Friday, October 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Matt Small

Matt Small-- also known as Matty-- is a traditional urban artist who paints directly onto used pieces of found metal and other objects. Small’s subjects are taken directly from the streets. They are all filmed without their knowledge at which point the artist uses the documentation as references for his work. The portraits are painted on found- objects such as concrete and metal, using household materials like gloss or poster paint, which he applies very thickly. By giving each portrait names such as Ahmed, Andre and Terry, he gives the ‘anonymous faces of urban youth’ a character. The combination of subject and materials captures the essence of London street life.

Winston, Sculptural painting made from assemble pieces of metal, 45cm x 30cm x 12cm, 2007

BS: Matt, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

MS: My name is Matthew Small. I am a dude from Camden north London where I have lived all of my 33 years. I am an artist who has been described by some (many) to paint moody, young negroids and other foreigners, the sort of people you don’t normally do portraits of if you’re an artist. I paint people who don’t get acknowledged much in society, be they black or white, it ain't no race thing.

Paul, Mixed media on found metal, 91cm x 76cm, 2007

BS: Matt, you studied at Westminster and the Royal College of Art. What can you tell us about your academic years?

MS: I studied illustration, I always liked drawing and stuff and wanted to have a career in it. I thought that illustration would be a feasible way of making money in the art world. So I did an art foundation and then a degree in illustration and then a masters at the RCA.
Youngstarr, Mixed media on found metal, 110cm x 110cm, 2007

BS: So why did you decide to pursue fine art instead of illustration?

MS: I thought the illustration world would be the way, but I soon realized that answering briefs for someone else, doing stuff that I didn’t give a hoot about was really stifling my creative development. I basically couldn’t be an illustrator because I was more interested in making art that was about things I cared about, subject matter that was related to me, the world that I saw, the people I encountered on a day to day basis. I wanted to illustrate their story not some bollocks crap design for a corn flakes packet or a load of illustrations for some numb-nut magazine
Samuel, Mixed media on assembled pieces of found metal, 110cm x 90cm, 2006

BS: With that in mind, how would you describe your art to someone who is approaching your work for the first time?

MS: My art is portraiture that focuses on the person who isn’t normally deemed worthy of being focused on. I paint the little bod who is sitting on the wall by his housing estate, I paint the little runt who has a hoody on that people don’t want to look because they feel threatened for some reason, I paint the things that I think need to be highlighted, the unappreciated.

BS: How is that choice reflected in the materials that you utilize?

MS: I paint on materials that I suppose represent the people I paint. For example, fridge doors and ovens. I create on objects that have been discarded, tossed away, left to rot, abandoned, unloved shit. These materials help enhance the message I’m conveying in the picture.

JB, mixed media on found metal, 65cm x 50cm, 2006

BS: Give us some more insight into the materials you use and surfaces that you utilize within the context of your work…

MS: I work with anything I can get my hands on, I like the idea of being ‘unconventional’, just picking up all manner of different types of paint and throwing them all together, and like I said, working on bits of cars and fridges.

I use a lot of household paints and industrial materials. For example, concrete and bricks. I like having bits of the environment in the work. It all goes into bringing out the essence of the city.

William, Mixed media on found concrete slab, 140cm x 179cm, 2007

BS: Tell about your process. Do you start out with a sketchbook-- prelim sketches-- or is your work based on intuition alone?

MS: I film my subjects on the street, I find a suitable frame to work from then draw it up on to the canvas. I work in sections really. After sketching up the picture I then paint the tones of the face, then I will maybe leave the picture for a little while, for how ever long, a week or a couple of hours it all depends on whether I feel bothered to do it all in one go. It often comes down to if I have enough time to do it all before I pick up my boy from school, that sort of thing. But all-in-all in terms of actual time a picture takes me on average about 40000000

BS: Tell us more about your influences-- what inspires you?

MS: When I wake up and see my little boy I feel inspired. When I go out and mooch about town I feel inspired. Day to day living is inspirational for my work as I want to represent a reality that is personal to my existence and hopefully which is similar and connected to others around me. It’s a London thing I suppose. It’s nice to draw upon your community, to highlight the area you come from and the people who live there.
Jason, Mixed media on found metal, 80cm x 50cm, 2006

BS: Have any specific artists influenced you?

MS: I always believed that to have a unique voice you shouldn’t really look at other artists. So I never really consciously let myself be influenced by anyone. Then I realized I was being anal.

I enjoy Marlene Dumas as she focused on a section of society that was not accepted as having any worth-- prostitutes. I was happy to see an artist deal with such subject matter with total conviction and at the same time have her own style of painting that really captured the mood and essence of those she was depicting.

David, Sculptural work made from hand painted assembled metal on found street sign, 100cm x 60cm, 2007

BS: Living as an artist is sometimes difficult financially. Do you hold a part-time job?

MS: I have never had a job in my life and I intend to go to my grave never having had one. I get by.

BS: You've produced a lots of work in a relatively short frame of time. Do you have a favorite piece?

MS: I always try to produce favorite pieces, I think I put myself into all of my work so it is all personal to me and each piece represents an achievement. However, of all the pictures that I was happiest with it was a piece called David which was like a 3d painting that I made for the ‘This is England’ show last year.
Lawrence, Mixed Media on found metal, 65cm x 90cm, 2005

BS: What do you think of the recent boom of mainstream interest in street art?

MS: I don’t know really. Sometimes I’m sick to death of it all. I hate when scenes get hyped up and you get loads of wanky people getting involved that don’t have a clue or give a shit really about the essence of the culture. You get hedge fund bankers and city boys who are attracted by the money and don't give a crap about the reality of the real people who are making the art on the streets.

I see street art as a platform for all to have a voice, to be seen and felt, that’s what’s so beautiful about it. The city becomes a canvas for all. Now it does feel a bit like, because of all the hype and attention directed towards street art, some artists are using the street to advertise their product. It feels slightly manipulative to me that the street is used to promote your soon to be released print or up coming show. I think what’s happened is the innocence has gone a bit.

I do believe that art on the streets is eternal, the need for the street to be heard will mean there’s always someone out there who will be doing this without the thought of money being their sole agenda. I don’t know, who am I to have an opinion, I’m just an ‘urban artist’

Becky, Mixed media on found wood, 80cm x 78cm, 2008

BS: My understanding is that your work is currently on display at Ronnie Wood’s London based gallery Scream. So what is your opinion of galleries in general?

MS: All galleries are money grabbing snakes.

BS: Finally, what are your plans in the near future? Any upcoming exhibitions?

MS: I have a show at black rat press in March then I’m having a show in South Africa in November next year which will be with the Bank Gallery.
You can learn more about Matt Small by visiting his website-- More information about Matt can be found art-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


PWR said...

compelling work with an informative and comprehensive site too, well done Matty Small.. inspiring for many of us I'm sure.

grier horner said...

Matt, You're doing those portraits in an amazing way. They are high voltage.

grierhorner said...

Matt, you're work is high voltage.

Nickie Mingarelli said...

Wow...I feel so much when I look at your work.


Nickie Mingarelli

JaneBucci said...

Hey Matt!

Just love your work!

You know how you can play really hard for a few minutes with a little kid until you are sure they are going to need a moment to catch their breath?
But they come back at you with, "Do MORE! Do AGAIN! Do MORE!"

When I look at your art work I feel just like that little kid! Thanks!


Mireille Dubois Vanhove said...

beautiful work, i like