimmy Ohio, bandmate in Misty

He was intense about anything he did, which is why he was so great to work with. It seems like he was so prolific, he was always doing multiple projects. It didn't seem like he was too interested in explaining what he was doing. He was just working, instead of talking about working.

Joel Peterson, musician

Matt was a one-of-a-kind personality. He was almost painfully polite at times, but he would always let you know what he really thought. He really embodied his generation of artists in Detroit: multifaceted as a visual artist, builder and musician. He was multifaceted in music too; most people know his drumming from rock groups like Bogue, but he'd also come hit with the free jazz guys like Skeeter Shelton. Matt often helped me out with drum equipment at Bohemian National Home. One of his cymbal stands is still sitting in the room next to me from last week. The silver lining is that Matt died doing something he really loved. Most of us won't be so fortunate in that regard. I just wish it happened 40 years later.

Chris Handyside, music critic, musician

Heard the news yesterday afternoon at work and it made the rest of the day pretty much insignificant. I knew Matt as one of the most inspired drummers I've ever witnessed and knew of his art as an admirer of both his craft and his passion. He was a doer. Not a talker. A connector between people who otherwise might not have thought to be connected and every time I encountered him — every damn time — he had that infectious smile on his face, an indomitable spirit emanating from every pore of his being and I am immensely sad that this world can no longer count him among our number. Damnit. All love to Hazel and his family immediate and extended.

Gilda Snowden, artist

It is so difficult to understand why losses like this happen.

So painful, so unfair, so hard to fathom. Young, vital, dynamic artists being taken from our community so early. Artists such as Matt Holland, Joseph Wesner, George Korinek, Bill Hodgson, Bradley Jones, Sandy Zenisek, Jim Gustafson......and now Matt Blake. Taken from our community so suddenly. The only thing I can think to do now in the wake of these terrible losses is to continue to care deeply about our people, each other, and remember out loud.

Susan Cassabon

I went to CCS and we had common friends (John Bell and Taru Lahti of Propeller). If you know of those guys, at the time, you got to know them all. I lived on Forest for a while and we were all living "the dream," being creative and carefree. Those days are so dear to me. Matt was always inspiring and charismatic. The friendship with him didn't require large quantities of time, for its depth. It was genuine and immediate. Detroit has just lost some of its unique luster with his passing. This sad news went through my heart. I haven't seen Matt in many years because I live in DC now.

Michael Jackman, Metro Times copy editor

When I was house-shopping, I thought I had found a sensible place to buy. But then Matt Blake gave me a tour of his Hubbard Farms home, right around the corner from the house he had already refurbished. It rose up for three full stories, with a commanding staircase leading up to an attic that was roomier than my apartment. Even the garage was built with reinforced concrete and a car-washing apparatus. He had bought it cheap, and took out a line of credit to renovate it entirely. I was so impressed with his ambitious vision that my own choices seemed meager by comparison. Awed and humbled, I wound up holding off on a purchase, probably the best choice I made that year.

Camilla S. Course

Matt Blake was in the "St. Andrews Pipe Band" along with my father Tom Course, as one of the bass drummers, for many years.

I did not know him from his art work, but immediately recognized the presence of someone special when introduced to him several years ago at a St. Andrews event in Warren. The last few years have been a difficult time for my father and the band has in many ways kept him going.

I observed Matt always taking special care of my father at every event with his unique style, sparkling eyes and enchanting smile. It meant more than words can say to me how gentle, intent, and graceful he was with my dad who loved him very much. He stood out right away to me… as an angel. That's how I will remember him. He touched our lives and will be remembered always for the "grand troubadour" that he was.

Camilo Pardo, artist

Matt has left us with a legacy of art, music and friendship that can be passed on to others. His presence will remain with us.

Vince Carducci, art and culture critic

"Ars longa, vita brevis," the cliché goes. It seems more than a little gauche to call upon such an apparent banality at a time like this. And yet the phrase is in fact appropriate. First, there's the brevity of the artist's life. At 43, Matt Blake was in his creative prime. Losing him under these circumstances is a real tragedy. But then there's the concept of longevity deeply embedded in his art. Blake took the refuse of everyday life — broken toys, architectural fragments and other castoffs — and gave it refuge in truly astonishing works of art. His large frieze-like assemblages of ephemera, painted completely white or gold and then hung on the wall, conjure up the eternal glory of ancient Greece out of the ruins of postindustrial Detroit. On one level, they refer to the timelessness of the classical ideal. Even more important, however, they profess faith in the power of art to transcend space and time. Detroit asks a lot of its artists, and usually offers little in return. Matthew Blake gave along with the very best of them. May his contribution long be remembered.

Danny Dollrod, musician

I knew him as a great drummer before I knew him as a great artist. He wasn't a community activist. He didn't talk about stuff. He just did it. I loved that about him. Matt was a guy that had a very unique vision that was true to himself. He didn't belong to any kind of clique. He was very much outside of that. He took people at face value and was loving and friendly to everyone. Kids down the street he would befriend, pay them to help around the house. We sort of inherited one of the street guys, he'd give him change and drive him to McDonald's, it didn't matter who it was or what status they were in the community. He didn't care about any of that stuff. He was beautiful to everyone.

Susanne Hilberry, Susanne Hilberry Gallery

I saw Mathew as one of the kindest, most gentle, most unassuming people I ever met. Yet with all those qualities he had this really strong presence. That seeming contradiction is really present in the work.

Amy Yokin


That enormous, all-encompassing, infectious, dimply, wonderful smile that just lit up a room when he walked in! No matter what mood you may have been in, just one glimpse of Matt's smile and all worries and stresses dissipated into thin air! It was the mere thought of that smile that got me through the Bagpipe and Drum Corps @ his memorial without turning into a complete pool of mush! And that smile is what will sustain the memory of Matt Blake in my heart forever!

Jacqueline Leow, assistant to the director, Oakland University Art Gallery

Extremely sad to learn of the death of Matthew Blake. I had the opportunity to meet him during his participation in the group show Sculpture??? at the OU art gallery in 2006 and found him to be amazing. His soft-spoken manner and his attention to detail made a lasting impression. I found him to be both kind and genuine - what a devastating loss!

Erin Pauken
, cousin, Stuttgart, Germany

I "Googled" Matthew because I thought I might find some recent photos of him; the photos I have are all very old. Matt Blake is my cousin. Our families spent every holiday as well as summer reunions together. Yet with all my childhood memories of him, as I read the articles and email threads by all of his friends, acquaintances, associates, and fans it occurs to me that I've missed the true joy of "knowing" Matt as an adult.

The last time I saw Matt was in August of 2005 at his brother's wedding celebration in Chicago. As anyone who truly knows Matt has experienced, even though we hadn't seen each other in years it was like we had been together just the day before. It was during this weekend that Matt brought out a small practice pad and sticks, and sat down with my then 12-year-old daughter. He patiently and happily showed her various beats on the pad. They were both having so much fun that neither realized how much time had passed. I realize now that he was so in his element — being excited about his music and the chance to share it — that he was having as much fun as my daughter. She is now playing in her own band, taking lessons, and practicing on her own. That is largely due to Matt's influence and encouragement.

There are many in the Detroit community who know that Matt cheated death probably more than once. The Thanksgiving after his near-fatal car accident was especially memorable. Matthew had to wear a neck/head brace which was actually screwed into his skull to prevent his broken neck from moving. It was large and some sort of metal, probably titanium. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if he incorporated it into a sculpture when it came off. Matt was at CCS at the time, and I was still in high school. I'm pretty sure I thought he was the coolest dude around. We spent the better part of the afternoon in my room while I completely covered the neck brace in tiny designs with a silver paint pen. Even his medical apparatus became art.

For everyone who did not have the joy and pleasure of knowing Matt in his much younger days, it occurs to me that as an adult, he really wasn't much different than he was as a kid. He was always earnest, sincere, quick to smile and laugh but soft-spoken and mild-mannered and kind. His art is so full of his childhood — Matt was the first person to take me Dumpster-diving. We rode on his Schwinn banana-seat with the sissy bar on garbage night all through the neighborhood in Southfield, pretending we were spies while he carefully combed the cans. Now when I look at his ironic and amazing friezes I realize he's been prepping for those pieces since the '70s. So the sources may have changed over the years, but I think it's safe to say he's been collecting other people's trash and turning it into treasure since he was a little boy.

Matt himself was a treasure to all who knew and loved him; sadly a treasure that was lost all too soon. Some will remember his art, others his music. As for me, I will remember the smiling boy who taught me there's no need for a real sled if you have a couple of Hefty Bags. I was lucky to have had those times with him, and lucky to have known him. We all are.

Mike Wetmore

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt, along with Enis Sefersah, at Uncle Russ' shop. The Detroit art community has lost an invaluable asset in Matt and my Uncle Russ has lost a dear friend. I hope you continue writing such pieces on the obscure but compelling people who make up the most interesting components of the city of Detroit.

Carrie Kelly, photographer, inner city youth art teacher, West Palm Beach, Fla.

I recall one Halloween, Matt, and some of the Propeller Boys dressed as Spacemen, all homemade costumes, of odd materials. Always able to deliver a smile, as well as procure one, Matt delved into the Innovative, Modern, Future for his audience, and especially in the hearts of close friends in the Detroit art and music scene. He will be so missed by me, and I know, always well remembered by all. One New Year's Eve, in front of Union Street, me to Matt: "Lookin' Good!" Matt: "Feelin' good!!!"

Theresa Bailey, industrial design student at Wayne State University and shop tech in the WSU woodshop

Matt was an inspiration to the entire industrial design department at Wayne State. He guided and mentored each one of us. Matt would always greet you with big smile and everyone knew that he was always willing to help with whatever we needed. We all have been touched by his dedication and kindness. His quirks will not be soon forgotten and he will live on through his pieces in galleries and his teachings to each one of us.

The woodshop was his domain, each of us were just visitors in his basement world. I'm sure that he will continue watching over us and the shop; just now from a slightly higher plane.

Chris Turner, collaborator on the Millennium Bell

When it comes to doing something you haven't done before, people get scared. Not him. He believed that nobody's going to care more about your work that you, you have to know that. It's one thing to have great ideas, but to maintain them over a lifetime, that's really, really tough.

The thing is, I thought that son of a bitch would outlive us all. He wasn't done. He wasn't through. When he died he was right in the middle of something, working on another idea. No, he wasn't done. And I truly believe, you know, he's probably pissed. Not to be rude, but I know quite a few other motherfuckers that deserve to die. It kind of changes the game up a little bit. I got to do even more. If I don't, I kind of feel like I'd be letting him down. The idea of honoring someone is funny, but the kind of person he was — he dictates that.

Becky Hart, associate curator of contemporary art, Detroit Institute of Arts

Matt's death is a tremendous loss of creative gifts to the city — visual art, music and the art of friendship. His sudden death reminds us to savor each day just as he savored life. We all have a new bright light in the heavens with Matt's passing. May he go from strength to strength, just as he lived life.

Saugy Chakraborty, department of neuroscience, Wayne State University

I was first introduced to him by an artist friend of mine. What struck me about Matt was his insatiable thirst for learning about other cultures, his dedication to his work, his constant search for perfection through his art, his innate ability to reach out and affect people who have lost their way in life and his unquestioned love for the city of Detroit. When he learnt that I arrived in the U.S. from India just a few years back he expressed his fervent desire to visit my homeland and how he would fit right in due the fact that he was vegetarian and had a pacifist nature :-)

As we all know, he was a connoisseur of the "real" rock music (and I quote "as opposed to the crap that they played these days") and he loved providing me with a private show of his drumming repertoire. After a few sessions, I proudly displayed his new band "HEXANE" sticker on the back of my Toyota and drove around feeling quite cool about myself.

As others will testify, he was a bloke you could always rely on in your time of need or peril. He was a man with diverse interests in academia and arts. He managed to take a chunk out of his busy schedule to attend a talk of mine on physics and was full of pertinent and probing questions, a sign of a man possessing a multi-faceted faculty who questioned the very meaning of existence.

I will miss Sir Mathew Blake, my brother, my friend and my mentor in a variety of ways that are inexplicable and can only be felt.

Jan Silverman, collector

I went to his home a few years ago on a studio visit — what a lovely person. His home was lovingly restored by him and his wife. I was so impressed by him and his talent. I purchased one of his sculptures that I just adore (the sculpture is about 3 feet long by 1 foot. It is comprised of wood and many small toys. It has a very whimsical quality about it that I loved). He was so humble and grateful of the support. He will really be missed.

Mare Costello, artist

10 Reason I am Grateful for Matt Blake

  • The first and last thing I remember of Matt was and is his smile. The sweetest, most disarming expression.
  • His utter lack of judgment when it came to others.
  • The fact that he spent a good 3 hours or more under a freak'n bed sheet sand blasting a 4-by-6 foot piece of metal with only eye goggles on in order to help me get this piece ready for my art exhibition, and he did it for a sandwich.
  • It was nice to see a guy so tough, charming, sexy, talented, goofy and generous swaggering around town.
  • He ended up doing the dishes at Ephs when I got bumped up to waitress and thought "OMG, like it's Matt Blake! He's like a brilliant rock star and he's going to work here!"
  • Getting to be part of a super cool gang of artists that included his wicked brilliance.
  • Having him as an inspiration to never give up.
  • For making me the most disgusting tea that he found out in the old shed of the house that he had just got with Hazel and then realizing we had no idea how old it was and where it had been or where it came from.
  • Being blessed to see him one more time before I moved to Los Angeles 11 months ago.
  • Being granted one last gift from Matt to witness just how precious life is and to never forget that life can change for good or bad in a heartbeat.

Brian Cronin, friend of a friend

A sad time for artists in Detroit. I didn't really know Matt, I am friends with two mutual friends of his, Mike Bizon and Sara Blakeman, who no longer live in the city. A few years back at one of the Actual Size shows I remember Matt and Mike looking at Matt's piece (the garbage bag piece that looked like a painting). He was so proud and happy about the piece as he should have been and it just struck me how honest and excited he was for art and life. a great artist who will be missed by all. Regards to family and his wife.

Gennifer Gates-Bussey, artist

I met Matthew Blake (known to me ever-so-formally as Master Blake) while working in the metalsmithing shop at Wayne State. The wood shop was a frequent stop on my agenda. He was always a happy guy and willing to help anyone out who needed it, including myself. He loved talking about his many house remodeling projects and was very particular in the way he would address keeping his home's beautiful, detailed, historic charm. He was a great asset to the city, Wayne State, and the art/music world. A piece of the city will truly be missing without him.

Dennis Nawrocki, sculptor, author and art professor

The grim reaper lowered the boom on us this spring. From the loss of Detroit sculptors Matthew Blake and Edward Chesney to New Yorker-Floridian Robert Rauschenberg, the past four weeks have been cruel to say the least. While the latter had their moments in the sun, Matt Blake, half their age at 43, was only just beginning to bask in its aura. He enjoyed that sunny season though and happily got to savor it for awhile. Would that his days had extended farther into the future so his time with us and especially for himself had spun out longer.

Theresa Hurst, friend and neighbor

Somebody who didn't know him said, "So he was a cool guy?" and I answered, "He was the best cool guy." A person didn't need to know him well to know what I mean.

I met him when we were in our 20s back when he and Camilo [Pardo] made metal "artfits" and I modeled their insanely cool goldfish bowl belt in some show in Pontiac a million years ago. Like 20 years later, he and Hazel bought a house right down the street from my duplex in Hubbard Farms. That's Detroit for you, one really big small town...

He was a thoughtful man who gave people his full attention and, when he hugged you, he hugged you with everything he had.

And Matthew was an honorable man who every day acted in big and small ways to fix what was wrong around him — be that standing in the path of a semi traveling illegally down his street; walking up to a drug dealer and telling him softly not to come 'round here again; hunting down his and Hazel's stolen bikes; painstakingly restoring with Hazel two historic houses that were in seriously shitty shape. (Some brilliant person nicknamed them "Hazmatt" — squatters wouldn't even stay in the houses the Blakes bought and brought back to life.)

I visited Hazel the other day and she had family and their close friends at the house taking very, very good care of her. Hazel is so strong and Matthew would be proud of her.

Rest easy, man.

Sharon Zimmerman, assistant to the president, The Kresge Foundation

I did not know Matt terribly well but I am a great admirer of his work. I was lucky enough to "win" one of his pieces at a MAPP Auction, and several years later, it continues to delight, awe, mystify, charm and intrigue me. No matter how often I look at it, I always fall in love with the piece all over again. There is a special ‘essence' in the work that speaks silently to me, but speaks volumes. I am so sorry that the creator of this piece will no longer have the opportunity to work his magic for the benefit of others.

Allan Barnes, photographer, Los Angeles, Calif.

Detroit loses the people it needs the most.

I met Matt Blake in 1991, which seems like a few short years ago. He was part of this amazing group of artists who called themselves Propeller Studios. We didn't really bond then, but I recognized then that Matt, like me, was someone who had spent enough time in Detroit that he had mastered the ability to find beauty in what other people saw as ugliness, to find delightful treasures in a pile of rubble or somebody's contribution to a great Detroit Tradition: Bulk Pickup Day.

Years later, Matt and his then girlfriend and later wife, Hazel, moved to my neighborhood, Hubbard Farms. They bought one of the most dilapidated homes in the entire neighborhood, a house that I had actually looked at and wondered: What person or persons would be insane or ambitious enough to take on this project?". And my question was answered by Matt and Hazel, who turned a fire damaged dump owned by one of Detroit's many slumlords and turned it into something that one would see in one of those house-porn magazines like Dwell. It was a family effort: Hazel made the tile that lined the kitchen at Pewabic Pottery, Matt and his father made this amazing door to the dining room.

We immediately recognized that we were both unapologetic pack rats, and we immediately started offering each other treasures that each of us had hoarded, but had no real use for.

Me: Hey Matt, I have a six foot long 100 year old beer cooler that I found but cant use! Do you need it?

Matt: Allan, I have a rusted out 1980 BMW that somebody gave me! Do you need it?

And so we both eventually bought additional wrecked houses and constantly admired each other's work and constantly shared materials that we had scavenged.

And then Matt got this great job running the woodshop at WSU, which was full of amazing machines from the days when they still made amazing machines in America, the sort of machines that my Grandfather, a master woodworker, had used. When things were not busy, Matt would let me come and use the machinery.

I left Detroit again 18 months ago, and hadn't really seen much of Matt since, but I had been thinking as of late: Well, the next time that I am in Detroit, I really need to go see how Matt's house is coming, and see if he wants my collection of giant wood beams harvested from demolished North Corktown Cottages.

But now he's gone. I try to console myself with the idea that he died doing something that he loved: making music.

Unfortunately, there's no consolation. Detroit needed him, and now there's just a gaping hole and all of us are gasping for air, processing the idea that his death has left Detroit far emptier than before.

Also another thing that was touching: Matt and Hazel had no kids, but when they first moved to Hubbard Farms they became surrogate Uncle and Aunt to some young guys in the neighborhood, their "nephews" became part of their projects and family, and Matt would grumble about how the "nephews" report cards weren't so good or how the "nephews" were becoming good musicians ... Matt was always pulling people into his orbit and sharing his wisdom with them.

My love to the Detroit Nation.

Ivin Ballen, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I only knew Matthew Blake with Hazel. What I witnessed in my three short years of knowing this couple was an unimaginable bond between two of the most loving, authentic people I have ever met. They pursued a way of living that was so beautiful and ambitious that it attracted countless admirers, which I am proud to say was one of. I will miss Matt very much.

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