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Matt R. Martin’s oil paintings have been causing quite a stir around the world; his elegantly intertwined models provide a refreshing portrayal of traditional painting, which have caught the attention of renowned galleries including Hillsmith Gallery and Scott Livesey Galleries. Try to learn more about the artist behind the pieces, however, and instead you may find a small black hole within the depths of cyberspace. With this in mind, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to interview this Australian artist and find out more about Matt and the drive behind his enigmatic paintings. Enjoy!
Hi Matt, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. So let’s get straight to it – you reference nature and the outdoors a lot in your paintings yet there is a sparseness, a bareness to the surroundings – the elements of nature don’t necessarily bring a sense of life or safety that artists so often utilise it for. This is interesting – why depict your models in such surroundings?
I like the ambiguity. Less is more and a timeless origin means there’s no real telling of where and when a piece exists. The emptiness can really convey and set the mood or feeling that I want to put forward in my works.
How would you describe your personal relationship with nature?
Nature is inspiring and its beauty… I don’t believe you can recreate or match it. But I am no outdoors type of person by any means.
What draws you to the more muted, cooler colour palettes?
I think it comes from my love of movies and the de-saturated colour grading some filmmakers use, which I believe heightens the drama and mood, much like the surroundings.
Have you always worked with oils?
No, I believe I only first picked up the paint brush and oils in 2007 but before that I had been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I started adult life drawing around the age of 15.
What drew you to painting?
Not sure, I guess it was just a natural progression from drawing.
Do you still draw much?
Unfortunately not much just drawing these days, but I must get back to it.
The two outlets surely create alternative experiences; how are the two mediums (drawing and painting) different for you?
Mainly colour theory. But I think if I got back to drawing they would be loose and a more immediate style showing more of the process and line mark making.
Are you a self-taught painter?
Mostly yes. I did finish a diploma in illustration and oil painting wasn’t exactly encouraged, but from that I did learn some good colour theory which helped me go off and learn to oil paint on my own. From that course, I was also lucky enough to meet and become friends with a guy named Beau who also wanted to learn oil painting, so we bounced a lot of ideas and techniques off each other.
On your blog, you mention your love for great scores/soundtracks in film; this led you to add music to your website in order to ‘enhance’ the viewing pleasure or your artwork online. Have you combined this multi-sensory element to your art in any other ways? At exhibitions, perhaps?
I love great film scores/soundtracks. Scores when combined with the visuals and movement of the movie really enhance and cause an emotional reaction. It might just be my jealousy that they have those multi-sensory mediums to play with but that’s not my medium so no, that was a one off. I just happen to know and was in contact with a lot of very talented musicians at the time and I thought it was a cool little project that was knocked out in a couple of days.
Do you have any particular pieces of music that inspired any of your works, or pieces that you feel are especially affiliated with a certain painting?
Certainly inspired, but no one particular music score. It’s more my tastes and leaning towards the same type of mood or feeling I try to create in my works.
Are there any muses from other roots, either from your early years or even now?
Sources of inspiration come from a lot of different places. Growing up in Mildura I wasn’t exposed to much art so my brother and I would watch a lot of movies. Also my mum was a ballet teacher so I was always observing dancers and subconsciously I think that crept in as a source.
The intensity of your paintings manage to create an atmosphere similar to film noir – sultry and raw, like a still from a film. The difference though is that there is very little narrative as to a larger story. Is this to allow the audience to take from your paintings what they will without you overly influencing them?
Yes as mentioned in the earlier questions I love good thought provoking films with great cinematography. The challenge for me is to create connection with the audience and force an emotional response in a single image. I believe there is something pure in allowing it to be ambiguous, not pushing an agenda or political idea but letting the viewer have their own ideas, questions and feelings towards the works whether it is good or bad.
It’s easy to state you aren’t pushing a particular thought or feeling, but it’s hard not to believe that your works lie in a certain realm of emotions. A lot of your paintings avoid showing the full face of the model(s) by their hands or arms hiding their faces, or their heads lowered towards their bodies; even when woven together they seem to be in their own worlds. These are elements of introversion, the body language of one pulling away. They exist in often wild, sparsely growing natural venues or in empty rooms that suggest they’ve been long forgotten by their owners. Though of course viewers can find their own personal views on the piece, the overarching element of desolation, even loneliness, seems to exist.
I would say you are 100% correct I am pushing for feeling an emotional response to the works, I’m just not dictating what that emotional response should be and by pure I mean is there nothing more human than the act of feeling? I work in a realism style of painting but I like to think about it as more like heightened realism. It is grounded in reality, but takes on a dreamlike quality which allows me to paint what I would like to see and how I want to paint it. My work explores not only human postures and proprioception, but also its orientation, which forces the viewer to consider the human form as a whole, along with its various gestures, shapes, and expressions of body language. My taste tends to lean towards I guess what you might call somber elements but I think there is an intoxicating beauty existing there.
You mentioned that your mum was a ballet teacher; it sounds like certain elements of growing up around that have definitely rubbed off on you, even if it is subconsciously! Ballet can be a very intense yet beautiful dance – even a lifestyle – where body language is at the heart of expression. What was it like growing up with your mum teaching ballet? Are you a dancer yourself?
It was just normal for me, I guess. She was very hard working and passionate. She did try to get me to dance- but I never went for it.
You recently took part in an artist residential – was this a new experience and would you recommend them to other artists? Did you gain what you were hoping to from the residency?
Sure- I always think it’s good to get out and have life experiences. This I guess is a way to have those and have a place to work also. This was the first time I had done one myself but it wasn’t exactly under normal circumstances. The residency was at the Art Vault in Mildura, Victoria and I was born and raised there. I moved to Melbourne at 21 years old. So I took it as a chance to say goodbye to old friends and family that still live there before I leave to live overseas, as well as to support what the Art Vault is doing because there was nothing like that when I was growing up there.
Some artists transcribe their own feelings into their paintings like a visual diary capturing an experience or moment in time, does this aspect come into play with you at all?
I would say no but subconsciously it’s possible I have done that looking back across my own work over the years. I like my ideas for work to form organically. I may be able to identify where my mind was and what my feelings were when I’ve had time to reflect.
The intertwining of your models must make for some interesting sessions with them! How do you design and decide on the right poses?
Because I have been exploring this subject matter for a while now it has gotten easier but will forever remain an interesting and exciting process. I do have rough ideas leading up to a shoot and I may jot them down on a piece of paper as a reminder, but I like to let the session evolve naturally. They are very demanding poses plus everybody is different and only capable of so much so the vision I have in my head isn’t what always the end result.
I start with something more simple, get the models comfortable and warmed up, and I will move around the model taking many shots from different angles, reflect on the images, then move into another pose more complex and repeat this process. After directing them for a while I often ask them to just start moving themselves into positions now they know what I’m somewhat looking for and that can often capture something special that wasn’t planned or thought out. I love to work this way, adapting throughout the process, going with the flow and mood of the session.
Many of your models portray a sense of stillness. I suppose I’m still thinking about dancers, but have you considered capturing more mid-action poses to paint?
Yes, but I need to find the right models with particular capabilities or skills.
How long does an average painting take to paint?
Anywhere from days to months. Because I work in a realism style, it all depends on the complexity of what I’m embarking on.
Okay, so coming back to your process: you have your initial sketches and reference photographs of your models. What’s next? How does it go from an idea with reference points to a fully-fledged painting?
I tend to reflect on the reference gathered and then I’ll take images into Photoshop, start playing with compositions, painting on them, and colour grading. Because of the realism style I go for, this allows me to take away the guesswork and focus the direction of the painting. Then comes the process of drawing it up on primed board and then painting begins.
Has your creative process changed much over the years?
I’m constantly trying to improve and challenge myself. Every painting is like problem solving and I don’t necessarily like to play it safe as an artist. I want the excitement of furthering ideas and concepts not to be trapped.
Do you find creating art to be a necessity, or more for enjoyment?
Both I think, but I do get the urge to create. Creating art gives me the most fulfillment and the greatest sense of purpose.
Have you created any self-portraits?
No real interest in painting myself. I don’t think I could enjoy the process.
You say you don’t like playing it safe as an artist; what are the most challenging decisions you have made to push yourself in this field?
It’s hard as upcoming artists. We need to allow people to get to know us, and our body of work, over time. One of the decisions I made was to be a full time artist, 100% of my income from making art and in making that decision becomes this balancing act of art meets commerce. The most challenging decision is when to take the risk and move forward artistically. You want to push ideas that you’re unsure about, where the water hasn’t been tested in the commercial realm. It’s hard to allow time for failure because the truth is we need them to make money so when can we afford to keep creating and taking risks with the art we want to make.
Another decision is to start exploring other outlets to my art. I have been playing with looser mark making in painting. Mixed media works with a photographic base, and I would like to start exploring lithographs and drawing as well.
Also I have decided to move to the UK even though I am doing really well here in Australia. I think career wise there is room to grow on a grander scale so I’m going to roll the dice see how it plays out.
Well as a UK-based art lover, that’s great news for me personally! It seems you really are taking over the world; this year you have your exhibition at Hong Kong Central, can you share a bit about it?
There are more and more art fairs popping up all over the world and it’s a great way to expose your work to a larger audience. I have developed a relationship with Hill Smith Gallery over time and I believe they knew that I wanted something that would excite me, to be able to do something together, and they came to the table with the HK Central Art Fair. That was something that interested me a great deal, so we decided to work together.
Have you thought about any collaborations with other artists or creative bodies?
I’ve dabbled in various collaborations but nothing too serious. It’s always a possibility for the future.
Thanks for your time, Matt; speaking with you has been a pleasure! To finish off I think our readers would like to know where they can see your works in person. Do you have any other exhibitions coming up?
June 3, 2017 at Scott Livesey Galleries. I have a new solo show alongside a wonderful artist, Ron Francis.