Matt Swenson – Turning Junk Into Treasure
BY RACHEL COULTER / FROM THE DECEMBER 2016 LAKE MINNETONKA MAGAZINE ISSUE
Artist finds his creative niche building upcycled sculptures.
Minnetonka resident Matt Swenson’s creativity is sparked when he is presented with a box of junk—yep, junk. An executive coach by day, Swenson wanted an outlet where he could channel his creativity. He tried his hand at photography, graphic design and stained glass before considering his passion for what he calls “goofy old junk.” Picking up a coffee pot, a tea infuser and a Volvo hubcap, Swenson built his very first upcycled robot sculpture, Nash. Enjoying the process, Swenson continued building and selling upcycled robots—all made from found materials. In an effort to pay homage to his family’s Scandinavian heritage, he named his new company Djonk (pronounced “yonk”), which is Swedish for “junk.”
Swenson runs a studio out of his garage and keeps it meticulously organized. At first glance, you’d never know that the studio is a holding place for hundreds of small parts and knickknacks. “Most of the stuff I’ve gathered over the past year,” Swenson says. When he finds an item he thinks could work well on a robot sculpture, he decides what robot part it most resembles, and stores it in a specific box. Creamer tins, a pencil sharpener, and Grandma’s silverware all have a designated place in the studio
“I started picking things up and thinking, ‘This looks like a head, or a body,’ ” Swenson explains. “People would look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about? That’s just a coffee pot!’ ” He’s proved the doubters wrong: Swenson’s sculptures have sold all over the country and are even on display at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “It’s been a little over a year since I started the business, and it’s changed my whole life,” Swenson says.
Most of Swenson’s current projects are commissions from around the country, with specific requests. “One robot I am working on will have a compass from an airplane that a customer’s father crashed and passed away in,” Swenson says. “He’s in his early 50s and he’s had the compass on his desk since he was 12 years old.” The customer sent along his father’s wings and other trinkets from his time as a pilot and requested a custom-built robot made with these special keepsakes. “Give me one item or an idea, and I will run with it,” Swenson says.
One unique request came to Swenson in the form of an email that he originally deleted and dismissed, thinking it was a phishing scam. Eventually, the requester called Swenson, explaining that she worked for Delta. She put in a custom order for five art pieces that are now on display in the Delta Sky Lounge in Atlanta. “The request was to build robots out of technology parts that are no longer used today,” Swenson explains. “All of the sculptures are made out of things that are replaced by a smartphone now.” He used cameras, flash bulbs, movie reels and other vintage items to make these robots conversation-starting pieces, reminding travelers of how technology has evolved. “I never would have expected that I would have artwork purchased and on display,” Swenson says.
From vintage tins purchased from online auctions to an old Porsche emblem, Swenson ensures that there is at least one special vintage item built into each sculpture. “I love to come up with fun names for them, too,” Swenson says. From Ginger to Eastman, each robot has a name, a story and details with rich history. After he has an item or an idea, Swenson can be found in his studio, sporting his custom Djonk jacket, tinkering away on his next creation.