Interview with illustrator Matthew the Horse

Matthew the Horse is a graphic artist, illustrator, print-maker and poet from Leeds, where he also teaches on BA Illustration at Leeds College of Art. With numerous exhibitions under his belt and a portfolio of work that includes producing art for The New York Times, The Guardian, Converse and Little White Lies, Matthew’s work has a playful, uninhibited style and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It certainly makes us smile, as did Matthew himself when we asked more about his work…

How would you describe your work?

I make drawings that are loose and naive in their line quality but with strong formal compositions and balance of form. I like pictures that seem immediate and unabashed. I’m always trying to make work that feels alive with right now. I write poems as well and I guess I want my recent work to feel like poems. Irreverent and daft, like a drunk best friend. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for children recently, which I enjoy because it matches up well with the play ethic I’m trying to press into my pictures. Do a little dance, eat a chocolate pudding.

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What inspires you and makes you want to create?

Curiosity. I reckon it takes about 20 years to lay a fully formed egg of curiosity and then you’ve got the rest of your life to incubate it. I try to find something interesting everyday and then spend some time thinking about it or make some work about it. This isn’t always as grand as it seems, that thing might be porridge or new socks. I think creative people have just discovered a space where they can be happy and that’s what keeps them going. Why take that away?

How did you develop your artistic style?

Knobbing about. Doing stupid things for the sake of it without too much awareness of the self. Making it up. Having a go. Undoing myself. Then reflecting on these things. It’s a slow process and one I’m still working on. If I had more time in the studio I could speed up the process but I have other loaves to bake, there’s no rush, we’re all evolving.

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Do you have a favourite piece you’ve created?

I’ve got a project on the go at the moment, which I’m really enjoying but it’s top secret. It’s hard to focus on it because it’s a personal project but I certainly see it as where I want to go next and that’s exciting. It’s a series of prints where I’m trying to do less but convey more. It includes a giant diagram of a potato plant.

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Tell us about your involvement with the propaganda project ‘Remain Positive.’

The gang running the campaign were amazing, really committed to the project personally; they were so passionate. After it was all over I was sent a post-Brexit blues mix CD full of positive vibes! I loved doing that work, it felt easy to make things in that moment, it’s rare to have such a strong message. Their proposal was brilliant and an easy brief to get involved with. Illustration doesn’t always have to be championing a cause but it is a great vehicle to do so and by the evidence available online people really enjoyed using their image making skills to voice their opinions. I wonder where do we go from here? In an age with so much visual sharing, how do we harness this expansive network of illustrators to maintain these important discussions? I guess it’s just about output, but there’s the paradox, do we always want more?

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What’s your creative process when responding to a brief?

Sketchbook mess. Messy roughs. Slightly tidier roughs. Chat with client. Get on with it. When it comes to making artwork my process is pretty simple, I feel like I’m slipping away when I see the bonkers crazy beautiful stuff other people are doing but I’m still holding onto the act of drawing as a performative act. I repeat my line work over and over, adjusting, making mistakes, balancing. Some paint? Some ink? Then I Photoshop it

How do you maintain your own style in a commission?

Drawing is a performative act. My pens deliver a specific visual signature, but so does my hand, the composition, the translation of ideas though symbols and the way the ink dies. I try to perfect the mess as a means of making the point. Like a drunken apology.

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Which commissions have you most enjoyed?

The ones where clients like nonsense and are interested in risk. But if I’m honest a lot of my biggest commercial jobs have become far more twee and corporate that I wanted. But then that’s the game, right? That’s why we love the superstar illustrators, because they’re able to maintain their voice and spark within the commercial context. But a lot of that is down to the awesome art directors and designs. There needs to be vision on both sides of the coin, right?

What are you currently working on?

I’ve almost finished a children’s book for the National History Museum, I’m doing a regular comic for Balance Magazine in London, a series of giant fabric prints and a poetry book of my own wobbles.

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What’s your dream?

To be an artist.

View more of Matthew the Horse’s work on his website: www.matthewthehorse.co.uk.