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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? Si