ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH URBAN LOWBROW ARTIST MATTHEW KNIGHT
Meet Matthew Knight, an up and coming urban/lowbrow artist currently based in Ireland, whose psychedelic monster characters seem to pop off the canvas and beg to be touched. Knight is unconventional when it comes to his canvases, as he likes to use recycled materials in his work, bringing together something old, making it new and all his own. We had the opportunity to interview him about where he gets his ideas for his pieces, his influences that shaped his artistic style and what’s on the horizon, like his new ‘toy’ commission and upcoming shows.
You currently live in Belfast, where did you grow up?
I was actually born over in Cambridge, England; my mother is from Northern Ireland and my dad England. They worked for a health organisation and went over to Pakistan when I was 4. I loved all the years I spent there, the people I met, the smells, the palaces, temples, villages, Mosques, Bedford trucks, rickshaws and the food. Real Chicken Tikka, not the shit you get in the UK, was amazing. I am addicted to good spicy food.
I grew up there until I was 13 traveling all over the place. Spent so many summers around the Himalayas hanging out with all sorts of characters. Unfortunately my parents got divorced when I was 13 and we moved back to Belfast with my mum. Coming back was the biggest culture shock I ever dealt with. My parents never told me or my brother of the ‘Troubles’ here in Northern Ireland and the first we learnt of it was on the flight over 2 hours or something before we landed. I had a real love/hate affair with the place as a teenager but with age I’ve mellowed out and grown to love the place.
Did you attend art school, or are you self-taught?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember. Art was always my favourite subject and was what I did best at. I studied art full time since I was 16 in college and in university.
What were your interests growing up that led you to form your artistic style?
My Granny has always been an artist in her spare time and my dad was a product designer, which encouraged me to pursue my own imaginations to begin with. After that though I was always drawing comic art and characters for games trying to come up with my own superheroes, villains and monsters. Still have all my sketchbooks from when I was young. I was copying everything I could get my hands on. The Asterix and TinTin comics were my favourites back then and to this day. I’ve traveled a lot more than most and I guess that’d have to be another big influence on me. I’ve seen, eaten and smelt a whole load of God knows what. It’s all stayed with me so far.
It Was Me
Why are you drawn to patterns?
They’re like a drug to me. Just making patterns is hypnotic and relaxing almost. In Pakistan everything you can imagine was covered in some sort of decoration. The Mosques were inspiring to me to look at adorned in so much detail with patterns leading everywhere. Trucks in Pakistan were each personally decorated all over with patterns and colours as a matter of pride for the drivers.
My Mum was also very good at making her own clothes and so on, she’d drag me and my bro around all the Bazaars which were filled to the brimful with colours and so on. I got to go to Australia when I was 12 where I came across Aboriginal art and that just blew me away. Over here, the Celtic style of art (knot works mainly) is also another influence. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve always just looked at the detail that most people just seem to bypass.
Who are your favorite artists? Did they influence you in any way?
I have so many favourites. This is a tricky question trying to remember them all. Uderzo (Asterix and Obelix), Herge (TinTin), Masamune Shirow (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell Manga comics) would be big influences on me growing up. The style and the detail in those comics had something most other comics don’t have in my opinion.
When I went to Art College though my passion for comics died out and I discovered painting for the first time really. Fell in love with Impressionism, Pointillism and Abstract art mostly, especially an artist called Mary Cassatt. Chris Ofilli was also a revelation. Most people reading this have probably never heard of the guy but an artist called Dean Mitchell, a watercolourist from America was also a big influence.
Recently though its definitely been all things Lowbrow and Urban for me. Gerry Judah, Dan Witz, D*Face and definitely Adam Neate. Was in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris this year and kept bumping into Space Invader pieces, totally enjoyed that experience. There’s loads though from all over the place. Lots of respect for them all.
What is Matthew Knight passionate about when it comes to art? Why do you create? If you could not paint, what other artistic medium would you choose?
I just love making things and I love visuals. Simple as that. Lego was another big obsession of mine growing up. I really was good at making my own stuff. I’d see films and cartoons that I wanted all the merchandise from but could never afford so I’d just go off and make it outta Lego. I’ve never let go of creating cause it really does simply keep me happy and active. If I weren’t an artist I’d be doing photography. I’m seriously shite at it but I love exploring and photographing everything I see. Think I could keep myself entertained enough with that or as Lego builder at Lego Land. I worked there once so I know the job exists!
Where do you gain your inspiration/subject matter for your pieces? How do you work, describe your process.
It all starts in my sketchbooks. I scribble down anything pretty loosely. I collect images, articles and quotes as well for inspiration.
I have so many sketchbooks now that I go back through them periodically and update things as I go. I’m quite design orientated when I’m starting out on a piece, it can either start with a character design or whatever I feel like painting on. I’ve got me a large collection of found objects and canvases of various sizes at the ready. All the characters I make have come from various aspects of myself or people around me. The Alien characters I do are a reflection of an alienation I’ve always felt, the cube head characters are a reflection of the creativity that’s buzzing in my head and the Stalag Mite characters are of the depression I went through in my 20s. I’m not a negative person really on the whole and I try to paint bright colourful pieces as its just good for my whole well being when doing it. Growing up in Pakistan is also something I keep thinking about and getting ideas from.
Both and Neither
What mediums do you use? I notice you like to paint on wood, is this because it adds texture to the piece?
I use a combination of pens, acrylics and collage. The wood, metal etc…that I paint on is another passion of mine. All of what’s on show has been down to some hard time searching streets, bins and abandoned buildings for nice aged and textured pieces. There’s been moments where I’ve crapped myself hoking where I shouldn’t be in rotted buildings but till this day I ain’t had any bad experiences and have found some real treasures. It’s a real cheap resource and people really do throw stuff away carelessly. I’ve gotten some strange looks from people as I walk by them carrying shitloads of materials. That’s not a complaint though cause it works in my favour in the end. I get a kick out taking something that’s deemed worthless and making it valuable I guess. The details and textures are all done and ready as a background I just got concentrate on the character and try making it as funky as I can.
Saddened by Thought
Saddened By Thought – detail
What is most important in your pieces…color, form, the subject matter, the piece as a whole…?
Everything. At the minute I’m obsessed with colour values and combinations. Getting the right balance is tricky and is a very important part of what sells a painting I think. I like detail so that I can work to and achieve something special. When there’s a lack of detail I tend to get bored. The overall design and style is something I worry about as well.
What do you hope viewers take away with them after seeing your pieces?
Something fun I’d hope. One of the best reactions I got was from an artist in Holland who bought one of my paintings. He hung it on his toilet door and told me it gives him nothing but pleasure looking at it every time he goes for a number 2.
A lot of people who have looked up close at my work always seem to wonder if I was on some sort of psychedelics or something at the time. Lately I’ve been experimenting with 2D/3D forms and shapes in my paintings and toying with the way people look at my paintings. A lot of people so far treat the paintings I’ve done like bubble wrap in a way and keep wanting to touch them. To get an idea of what I’m talking about its best to look at my paintings called ‘In this Strange‘ and ‘Dot you lookin at?‘
In This Strange
In This Strange – details
Dot you lookin at?
Do you find there is a contrast between the intent of your work and the perception of your work?
Yeah definitely. So far though I’ve got nothing but positive feedback. The meaning or ideas behind my paintings isn’t always obvious to most people but that’s ok as its just another thing that keeps me going and trying with the next piece I do. I’m not trying to portray anything serious or with some sort of deeper meaning to it just yet. Still trying to figure that part out and I’m in no need to rush that. Conflict, alienation, creativity are definitely themes I keep exploring and I will continue to use the characters I’ve come up with again to explore that. I believe that people’s perceptions will eventually start to change as I grow as an artist
Which is your favorite piece you have done and why?
‘The Face Behind the Skin‘. I did this 2 years ago and was a turning point for me personally. I’d been toying away with ideas and concepts for so many years not really knowing what direction I was heading in and this piece kick started something in me.
The Face Behind the Skin
Do you make ‘art’ for a living? Or do you have a “day” job?
I’ve been doing this for a living since February this year. The pay is infrequent and it sure can be scary compared to the comfort of my previous jobs but I’ve managed so far. Looking for some part time work though right now to help pay the bills and get some good Christmas presents for friends and family.
Which galleries in Amsterdam and Dublin have shown your work (besides Gallery Number One)?
In Amsterdam I have work on show at the Outland Gallery and in Dublin its just Gallery Number One for now. I have permanent collections in both.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
I have a show I’m working on for the Frameworks Gallery here in Belfast (no website unfortunately). Its just gonna be a small show though. Also have a solo show coming up in Gallery Number One but that’s not until the start of summer next year. Other than that I am in limbo awaiting approval from two committees as they decide whether or not they like my ideas. I have put a proposal in for a group show here called the ‘The Trifles with Monsters’. It will involve the ‘Troubles’ being reinterpreted as a massive food fight between each artist’s character designs. The other proposal I put in for I will find out this week if I’ve been successful or not. Fingers crossed. At the minute I’m either working on commissions or applying for shows and so on.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on an awesome commission toy. I’ve really loved making it and plan to do more. Also got two paintings I’m working on with some characters in these toy tanks surrounded by so much detail it’s taking a while to complete. I’m trying to push myself with these ones and further create my own style and vibe. Lots of collage and more 2D/3D forms and shapes in my paintings.
Are you part of a permanent collection?
I’m part of a permanent collection at Gallery Number One. I also have stuff up in Outland permanently.
Here are more examples of Knight’s work:
Don’t Shit on This Little Guy
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Chicken
I’m Beautiful No Matter What You Say – details
We All Gently Weep Knowing
What’s It All About
We thank Matthew for the interview and wish him the best of luck with his entries into the two shows and with his ‘toy’ commission. We told him his monsters would look sweet on the shelves of Kidrobot! If you’re in Belfast go check out his upcoming show at Frameworks Gallery (164 Ormeau Road) (map) and next summer at Gallery Number One.