As Matthew Sweeney will attest, pursuing a career in art is no easy task, especially in the face of tragedy.

Almost two years ago, the Cleveland native lost his home and studio in a fire, destroying hard drives of work, old books of drawings from school, and every tangible piece of art he’d ever saved. Fortunately Matt and his wife Christa made it out of this life-altering event with the help of endless support from their family and friends. Perhaps in some way, this adversity helped fuel the incredible work Matt produces today.

The first piece Matt created after the fire was a portrait of his brother’s hand, quite excellently tattooed with a spider in its web, with weathered knuckles brandishing symbols of life and death. It’s an elegant work of artistic verity, and Matt uses that illustration as a reminder to keep moving and push forward. Lately he’s been creating a full series of hand illustrations. These works are building toward a solo show of hands, as Matt believes each hand has its own story to tell, much like the expression of a face in a portrait.

Matt’s talent for eye-catching realism is most vividly represented on Instagram @Msweeneyart. In a scale of grey, a series of detached hands drawn in graphite hang neatly on the canvas, fingers gracefully dangling downward, each with pronounced wrinkles casting shadows over textured skin. With the same attention to detail, Matt brings a variety of portraits to life with uncanny renditions of human expression. Matt’s illustrations are so stunningly realistic that at first glance, you’d swear it was a photograph, demonstrating his ability to perfectly capture a subject and translate it to the page.

For Matt, he just likes making things. While he explores a variety of mediums, including metal and clay. Graphite is his admitted bread and butter, lending itself to his darker style of art. Currently sharing a space with photographer Peter Larson at 78th Street Studios, Matt is happy to work in an environment populated by artisans. Every third Friday, the studios are open to the public, and Matt and his fellow artists’ work are on display.  

As for the future, Matt hopes to work with kids one day as a mentor for those passionate about creating, inspired by his own great mentors that have helped him over the years. As for now, Matt just enjoys making things. He has a few secret projects in the works, and in his spare time, he’s creating a children’s book and sculpting maquettes of the story’s characters. You can follow along with Matt on instagram @Msweeneyart, or find more of his work or reach out for prints and commissions at