Matthew Clay Baumgardner was born on February 5, 1955, in Columbus, OH, although his family moved several times during his childhood to follow his father’s career. After graduating from Upper Arlington High School in 1973, Baumgardner moved to Greenville, SC to begin his art training under Carl Blair, Emery Bopp and Darell Koons. As a young artist, Matt won several juried regional competitions and received purchase awards, including from the Mint Museum in Charlotte and the Spartanburg Art Museum. His Neighborhood of Squares was chosen by New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, for the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston for its 30th Annual GSCA Exhibition. In 1982, Baumgardner graduated with his MFA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he trained under the artist, critic, and novelist, Peter Plagens.
Relocating to New York, Baumgardner built on this early success, becoming immersed in the explosive and electric art scene of the 1980s. Over the next twenty years, his artwork underwent a visual shift from his early abstract expressionist style to incorporate influences of street art before integrating minimalist grids. Always a colorist, he synthesized the gestures and palettes of these decades, experimenting with a balance between structure and flow.
During these years, Baumgardner began experimenting with the materials that would become his signature “mud,” a technique for which he earned a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1993. In addition to solo and group shows in New York galleries, his work appeared in exhibits across the country from Florida to Arizona, as well as in Switzerland.
While in New York, Matt raised four daughters who were his pride and joy; he considered them to be his “greatest creation.” Matt loved children and found his own inspiration in their creativity. A natural teacher, Matt also taught art classes and workshops for children and youths throughout his career.
After a divorce, Baumgardner moved back to South Carolina in 2006, settling in rural North Greenville County in the Blue Ridge foothills, where he designed and built his dream studio in 2009. For him, nature went hand in hand with his spirituality and at his Travelers Rest studio, Baumgardner planted berries, muscadines, banana and eucalyptus trees, and flowering perennials, swam in the pool, studied the beautiful architecture of insect wings through his microscope, and meditated in outdoors. Matt swam multiple times each day, praying before diving into the pool. The outdoors was not just a place of recreation, but a palace for meditation. Matt’s time in Travelers Rest was ideal for the internalization he needed to create some of his most profound artwork, much of which synthesized elements spanning his expansive career and multiple stylistic explorations.
Baumgardner created, entertained, and lived in his studio until his death in November of 2018. Despite the chronic pain he suffered in the last several years of his life, his deeply intermeshed relationship with art, God, and nature created a persistent energy in his Travelers Rest studio, which continues today and reflects in his work.