This 22 year old artist just wrapped up a solo show @Park Life here in San Francisco, and it got all sorts of people worked up. The work is familiar yet horribly unique and fresh. Check below and you'll see what I mean... Matthew's a recent CCA student who dropped out, keeping himself out of debt and felt that he'd do alright by educating himself instead. We're very excited to introduce you to this SF based artist who's bound to make a name for himself. Say hi to Matthew and enjoy his work and what he has to say. He knows what he's doing.
Tell us a bit about your show at Park Life and how it came to be?
I showed paintings at Brown Bear on Divisadero (RIP) last summer and Jamie Alexander from Park Life bought a couple pieces from that. He's a very genuine guy. He said he wanted to do a show in June, so I quite my job and moved up to Portland for a inexpensive change of scenery and to get away from the distractions of San Francisco. I lived in a basement and painted while it rained almost non stop. I spent alot of time wrestling with the symbolic morality of opera pink during the day and hitting the bars at night. You can still smoke inside the bars there. That was fun!
Describe your process for creating a new piece and what sorts of materials you prefer to use?
I use alot of Winsor Newton and Old Holland watercolor on cold pressed paper. I also use some acrylic ink, and that Holbein acrylic gouache.
What's the deal with all the tigers? I love the piece above... What was going through your mind when you created it?
The tiger attack at the San Francisco zoo was what triggered the tiger paintings. I had never painted a tiger, let alone any animal other than birds until then. Maybe because you don't see any wild animals except birds in the city. But all of a sudden, for a minute, we had a tiger on the loose. It was just kind of a surreal thing to picture, but really, it made perfect sense. Tigers are supposed to be free and wild. They're supposed to kill other animals. I don't blame her. But I felt for the kid and the family of the victim, that was also tragic. Im constantly finding myself unable to conclusively side one way or the other in moral terms with the subjects in my work. But the car, it seemed like an equivalent city-tiger image. They're big and fast and deadly, and occasionally beautiful.
You grew up in SF right? What are some of your favorite spots around town?
Yea, I was born and raised in The City. I love it here. Favorite spots would be El Rio on a Monday night, cheap drinks and a big back area for smoking. Also Kaplans downtown for inexpensive fitted caps and top notch service. Pearls art store is where I go for all my art supplies, and Tu Lan is the spot if you want a pile of delicious MSG vietnamese food for cheap.
What inspired the gang stuff in some of your work?
I did this Jim Jones series which kind of unlocked this ongoing discussion of race not just in my art but my life. The story of Peoples Temple touched something deep in me. I would have been in that congregation singing right along side them. That church was a glimmer of hope in a time of hopelessness, which seems relevant now. Or at least thats what it seemed to be in the beginning. And then to have it end in the most tragic way, it was too much, something kind of snapped in me, but I couldn't figure out what. So I started painting and letting things come out. One of the first things I remember painting was this black boy dead in a field from being poisoned with cyanide laced flavor-aid, and then kind of freaking out. I got really self conscious about what people would think and how they would read the piece , which had never been much of a concern of mine before. And from that reaction I then became indignant that I was made to feel guilty by some invisible force because I was painting a person of color who wasn't holding hands within a racial rainbow singing "everything is ok and we all love eachother", you know? Should I only represent people who look like me in my work? Where's the line between uncensored expression and exploitation? Isn't admitting theres a problem the first step to making things better? As long as I stayed honest to myself, I felt it was my duty to let whatever was going to come out come out. To exclude people of color or to only include them in scenes of comfortable complacency would be a lie not only to myself but the viewer. If things came out in the work that people didn't like, I was ready to talk about it because I knew in my heart I was coming from a place of love and hope, even if there were ugly things that had to be expunged first. Creating a discussion, an honest discourse, was really important to me. Hiding or avoiding things seemed like it would only be destructive.
But so after the Jim Jones series I had opened up this Pandoras box. I was doing alot of free associating. Painting something, then responding to it and adding to the piece. But I tried not to define it before or during the process of creating it. What happened with the bandannas was I became visually obsessed with the paisley flower pattern. So I painted (or rather drew) it in bright red. I like letting the context and the visuals take turns driving a piece while Im creating it. And growing up in The City, you see a bright red bandanna and you think Norteno. So I painted this kid with corn rose I had seen a couple weeks previous from memory. I was also obsessed with covering faces in sweat and tears and saliva. So I added that. And Im looking at it, and see it makes a perfect half heart, just by chance in the way I painted the profile and the placement of the bandanna over his mouth. So, of course, I have to complete the heart, right? So I repainted the image and made them black, a crip and a blood, and for the sake of visuals I made the other face the exact same, with the exact same placement of sweat and tears. And suddenly it was this powerful but mysterious image, like a new symbol. Like a contemporary Romeo and Juliet. But more like Romeo and Romeo.
I painted another bandannas piece after that where race is the only difference between the two people, the bandanna color uniting them. That one I thought turned out weird, but then I was watching this thing about lovers in all female prison, and it made perfect sense. It was a lesbian jailhouse wedding. It wasn't even really about race anymore. It was about sexuality, love and togetherness in confinement.
I worked at Pearl's downtown for a year. Before that I was making and selling t-shirts, working odd labor jobs and painting houses.
When are you most creative... - time of day? When are you working on new work?
I like to start new paintings at night. And then finish them in the daytime.
When did you start to really make work? What was your work like in high school?
Ive always drawn, and started painting a little in high school. I was raised on graphic flat paintings, the original Nickelodeon cartoons, sci-fi super hero type creatures and Ed Roth characters and cars. I used to have a deep mistrust of conceptual art, like pooping on canvas or masturbating under stages. It seemed like one big inside joke for anyone who could shell out tuition for art school. Then on the other hand I found painterly paintings of fields or nature or still lives painfully boring. As Ive gotten older, Ive come to appreciate different types of art more and more. But thats what high school me was like. Pissed off, headstrong and kind of a dork.
But I got kind of bored with it. I wanted to keep things interesting for myself and to do that I had to open myself up to new things. So I went to CCA in Oakland as a painting major. I still had this feeling that I should make art that people who had never heard the word "Duchampian" could enjoy, but I also realized that art like other professions needs highly educated specialists, and thats what school was for. But at the same time I was really paying attention to the Mission School artists, so when there was loan complications and I couldn't go to CCA anymore or access their library, I made Mission School my official teachers.
What mainly happened in college was I had a teacher, Franklin Williams, who pretty much broke me down and forced me to build myself back up piece by piece. He knew when to praise and when to ignore and when to single you out for a vicious clowning on. He was like a sparring partner, or a coach. He would say things to me and piss me off so bad that I would work with this sort of vengeful fury, like "Ill show you, motherfucker". But then in these frenzies I would really push myself in uncomfortable directions and create some of my best work. Then I would come back the next week to rub it in his face, like he would be crushed that I had been working so hard, but he would just smile and pat me on the back and move onto the next person. He knew what he was doing. Then when paying for school got complicated the painter David Huffman who also teaches at CCA let me hang around him and would encourage me on when I was really questioning myself and feeling reluctant, like with the beginning of the Jim Jones series.
What was the best thing you did this last year?
Moving away from San Francisco and coming back to San Francisco.
What do you have upcoming? Projects? Trips? Shows? Etc...
Im in New York City until 22 of August apartment sitting, but really I don't know what Im doing right now. Ill be back in San Francisco and I need to find a place to work, a place to show and need to enjoy myself more. If anyone can help me with any of these, Im open to suggestions. Im just gonna keep painting for now. Hit me up on my website www.dumbstersf.com
For more on Matthew, check his website: www.dumbstersf.com
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