A note to viewers of Matthew Kelly Debbaudt’s latest artwork: look down.

Enter one room that is part of the massive and ambitious Dionlion production, Lionshare, now on through Feb. 3, and encounter Debbaudt’s latest work, specifically commissioned for the space it resides.

The artist. Photo courtesy of Matthew Kelly Debbaudt.

What makes the 9 feet by 10 feet piece more unique than the many varied artworks throughout the crawling Lionshare space is it’s walkable – attendees physically step over the huge canvas painting, intended to be a rug in what Debbaudt describes as a therapist office.

“It’s like Dante’s Inferno — it looks like a pit of Hell, with all these bodies crawling all over each other,” Debbaudt says over the phone. “That goes back to one body of work of mine that involves a mass load of figures climbing on top of each other, holding each other up or tearing each other apart.”

Since moving to Houston from California in 2016, Debbaudt quickly established himself in the local art world as a contemporary artist to watch. He currently serves as a studio assistant under established narrative artist Trenton Doyle Hancock when not compiling his latest exhibition. His preferred media is acrylic paint on canvas, and he incorporates collage, stencils, stitching, and spray-paint into his pieces.

“7 o’clock on Oswell” acrylic, paper, hair and collage on canvas. 5×5 ft. 2018. Photo courtesy of Matthew Kelly Debbaudt.

His work can often be harrowing and apocalyptic, as small as 18 inches by 24 inches, such as his piece “unity,” or as large as 9 feet by 10 feet, like his latest, untitled Lionshare contribution. But where there is certainly darkness in his work, there is also a sense of connectivity with the human spirit that makes these ambitious designs awe inspiring.

Debbaudt grew up in the small, unassuming Los Angeles outskirt of Sunland, which he says was “the birthplace of the Hell’s Angels.” His artistic pursuits were encouraged from a young age by parents who were creatives.

“It started for me as a way to deal with my depression and anger, mostly anger,” Debbaudt said. “I didn’t really make until I was in that state. I could be doing anything, but then there’d be these moments when I’d be so angry or depressed and I’d be drawing or painting and so absorbed in it.”

“monolith” acrylic, graphite, paper, thread and collage on canvas. 7×7 ft. 2017. Photo courtesy of Matthew Kelly Debbaudt.

His passion for art clicked while studying for his bachelor’s in anthropology at University of California Santa Cruz after he’d find himself in the art section of the library or book store.

“I just never had this belief in myself and all of a sudden, this light bulb went on and I changed my major,” he said. “I went up to the art department and was like, ‘I need to do this.’ I never found anything to capture my attention like that.”

Debbaudt completed his Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Davis in 2015. He moved to Houston after gathering inspiration from Trenton Doyle Hancock’s projects online. He reached out to him and eventually joined his staff.

“into a place where light was silent all” acrylic on canvas. 5×5 ft. 2017. Photo courtesy of Matthew Kelly Debbaudt.

His work has been shown in the form of several group exhibitions as well as solo shows, including “Motion Pictures” at BLUEOrange contemporary art gallery in July 2017, as well as “a hole,” at BOX 13 ArtSpace in January 2018. The latter included the 5 foot by 5 foot acrylic on canvas “Into a Place Where Light Was Silent All,” which brought him to the attention of James Templeton, one of the producers of Lionshare.

He is currently working on his next project but taking his time on a more ambitious vision, which he hopes to complete soon. He often creates with his canvas laid on the ground, so he can dedicate his energy to walking around, orchestrating the entire piece, much like the famed Jackson Pollock worked. It gives his finished product a sense of limitless boundaries, much like Debbaudt’s career itself.

“I take inspiration from everywhere,” Debbaudt said. “I study films. But mostly, I constantly examine and re-examine myself, again and again. I’ve always found the human condition to be curiously entertaining and disturbing. I’m mostly drawn to the dark side of the human condition, the scary and demented parts, and trying to find beauty there.