At the onset of the pandemic, Corie Mattie, aka LA Hope Dealer, got ready to spread a message of hope, togetherness, and social awareness in West Hollywood. Fast forward a month later, the LA Times published a photo of Corie Mattie’s mural. Without a doubt, this was a moment that catapulted the career of the street artist and activist.
While Mattie is the recipient of the Woman of the Year 2021 – an award from California District 26 Senator Ben Allen – don’t call her an overnight sensation. In fact, her journey began after leaving a traditional job in the sports industry. Later on, she moved to LA, drove for Uber, and crashed on her friends’ couches to pursue her passion.
Mattie’s art presents social issues regarding racial injustice, LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights, and homelessness. Most importantly, she encourages her audience to participate in her art. By doing so, she sets out a reminder to society that, to abolish social injustices, we must all act together.
NonGirly spoke to Mattie about gender stereotypes, dismantling the notion that art is not a viable career, perseverance, “tomboys” and the importance of walking to the beat of your own drum.
What “kind” of kid were you? What were some of your likes and interests?
I was a weird kid. I didn’t realize how much I was into art until a few years ago when I went to my childhood home and found old pictures of me. For example, I was always naked, painting with watercolors and I’m like, “Wow, nothing has changed at all.” I like to be comfortable so I like loose clothes; I like to be able to run. I was athletic, and I loved playing outside and getting dirty. So, I guess I was more of a tomboy. It’s pretty obvious. And I walk to the beat of my own drum, for sure.
Who did you look up to?
My mom, and I still do. She’s always said, “Follow your heart.” She is very free-spirited, and I thank her for a portion of where I am in my career and what I decided to do. She’s one of the reasons why I dare going against the grain and taking a path less traveled.
I know this is such a cliche but, as a young girl, I looked up to Mia Hamm. She was the star soccer player, number 9, the coolest. Whether it’s a personal one or a popular one, powerful female figures are who I tend to look up to.
I read that you have a B.S. in Kinesiology from University of Maryland with a Master’s in Sports Management from Georgetown University. Did you consider pursuing art as a major?
I grew up in a family of educators. There was a sequence to life: go to school, get good grades, get into a good college, have a good career, pay back your student loans. The more I went through it, the more miserable I became. I hated all of it. Eventually, I felt in my head, and what was brought to my attention in society—and maybe even my family—was, “Art? You’re not going to make a living. An art major? That’s a waste of money. What are you going to do? Just paint all day?” That’s ignorant because you don’t even know what it means to be an art major and what you can do with it.
This is my problem with education: you’re 18 when you go to college and then you have to choose what you should do for the rest of your life. I chose kinesiology because I was good at sports and was athletic, but it’s not something I want to do every day. We shouldn’t have to choose that early. At 18, I hadn’t even come out as a lesbian yet, so I still had a lot of growing up to do.
When I was working in sports, I would draw 5-6 hours a day after work, and sell them for $50. I was making so little at an entry-level sports position and thought, “Corie, if you could just stop that and try art full time, you could probably make the same amount you’re making now. Why don’t you bet on yourself, instead of answering to other people?”
What sacrifices have you made in becoming a full-time artist and activist? Have you had any interesting jobs to supplement your income?
In one of my first interviews, someone said, “Congrats on your overnight success!” It was far from overnight. My first day alone in LA, I had only $200, but somehow I knew I had to keep going. I started picking up paintbrushes and tattooing on the side. I stayed on my buddy’s couch in Lancaster for about a year and drove to LA 4 days a week to Uber for extra money. If I was too tired to drive back, I slept in my backseat. It wasn’t easy.
It’s been full circle for me; hope is everything to me at this point. Sometimes you have to pretend you see the light of morning and the darkest night. I had to have faith and confidence in myself that I was going to showcase my work and messages to a wider audience at some point if I kept pushing. And I don’t want to plateau. I want people to understand what I stand for and know me, especially coming from a gay female.
Tell us about the first mural you painted in Los Angeles and how it came to be.
I found Beautify Earth, an organization that matches walls with artists. The guy I messaged said, “We don’t have a budget, but we can figure out something to pay you.” And I was like, “Done.” On Tuesday, I found the wall I wanted, started painting that afternoon and finished it Wednesday evening. I took pictures of everything, hounded people on Instagram, looked for writers who would cover something like this, and pitched countless people. Some people picked it up, while others didn’t. I was up at 2:30 am, taking interviews in Malaysia, Germany, and France. My goal was to get my face, work, and message out there during a time when people needed to listen to something because they didn’t know what else to do. I don’t think it would have been as effective if I did this now. But I wasn’t scared; I knew if I didn’t do something now, I would regret it.
What does the name LA Hope Dealer mean to you?
I think it provides hope in several areas of life. People ask me, “What are you going to do after the pandemic?” People will still need hope. Also, the pandemic is not over, and as a country, a community, a world, we’ll always be going through something and need hope. I’ve always pushed boundaries of what women can say and do even before LA Hope Dealer was born.
If you truly have something to say, someone truly needs to hear it. Now more than ever, it’s important that more voices are heard and for people to speak up. That’s what I’m here to do. I’ve always said, “Good art makes you think, but great art makes you do.” If I can shift one person’s perspective about anything, then I’ve done my job.
What would you say to girls who feel like they don’t fit in?
There shouldn’t be any gender boundaries anymore. I want to be a reminder that you don’t have to be a “traditional female.” That’s old-fashioned.
I want to tell little girls that they’re not weird or different. They’re just unapologetically them and that’s how they should stay. Because I think you lose yourself. Even in high school, I dressed girlier. I didn’t feel comfortable until I started dressing in baggy clothes and had my own style. Why would I try to adopt someone else’s style just to fit in? I want to remind any kid growing up that it’s okay to walk a different path than just generalized males and females. It’s totally okay to be girly if you want to be, but you shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want to wear a dress or put your hair down or date boys or if you do want to date boys.
How can parents encourage their children to embrace their true selves?
I think we’re growing up in a slightly different time now. I’m not saying “don’t go to college”, but parents are seeing that it’s possible to have a career that’s not by the book. Social media gave us more opportunities to work for ourselves. I hope parents today can have a broader sense of career paths for their kids.
It’s just as important that parents support their kids in whatever they want to explore. Parents want the best for their kids, but they also have to understand that it’s their daughter/son’s life, not theirs. Maybe you would love for your daughter to become a doctor, but is she happy painting? Well, if she’s happy she’s painting, making a living and financially secure, then that’s all that matters. As long as they’re happy, you should be happy.
What are some upcoming projects you’re working on?
I have a concept for a series of walls that say “hope” throughout Los Angeles. For example, one wall is black with the word “hope” in pink and a QR code in the corner. Maybe it’s October, so for the month, we’re raising money for breast cancer. In December, the word “hope” turns red, and we’re raising money for AIDS. I want 5 of these hope walls simultaneously around Los Angeles to raise funds for various nonprofits in the community throughout the year.
It’s important that this isn’t just a “me” project. This is way bigger than just my work. Our greatest tool for changing the world is our capacity to change our mind about the world.
Photo courtesy of John Troxell