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"Painter cultivating sexual energy in the swamp"

Cayla Mattea Zeek


Lafayette, Louisiana

I didn’t realize how difficult I was making the self interview process. I have such a mindset where I was looking for questions everywhere – what were the other interviewees asking themselves? What questions do you ask an artist?

After compiling lists and lists of questions in a journal and wracking my mind for hours, rubbing my little eye balls out of my head, I realized the best way to have a conversation with yourself is to sit down and have one.

What are you?

I'm working on that. One of my favorite book titles by Alan Watts is “Become What You Are”. I liked that difference between what and who. I sometimes get so tied up in trying to make sense and be something, that I forget to intuitively be what I am. And something like that can’t really be wrapped up in a tidy parcel.

What do you do?

I am an artist, painter, photographer, filmmaker, designer and an entrepreneur in South Louisiana.

Was it a goal to be an entrepreneur?

Not particularly - I didn’t really want to be labeled as one over something like an artist. When I was younger I often found myself building and designing fake businesses without even thinking about it. I was more interested in the game and design of it all. Making the business cards, or building out a whole school curriculum, or creating a board game from scratch to play with my brothers. I never really understood that these would be the things I am doing for myself at this stage in my life, and way more personal than designing a fake fast food restaurant under a bunk bed or building out a submarine in a refrigerator box.

Why didn’t you want to be labeled as an entrepreneur?

My perspective has shifted quite a bit on this. There is so much value in being able to work for myself and to have created a business for my creative skills to thrive. I had this battle early on where I would get tied up in making things to sell and felt this was affecting what I wanted to paint. The things I wanted to explore in my artwork felt very different from things that were more marketable where I live. Instead of trying to sell my art, I found an avenue where I could market myself in other ways to make money that would allow me to work for myself, and still have creative freedom to explore my dreams without any censorship or influence from the audience in my art.

I realize that labels and ideas are ways for others to feel a sense of security within themselves. They would rather label you as something they can reconcile within themselves, than let you be what you are

How do you make your living?

I own my business Mattea (after my middle name) and have used the brand to make greeting cards and art prints that I wholesale to shops nationally and internationally. I remember going to trade shows and selling my cards to shops in Japan for the first time and having my mind blown. At the time I was a middle school art teacher, but after hustling most weekends doing art markets in New Orleans and freelancing graphic design work, I was able to quit my job and pursue my art full time.

What do you consider art vs your business?

This is something I’m still working to close the gap. For a while I felt so divided in myself. On one end I was embodying this role trying to please the public and be the sparkling southern girl who sold greeting cards and did marketable graphic design work. The other half of me felt like a nude little demon deep in my dreams, wanting to live at the bottom of the ocean floor, entranced with mythology, ideas of the body, sexuality, tragedy, and erotica. I was conflicted with these thoughts and labels that I was a sexual creature, but would be seen as something controversial just for having nipples. I am still wrestling with these ideas today, though I am finding peace through spirituality and getting to know myself. I realize that labels and ideas are ways for others to feel a sense of security within themselves. They would rather label you as something they can reconcile within themselves, than let you be what you are - which is everything.

Lately I’m trying to bring these two sides of myself into unity where I can own my business Mattea and be selective about who I work for and work with. I’m really into supporting small business and others who need things designed to start their own business, or working with musicians to create posters/album covers. I work on creating short films, music videos, and performance art within the landscape of my Louisiana community. And then I want to be able to own my other half where I am painting/creating nudes and erotica. I started an only fans this past year where I share my nudes and consider this a form of my art – it’s been something I’m interested in since social media platforms like instagram have taken down images for showing a femme’s nipple. When that happened to me, I decided only fans might be a good outlet to share whatever I want and also I can get paid for my work. Wild! I was worried about being ostracized for this or losing my income, but I think it’s slowly bridging the gap within myself. I call my persona Jo Marsh, a play on my fav character from Little Women, Jo March and based on where I live which is a swampy swampy place.

What are your latest paintings about?

My latest paintings are documentary in nature. They began with me photographing fellow artists and friends either in their spaces or I’d have the individual come to my home or studio. I began this series to become more comfortable with photography and to explore what it means to be vulnerable and show that with the body. The only direction I’d give to the individual is to show me what feels “powerful” and show me what feels "vulnerable". This body of work has me questioning identity - is it the face? Is identity in the body? Since I work with friends and artists and live in a small town, there have been individuals who are more reserved with having their identities exposed, while others are open to revealing themselves. There can be this stigma with nudity that I want to understand and work through and I'm grateful for the artists and friends around me who open up to doing this with me.

This process is tied to my struggles with sexuality, building trust and healthy boundaries. My latest thought was that as children we were able to play, but then things got sexy and due to my catholic upbringing, I didn’t have the best sexual education. Instead of learning about sex in a positive light, my body felt terrifying and sex felt terrifying and I used to wear shirts under shirts and make sure I was covered up! Now, I’m working to educate myself on cultivating sexual energy and how that relates to spiritual and creative energy. We can be sexy, we can play together, boundaries are communicated through words and the body, and it’s important to listen, to build trust and have respect for everyone so we can all enjoy our sexy lives and make art together.

How do you find peace?

I am working to worry less about labeling and applying words to things, and focus more on listening to myself and others. There is a beauty in the acceptance of infinite possibilities that emerge without grasping to any of them. I find excitement with what will unfold, however it will unfold, and work to be open as best I can. I don’t have it all figured out quite yet, but I’m working on it!

What tarot card would you be?

I was thinking I was the hermit, and the hermit is definitely a big factor in my life, but I’m an introverted libra and relationships can charge me like nothing else. I’d say if I could be any card I wanna be the high priestess. Maybe it’s my scorpio moon that so wishes to dwell in the subconscious and dreams, caught in the loop between life, sex and death. But reflecting on the high priestess as they started to appear in my life, was an affirmation in using less words, being open to the subconscious and going inward more than throwing things outward. This rang very true to me as being a child who spent a lot of time alone in my dreams and inner worlds. I had felt there was something wrong with me and now I see that is apart of what I am. Those intense feelings I had always felt about living and dying even at a young age were not something to shrug off that would suddenly be alright on their own. This is something I must reflect on and grow through intuitively by feeling it. That’s when the high priestess comes thru for me – not to mention I love pomegranates. When those are in season, I eat up all those sweet little ruby seeds.

You seem to be into astrology – what do the stars mean to you?

I love astrology. Ever since I was a little girl and my aunt told me that we were both libras, I have felt astrology has had an impactful presence in my life. I remember hating the stereotypes of libra when I was younger because most of the horoscopes talked about being superficial…I mean I do love aesthetic, but geez being a libra sounded lame. When I’ve talked to most individuals about their sun signs (especially geminis lol) they tend to meet with some resistance or not wanting to reveal themselves from the shame they feel from the stereotypes from people focusing on the negatives. I remember having a conversation with a Scorpio sun and instead of focusing on anything stereotypical, talking about the superpowers of what Scorpio is about, and that person thanked me for that perspective after hearing so much negativity and false ideas about what Scorpio encompassed.

Now, birth charts are when things changed for me. When I found out that my birth chart I was a Scorpio moon, it was a relief. I had always saw Libra and thought to myself, why am I so intense and wrapped up in death and want to crawl to the bottom of the ocean floor and how sex was a very intense act for me. When I started studying birth charts, it gave me a deeper understanding of the complexities within myself - like a map and this opened me up further to accepting myself with all the different parts that might be contradictory or not always make sense. Suddenly, it did make some sort of sense, or at least I was able to have peace. Now, I’m not saying you can learn everything about someone from their birth chart or that it should be something used to label or put anyone in a box. I think of it as an ever-evolving map and guidance to self-acceptance as well as something that can be a useful tool in relationships with others. Instead of looking at the negatives, look at the way that differences can create growth and be superpowers.

Any new hobbies you’ve explored the past year?

Over quarantine I got into the art of the cyanotype from my friend @mais_yeah. He explained his interest in the process, which is the original art of creating a blue print. The process involves two chemicals that you mix in darkness, spread onto paper, or could be fabric, and then you can place something like a negative or plants on top. You take the page and putting it under glass is helpful so things stay put and the go outside to put it in the sunlight for a variable amount of time (depends on the amount of sun and also what you’re exposing). When I discovered this process could be done with negatives, I exploded with excitement, waking up early on sunny days and starting a routine that involved putting three at a time out in the sun on paper I had prepped the night before with ink paintings. I would let them sit outside for 30 min intervals while making coffee, cleaning, doing design work, and then when the alarm would go off, I’d run across my house to gather them, and immediately put new ones out. Then I’d rinse in the bath tub and reveal, learn about exposures, get excited prepping three more for the next round while the others were out tanning. It truly became a meditation in a way and such great fun. I would get so excited for sunny days and clear my schedule knowing I’d want to get into that flow of making. I’ve definitely slowed down on making so many in that sort of routine as filming and photography are taking over my interest these days.

The thing I appreciated most about learning to cyanotype was the infinite possibilities I felt when it came to beginning the exploration. At first it was plants, then it was negatives, then it was ink paintings and negatives, then it was ink paintings, negatives of photos and planets, then I started making negatives of birds and I can still see the process going deeper and deeper in developing!

Photographer collaborators:

Projector Paintings and art direction by me

Photos by @robleyd

Photo of me with my art by @s.c.portfolio

The high priestess – art direction, styling, makeup, by me

Photo by @leeannbstephan


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