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This Kansas Artist's Mid-Life Crisis Plays Out In Animal Drawings And 'Done Me Wrong' Songs

Matthew Hawkins
Artist and musician Matthew Hawkins' newest project is called 'Words, Notes and Drawings of Animals.'

Commercial artist Matthew Hawkins is in his mid-40s and feeling like more of his life is behind him than ahead of him. So, he took some time off from his paying art jobs to nail down a personal project he’s worked on for the past four years.

Hawkins, who lives in Overland Park, calls Walt Disney one of his clients. His art, largely paper sculptures, is sold in Disney’s theme park art galleries, but he's also designed do-it-yourself paper toys for GameStop, Arby's, Steak ’n Shake, GE, Newsweek, Crayola and Barnes & Noble.

"You can look back on all the things you've done and be pretty proud of it," he says, "but you're always walking around with this baggage of all the things you haven’t done, and all the things you'd love to see out in the world that you just haven't had time to do."

The collection of work he created is called "Words, Notes and Drawings of Animals." It consists of 41 pieces of art and 14 original bluegrass tunes.

"I wanted to bring together my music and my art in one convenient little package. They don’t feel like different things to me, they just feel like different ways of expressing the same things," Hawkins says.

As the project's name suggests, the drawings are of animals, and each drawing includes words, but the words aren't exactly captions.

Some drawings need no explanation, like one of a Dachshund and the words: "History is written by the wieners."

Others are far more opaque.

"When I first started sharing them on social media, some people were like, 'I don’t get it,'" Hawkins says, "like it was supposed to be a panel cartoon or something, like there's a direct correlation."

All of the text is based on phrases he's caught on the radio, in conversation or in public.

Credit Matthew Hawkins
A drawing from Matthew Hawkins' new collection of drawings and songs.

He thinks he heard the phrase "continuous catastrophization" on an NPR broadcast. He paired it with a tiger.

"When I was looking for images online, I saw this tiger in a cage, and he was just like laying there with his head on his paws, really bummed out to be stuck in this cage, and that must be what that's like being in a cage when you’re a wild animal, just every day, you know?"

Though it features animals, the project isn't for a young audience.

The items in his phrase bank that didn't work with a visual often got a song instead, such as one called "Better than I Oughta." He made that one into a graphic for his show T-shirt, depicting a smiling otter and the words transformed to: "Better than I otter." The song is about waking up with a ferocious hangover and a ferociously kind partner who loves him through it.

"King of beers is after me/the beast of bourbon won’t let me be," he sings. "Ham and eggs, biscuits and gravy/she's got what it takes to save me."

Also included are many songs using the country trope of the girl who "done me wrong," which Hawkins says he's really enjoyed exploring.

He says he and his wife, Alicia Hawkins, will celebrate their 23rd anniversary the day after his book release party and have known each other for nearly 30 years.

One of Hawkins' friends pointed out that it sounds like he's singing and playing as someone else.

"That's the great part of being an artist, and to me that was the fun thing of taking a character," Hawkins says. "You know, I haven't had my heart broken in 30 years but still remember what that feels like."

"Words, Notes and Drawings of Animals" release party, 7 p.m.-midnight, Friday, July 26 at Foundation Event Space,1221 Union Ave., Kansas City, Missouri 64101. Free and open to the public. RSVP on Facebook.

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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