Artist Matthew Haussler Talks Making a Living on his Own Terms

 Matthew Haussler
Image: Matthew Haussler
 Matthew Haussler
Image: Matthew Haussler

What would you do if money were no object?

Artist and maze illustrator Matthew Haussler has not had a traditional job in almost three years, and he’s doing just fine.  Really.

He cites philosopher Allan Watts as an inspiration for trading a secure full-time job for an artistic lifestyle that affords him the time and resources to do what he loves.  Watts, who narrates a video collage on Vimeo, asks, “What would you do if money were no object?” If you spend your life in pursuit of money, he reasons, “You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing, in order to go on living: that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing.”

Such logic resonated with Haussler who, until 2013, worked as a performance coach.  But the artist, who had dabbled in other forms of drawing and already had an illustrated children’s book to his name, was gaining popularity on sites like Reddit, where he’d posted some of his mazes.  In 2013, he was contracted by Mind Ware, a company that manufactures brainy toys like puzzles, craft activities, and mystery games, to produce a book of mazes. After a car accident and a series of other life curve-balls, he quit his nine to five and began creating mazes full-time.

 Matthew Haussler
Photo credit: Ryan Brandoff Photography

It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted. Haussler has received loads of praise and recognition for his work, having been featured in the Chicago Tribune, online arts collaborative Newcity Art, and even named Chicago Visual Artist of the Year by RAWartists, an independent arts advocate group that aims to equip emerging artists with necessary tools.

Haussler published his first book of Chicago mazes in March of 2015. Winding through trees, skyscraper facades, and the iron pedestals of the El, the mazes feature popular Chicago cityscapes and are as picturesque as they are interactive. One of his most celebrated works is a start-to-finish maze down Michigan Avenue, the reflective and iconic Bean center stage.  Perhaps his biggest claim to fame is his mural at Block 37, a sprawling 74-foot long maze that is set to break a Guinness World Record. But get this: in order for it to break the record, the maze first has to be solved by a third party. This task might be simple enough if Haussler were able to produce a copy of the maze for any who’d like to attempt it — and there are many interested parties — but so far, he’s not been able to upload the image to his computer; it’s too freaking big.

Shouldn’t that alone qualify it for the record?

 Matthew Haussler
Image: Matthew Haussler

For Haussler, though, it’s not about breaking records.  “I really enjoy [it],” he says of his process.  “When I first started, a maze measuring 8 x 11 would’ve taken me six to twelve hours, now I can complete one in three to four.”

Choosing scenes from Chicago and putting them to paper is a challenge Haussler relishes, and he’s found it to be marketable.  People like to see places they recognize. And the places he’s chosen – the Daley Center, the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the entryway of the Art Institute with the iconic Crain Communications building in the background — strike a chord not just with residents, but all lovers of Chicago.

I ask Haussler what influences his choice of scene.  Do the places resonate with him personally, or is it more a matter of technicality?

“It’s more technical,” he says.  He mentions his maze of the Merchandise Mart. It’s a place that has no emotional pull on him personally, but one he found fascinating to draw because of the architectural intricacies of the building.

Haussler’s current project is a second book of Chicago mazes, one he’s hoping to produce with the help of a recently-launched Kickstarter campaign.  While I’m writing this article, the campaign is 61% funded, with 55 backers and $2,155.00 pledged.  With only eight days to go, his campaign needs only $1,345.00 more to be fully funded.

Once his second book of mazes is published, Haussler has more creative plans in the making. Two large mazes will be installed this coming July at Intelligentsia on East Randolph – one 21 feet long, the other 19 feet long. He’ll have two more books published by Mind Ware by the end of this year, and eventually, he’s interested in producing a 2D animated film and constructing an indoor walkable maze in the Chicago Loop.  The latter of these ambitions are long-term goals for now, but for an artist living on his own terms, it’s only a matter of time before they become a reality.

Click here to see a video of Haussler unveiling his 74-foot long maze at Block 37.