An authoritarian puppet monster poses for artist Mathew Cerletty's latest portrait

The career trajectory of Milwaukee, WI-born artist Mathew Cerletty is a curious one. In the early 2000s, the Boston University graduate made a precocious impact on critics and curators with a technical skill lending his surreal figurative paintings and drawings an unnerving air of realism. More recent work however, since his move to New York City in 2003, uses logos and text as a springboard into abstraction—though the symbolic weight of a 2009 pencil drawing of
Philip Seymour Hoffman
, or a painting of New York Times columnist David Brooks from the same year, bridge the painter’s seemingly divergent approaches.

Cerletty’s portrait for “Stuff,” an upcoming short film from the creative team behind the Kid America Club, cartoonishly reprises his early works. (Click image at right for detail.) Director and writer Frank Sisti Jr. approached Cerletty to do a painting of the titular live-action character, the imaginary monster friend of Felix, who’s a 30-something burnout from Queens. The domineering Stuff forces Felix (played by Kevin Corrigan) to do several projects, including the portrait.

“He was a little worried that I’d be offended that a painting was being treated as a joke, but I think he knew that that’s exactly what would make me want to do it,” Cerletty said in an email. “He said the Stuff character was a dick, and being familiar with the Kid America Club, I had a good sense of what that might mean.”

Sisti instructed Cerletty to paint Stuff in a Revolutionary War getup and set it in a gold frame, getting photos together of the costume created by Jeff Roberts, who also plays him in the movie. While the oil on linen portrait likely won’t go on exhibit, it may not be a one-off.

“No plans to show it,” Cerletty said. “I’m waiting for Frankie to give me enough ideas for an entire show.”