Color Splash Baltimore designer Liza Hathaway Matthews takes her work from canvas to textile with national success.

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Liza Hathaway Matthews is in love with color. Graceful, gestural brushstrokes of muted green, sienna and blue streaked with pink and violet — the latter her favorite color since childhood — evoke Lake Roland on a foggy morning. Riotous, swirling shapes of magenta and gold dance with light and texture in her abstract work. And while her chinoiserie pieces evoke elegant stems and petals, the main event is her color choice.

Her color crush has become something of a public love fest, with interior designers and collectors across the country commissioning her work for pillows, fabric and wallpaper. Matthews’ paintings often dot the pages of shelter magazines from “HouseBeautiful” to “Lonny.” One of her large-scale pieces even had a close-up on a Food Network show.

Her Instagram followers @lizahathawaymatthews recently topped 3,400, and she’s represented by Baltimore’s Bozzuto Greene Art, Oriet’s Fine Art and The Art Registry in Washington, D.C., among others. She’s showing this spring and summer in Baltimore and Gibson Island.

On March 2, she and 10 other local artists, in collaboration with Katherine Crosby from Jenkins Baer, will exhibit at the Mount Vernon Club 2018 Art Gallery Night. Last May, she had a show in Nashville.

Matthews began 2018 colorfully as well: Piper Collection launched a 10-design indoor/outdoor pillow line from Matthews’ designs at a national Atlanta-based gift and home design show. The decorative pillow company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, also introduced three of her prints at last year’s storied High Point Market, a mecca for designers and design fans alike.

It was five years ago when Matthews’ colorful work leapt off the canvas. Armed with a vision, an innate charm and solid social media savvy, she tweeted Mary Catherine Folmar, founder of Cotton & Quill, to suggest a collaboration. Since 2013, selected Matthews prints have been part of the Birmingham, Alabama-based company’s line of hand-illustrated fabric and wall coverings. This spring, Cotton & Quill will introduce four more Matthews prints that are in production now.

Matthews’ gratitude for the trajectory of her career has a “pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming” aspect to it, but she is clearly focused on where she’s going as an artist and as a brand. Her sights are set on seeing her work on trays, stationery, dinnerware, linens and more. “When Cotton & Quill put my work on fabric and wallpaper, it became another way for me to think about painting and how my work looks as a repeat,” she says. “Now, I think about what else I can be doing. With my interior design background, it’s right in my wheelhouse.”

“She first proposed ‘Coral Crush’ and ‘Purple Orchid,’ which were good complements to the Cotton & Quill line because of their bold colors and fresh look,” Folmar explains. The titles of the new pieces for Cotton & Quill — “Agate,” “Blue Agave,” “Pink Blooms” and
“Sunshine Splash” — celebrate Matthews’ favorite artistic inspiration: nature.

Long a fan of abstract painting —“I love that you have to figure it out and that color is so vibrant in abstract art” — she uses the views outside her window
to inspire her canvases. Fortunately, Matthews has the perfect window. She and her family live along Lake Roland and the trees, birds and changing seasonal colors all find their way into her work. The water and the weather moving across it are daily muses.

It was the outdoors that Whitney Caudle, founder of Piper Collection, had in mind for Matthews’ work when they connected via Instagram. “It’s great to do a lot of color outdoors, and her work is fresh,” Caudle says. “It’s not just all abstract but chinoiserie and landscapes. I feel like Liza can do anything you’d like her to do.”

If the way one creates art is an extension of how one approaches life, Matthews proves the theorem. Like her use of line and color, her energy crackles with curiosity. She is unafraid of where new ideas and new materials will take her. Regardless of genre or medium, there is a consistent, connected feel to her work, just as her demeanor is grounded by a deep kindness. Though they have yet to meet in person, Caudle quickly sensed these qualities.

“It’s been interesting for me to watch Liza grow,” she explains. “She is a giving and generous person, and her excitement about collaborating with other artists make me happy.”

It is actually generosity, or more specifically philanthropy, that initially dominated Matthews’ career. As a young girl, she loved to paint and create.

Her parents encouraged her artistic vein — mother Molly Hathaway is also a painter — and gave her free rein with her bedroom in their Baltimore home. The 10-year-old interior designer chose a lavender Laura Ashley print for the bed, curtains and her grandmother’s chaise, which complemented 70’s-era tween accessories: turntable, Raggedy Ann doll, an Eeyore- shaped topiary.

Art classes at Garrison Forest School fueled her creative spark, and in 1989, she graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) with a BFA in painting and interior design. Matthews quickly found work at a Baltimore interior design company doing model home interiors. She just as quickly found herself needing more of a purpose and a broader creative outlet.

Her father, the late Grant Hathaway, was chairing Baltimore’s United Way campaign at the time and suggested she try her hand at fundraising. In 1990, Matthews put down her swatches and paint brushes and embarked on what has been a rewarding career in development. After a decade at the United Way, she joined WYPR as development director, where she continues to work part time. She and husband Brent have raised three children and she has been active in her daughters’ and son’s schools, serving in the past as president of the Garrison Forest Parent Association and on The Odyssey School’s board of trustees.

What she didn’t do was paint. In 2006, after a family trip to a gallery, her oldest daughter asked why Matthews wasn’t painting. Within 24 hours, Matthews finished a painting — her first in 17 years — for her daughter’s bedroom. A friend stopped by soon after and echoed what her family was saying: “Why aren’t you doing this?” (That painting, to her daughter’s
regret, was later sold to an interior designer.)

“I picked up my first commission around that time,” recalls Matthews, who has studied plein air and still life with members of the Shuler School faculty. “A client was looking for something for her dining room and I painted a piece she liked. After that, I was off to the races. I fell in love with the interior design world again very quickly.”

Stephanie Gamble, principal of Stephanie Gamble Interiors and owner of The House Downtown in Belvedere Square, was an early champion. Matthews would come into Gamble’s showroom/storefront, and the two would chat about design and art and connect over their shared love of chinoiserie. When Matthews showed Gamble her work, she was immediately drawn to the colors and abstract style.

“Any chance I get, I use Liza’s work in an interior,” Gamble says. “Her smaller pieces work amazingly in bookshelves and on side tables. They’re like back-up dancers and bring so much life and color into a space.”

The two have collaborated on a handful of larger commissions for Gamble’s clients. This is where Matthews’ design training and experience shine. “I bring Liza in mid-way through the design process,” Gamble explains. “Once colors and textures are firmly established, we will have several meetings to fine tune the overall vision we have for the space. She has a true appreciation for the design process.”

“Clients are always in awe of her use of color and love how her works bring another level of elegance to their space,” Gamble adds. For each commission, Matthews tries to add an element of surprise. A recent client in Ruxton loved blue and white. Matthews suggested a pop of color and noticed an orange picture frame on the client’s table. The finished living room painting is a waterscape of blue hues and textural clouds, with, yes, a few strokes of orange where sky and sea meet.

Recently, Matthews began painting on Mylar and experimenting with translucency, a medium perfect for her penchant for layering colors. Cityscapes and metallics also have found their place beside her nature-themed pieces. “I love that my artwork is being viewed in so many variations and knowing that people can enjoy it in different ways,” Matthews says. “I love my older works, the landscapes and chinoiserie, but what’s on the horizon is so fun and unknown.”

Gamble agrees: “I think that this is the beginning of a big moment for Liza, but it’s by no means her crescendo. It’s just getting started.”

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