For North Salem folk artist Matt Ulrich, art is everywhere you look


Matt Ulrich at his home studio in Peach Lake. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

When Matt Ulrich looks at the side of a building, whether it's a New York City high-rise or a North Salem barn, he sees the same thing: possibility. To his artist’s eye, surfaces are canvases waiting to be adorned with shapes and colors.

“Art makes your brain work a different way,” says Ulrich, who spends his days as a project manager for a Manhattan-based investment trust. “I’ll see certain things and think about something I want to do. I’ll think, I could put something there. I could paint something.”

Ulrich has been making art for as long as he can remember, but he first fell in love with large-scale projects when he landed a job out of college working for New Albany, Ohio-based Abercrombie & Fitch. There, he worked on large-scale decorative painting projects for the clothing retailer’s flagship buildings in New York City and Chicago, applying techniques such as texture painting, faux finishing and back brushing to some of the most recognizable buildings in Manhattan.

“With spaces, I can see things before they exist,” Ulrich says. “I can see color schemes and how I want them to work. I look at how things have been built, how they could be built, and try to expand and work on them.”

Matt Ulrich creates most of his work on commission. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

The skills Ulrich refined working for Abercrombie, coupled with his passion for traditional folk art, distinguish him as an artist. He’s fascinated by sacred geometry, which assigns meaning to certain geographic shapes and proportions. The flower of life symbol, which consists of 19 interconnected circles, is a foundational element of much of Ulrich’s work.

Ulrich’s distinctive style of art has made him sought after by local business owners. He hand-painted custom signs for popular North Salem establishments Purdys Farmer & the Fish and Hayfields Market. He designed the house signs for all the buildings on Ryder Farm and recently painted the exterior signage for the newly opened Folkways Wines in Croton Falls.

People often approach Ulrich for commissioned pieces after seeing his work. “I’m always very honored when someone wants to buy a piece or asks me to paint something. I want to make things work with their space or their tastes,” Ulrich says, noting the joy he gets from envisioning something for a client and being told he perfectly captured what they were looking for.

Of supplies, Ulrich says, "it’s about using the right materials, not just what you have. When you do that you become so much more efficient and faster." (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

Ulrich leans into his ability to translate the things his brain dreams up into real life creations. And, his desire to put his signature folk art stamp on large buildings is never far from his mind –he jokes that he has fought the urge to put letters in local homeowners’ mailboxes offering to paint 8-foot hex signs on their barns, for a reasonable price.

“I want to paint all the time,” he says, “but I'm trying to be mindful about not burning out and not overcommitting. I have a job, a wife and two kids, and kids’ sports.”

Ulrich says he is inspired by the ability to see something in his head and translate that vision onto paper, wood or whatever surface he's working on. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

For Ulrich, the need to create is as constant as the need to eat, sleep and breathe. He used the early pandemic time at home to transform a basic accent table from Target into a custom work of art, adding what he called 'adornments' to it. During workdays, when he needs a break from his computer he’ll pick up a guitar for a few minutes. For his 40th birthday, Ulrich’s wife Donna gifted him a set of coasters featuring his artwork. On the back was inscribed, ‘Matt uses every free minute he has to be creative.’

“I’d never thought of it like that,” Ulrich said. “I love that that was said.”

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