Finding passion in a fresh start

Alex Madison

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At 35 years old, WSU student Jonathan Matteson was given the opportunity to uncover a hidden talent and dust off an old dream.

Jonathan made a leap of faith when he decided to abandon his job in marketing to chase a late-blooming but passionate dream.

“I wanted to always be smiling about my career, and I didn’t have joy enough in marketing to do that,” Jonathan said. “Your career must be a joy in order to get through the pain of it.”

After 15 years of working in the marketing department for high-end horticulture nurseries, Jonathan decided to stop being a hypocrite and follow his love for artistic expression and teaching, he said.

“I was telling people to follow their passion when I wasn’t following my own,” he said with a small laugh.

To follow his dream of creating art and becoming an art professor, Jonathan had to relocate his family, including his wife Holle Matteson and their two children, from Vancouver to the Pullman.

“It was definitely scary. Like any big decision is,” Holle said.

The most important thing to Holle was that her children would understand the importance of doing something that makes them truly happy, Holle said.

“We wanted to show that we were outwardly going after our passions and be examples to our children,” she said.

Raised in the Bohemian household of an art historian and poet, Jonathan’s creative mind and love for different modes of artistic expression, like music, has been a part of his life for many years. However, it was his fear of the unknown and not knowing enough about himself that strangled the reach to his affinity for the arts, Jonathan said.

“I loved art, but I thought I could only be a patron,” he said.

Having barely picked up a paint brush before coming to WSU to study fine arts, Jonathan closed one chapter of his life to step into a journey of self-discovery, he said.

Coming into his sophomore year, Jonathan has once again begun painting and designing artwork. His newest series of paintings titled “Biomes” is a collection of pure abstraction representatives of the world’s major communities such as grasslands, tundra and desert.

“The world can make you callus and lose wonder,” he said.  “I want to reactivate people’s senses and curiosity with my paintings.”

Jonathan paints with a pallet knife to create a more textured and organic look, which he said gives energy to the painting.

Pamela Lee, WSU professor of fine arts, taught Jonathan as a freshman and saw something special in him.

“I was impressed by his curiosity and passion,” she said. “It’s very genuine.”

Lee admires Jonathan’s bravery to abandon his previous life for one of deeper fulfillment.

“We spend so much of our life working,” Lee said. “It would be a dreadful existence to pass each day with work that was not meaningful.”

Along with paintings, Jonathan is currently exploring the world of digital art. WSU instructor Mazdak Shadkam, who is a friend of Jonathan’s, said Jonathan has brought his business along with him to the field of art.

Jonathan created a line of merchandise from his digital designs, including cell phone cases and bookmarks.

“Passion is the boldest word I can use to describe him,” Shadkam said. “The community needs more people like him. Dedicated.”

After being at WSU for more than a year in preparation for his master’s in fine arts, Jonathan said, “Now I am mentally and physically in tuned with finding joy in my life.”

To learn more about Jonathan and his journey, check out his website at