Matt and I did this interview back in late April / early May for Fecal Face. Somehow during a platform migration it got lost – so here it is – after the break. Click on images for slightly larger versions.
I’ve gotten in trouble writing about Matt in the past. Some of my “clever” anecdotal introductions to previous interviews with my friend and roommate have been repeated, out of context, ad-nauseam. In an attempt to break this vicious cycle, I won’t rehash these previously released rumors here, but a quick google search for the curious will reveal all. What’s worse, any time someone writes a piece or asks Matt a question stemming from something I have written about him, I get my balls busted. So, Matt, consider this my formal, public (and final) apology.
The scenario outlined above, me bungling my words and trying to come up with something clever to say only to have it come out all wrong, has me wary of trying to write something new. I’ve decided it is probably better to just quote what other people have to say about Matt’s work and let them take the blame, so I grabbed two short passages from Matt’s monograph You Are Forgiven (Free News Projects, 2008) that articulate what I like about his drawings better than I could.
“Matt Leines’ work is very, very tidy. . . A very tidy world, but with a lot of implied poisonous spiked underbrush and also contrasting implied verdant fields. A synthetic world that implies something beyond what it circumscribes and gains vast glimpsed territory and psychic power thereby.” - Gary Panter
“Matt is relentlessly inventing extraordinary characters and the scenarios that envelop them. the imagery has the strangely familiar look of medieval or archaic artwork. But as much as it appears to have been unearthed in some archaeological dig in the ruins of an ancient lost civilization wrought with mysterious powers and gods, very little of it is directly referencing any specific historical artworks or imagery.” - Taylor McKimens
Anyhow, Matt is doing the project room at Guerrero Gallery in the Mission while I do the main space. His show is called These Songs Are True, mine is titled These Are The Days of Miracle and Wonder. Both exhibitions feature new drawings and they both open May 8th. Needless to say, we are a little worn out from the ramp up, but I tossed Matt some softball questions about what he has been up to in preparation for this show, and took a lot of photos of him working.
Alex: So you have said that the works for These Songs Are True, especially the two interior scenes, are what you have been trying to paint for a year now. I have watched you go through countless sketches and false starts, can you articulate what inspired these new pieces and maybe a little about the challenges you faced in making them? I feel like a lot of what you were drawing before, especially in your show at Clementine in New York, were adventure scenes with warriors and beasts and natives, whereas these are much quieter and the action is much subtler, but as Gary Panter wrote, they retain that implication of much more just beyond the picture plane.
Matt: It was a struggle to get back into a rhythm of working after my book, You Are Forgiven, came out. I had been wanting to include different elements and scenarios in my work for a while, but I felt like I wasn’t quite done telling the stories I was trying to tell with those drawings and it made sense to me to make the narrative aspect of the work included in the book as concise as it could be. When the book was finished I felt that for the first time I was really able to step back and consider pretty much everything I’ve ever made; all of it together in the context of itself. That was a strange sensation. But it also made me come to terms with what things I felt were more successful than others, and reminded me of ideas I had been working out early on that for one reason or another were dropped or changed somewhere along the way.
I think in this case i feel that in moving forward I’ve also been working backwards. I think the more subtle feeling of these new works is something I was doing early on and I’ve also been revisiting influences I had from even before I started working the way I guess I’m known for.
Alex: I’m interested in this working backwards while moving forward idea. Is it a satisfying or frustrating? Maybe it can be both.
Matt: So far it has been super liberating. I think foremost, in making these works, I’m literally working backwards. When i was using primarily ink, all of the line work was drawn in first, then the color was added after. These new ones are acrylic so the color planes are figured out then the detailing goes in. That was a bit of a struggle to get used to that again but also opened up a lot of room for error which other materials never allowed for before. That has of course made things a lot less stressful and dare I say, fun.
Alex: I feel your drawings epitomize the drawing-as-world-making, where you are creating a self-contained universe inside your body of work. So with the act of returning to earlier influences and the idea of moving back to go forwards, do these drawings exist in the same world as some of your slightly older work, like the drawings in your book for example, or is it a parallel or maybe tangential world? Or is it a future world in the same universe as the older work? (Does it need to be clear?) I know you have also talked before about this idea of revisiting your own iconography, but re-using it in a different context in newer work years after you used it first. I also know everything in your drawings needs to make sense to you, everything needs to abide by the laws of your universe, how do these new drawings fit with the old laws?
Matt: The rules I’ve made for how things need to exist are probably the biggest thing I’ve been reconsidering with this stuff. And I think that’s really what I mean by moving backwards. One of my first goals was to make pictures that seemed as if they had been made by some culture that we hadn’t known of until the things they left behind were discovered. Like the drawings I was making were actually the product of the people depicted in the pictures. And in doing so I would set rules for what things were allowed to exist together in a scene or what not. Sometimes I’d break the rules, be it purposely or accidentally, but a canon existed in my head of what was possible and what wasn’t possible. Now I think I’m throwing that out the window, and in doing so allowing myself to break those rules. Anything is a possibility.
As far as where these paintings fit in the scheme of my older work, I don’t know yet. I’ve debated the future of the same world thing. And in that case a form that was meant to be a living thing in an older work could resurface as an inanimate sculpture in a new one. But, I’ve always enjoyed leaving that sort of thing open to interpretation. Or maybe I’ll make a decision on all of that stuff after confusing it for years like on Lost.
Alex: Also, you have started to work with collage recently, but not appropriating pre-existing materials, you make it all yourself. For so long you were obsessed with perfectly flat colors and sharp lines, and now that has changed a little, what brought on this development?
Matt: It’s weird. When I was working in ink and watercolor I did strive to get everything to lay as flat as possible, even though those aren’t inherently the best materials for that result. But I think I got pretty good at it. The biggest problem with that was always the palette of colors I use. It really limited what I could do because some colors, especially blue, were a fucking nightmare to control, I could never get them to be as flat as I wanted. And it was sometimes impossible to get much variation within the colors that i did have control over, like yellow and red. To expand my palette I started using acrylic again, and with those I could mix out the exact colors I wanted, but to me the paintings were now looking too flat. So I finally got things to look how I had wanted them to only to decide that I didn’t even like that anymore. So yea, I spent a whole bunch of time making the sketches and the false starts you mentioned before, with the results being a bunch of half finished or barely started work I wasn’t happy with.
That’s where the collage part enters in I guess. Collage isn’t really a new thing to me, I spent most of college working that way. And back then everything I made was much looser. In another example of revisiting the past, I’ve finally allowed myself to loosen up and quit fighting with myself to make everything as tight as it can be. Well, except the line work. That’s still tight. The lines are the unifier that cleans up all the mess. I think the biggest gain from collaging things together now is I can achieve looks I otherwise couldn’t if I was just painting the whole picture. Again, I’m able to leave parts messy, and underpainted, and create subtleties that get cleaned up by the lines.
Alex: I know you have, in the past, had distinctions between what you call “paintings” and “drawings”, where do these new works fall in your own categorization?
Matt: I guess the distinction between a drawing and a painting for me was the materials. If it had paint on it, and that means like acrylic, which covers the paper grain or whatever then it was a painting. Right now I don’t give a shit what these pictures are. Are they collages? Yea, but the whole thing is painted, so its a painting. I don’t know. I draw pictures.
Alex: I think we are both interested in the idea of images within images, pictures contained in pictures. I know Peter Blake’s Self Portrait with Badges from 1961 is one of your favorite paintings. I have always been excited by the vague background of Velazquez’s Las Meninas (is it a mirror on the back wall reflecting the painters subjects or a reflection of the painting or an already finished portrait?) – and while you were working with these ideas, I know we both got excited about Orion Shepherd’s paintings of Paul Wackers paintings. I don’t quite know what the question is here, but can you talk about this interest with pictures within pictures?
Matt: Self Portrait With Badges was the first Peter Blake painting I saw, and I love it. But I think a more relevant painting to this question is On The Balcony from 1955-57. I’ve often said that Blake is my favorite artist, and I think these recent works are the most obvious of that. Yea, these portraits apologetically feature guys with badges on their shirts. I think the Blake paintings like On The Balcony and David Hockney’s portrait scenes from the 70′s are the jump off for the interior pictures I made for this show. I hope I’m just scratching the surface with those and the next ones will really start to play with the space more. And yes, I am really impressed with those Orion Shepard paintings, and Eric White had that ridiculously amazing series of pictures in a picture a few years ago. I guess that’s a good non-answer.
Alex: Lastly, you and I both get really frustrated when we see an artist our age or younger and can point to parts of the painting and go “That part is a knock off Chris Johanson circa 2002, that part is Tomoo Gokita, that part is Eddie Martinez or Jordin Isip”; like the suspect painting is just a collage of works made yesterday culled from art people saw on the Internet; art history be damned. And I guess this gets to the writing of Taylor’s that I quoted before, but your influences are much more veiled than most peoples. So while generally I hate it when people ask this question, and part of this is more of the Alex-trying-to-atone-for-previous-interview-sins, but can you talk about what imagery, be it painting or something else, that you are excited about these days?
Matt: To me, what you just described is lazy. It’s an inevitability that your influences creep into your work. But if they do they should creep in, not be the focal point with other shit added around it to try to disguise it. And if you can’t do it any other way, why on earth are you referencing someone your own age. I’m constantly coming across people and things that are changing the way I look at and think about the work I make. Things that are new and old, but new to me. It’s as easy as keeping your eyes open, and not focused on a Flickr page. That being said, lately I’ve been looking at Modern Art. Plain and simple, and easy to access. They even have museums devoted to it. Miro, Picasso, and Dada stuff. Ernst. Hockney probably does more than just creep in. Also, decorative art things I overlooked or ignored in the past. And yes, old toys and wrestlers. And to lift the veil a little, Raoul Hausmann’s The Spirit of our Times.
These Songs Are True
Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco