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Matt Macken is a Leicester-based artist who has recently come to know the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. In response, he has crafted a unique artwork tailored for an exhibition which is directly influenced by his newfound appreciation. In conversation with curator Will Ferreira Dyke, Matt delves into both this Mapplethorpe revelation and his artistic approach.
Hi Matt, how are you today?
Hello, I am doing well thanks. I dropped off my painting and the watercolour works yesterday for the show. But so far today I have been waiting in for a delivery myself. Very dull
Firstly, tell me how you came to practising art?
I started with music, and for a long time was my obsession. I was in a band where I played both the bass and the rhythm guitar - I can’t sing for shit! Music was a love hate thing. I would really enjoy the creative process of making the music but when it came to performing and doing gigs, I used to hate it. Over time I started experimenting and gradually got into more visual art through print making. I started with graphic illustrations and then explored linos and silk screens silk screen. Nowadays, painting has become my primary medium, and it's the predominant form of artwork that I showcase.
Am I right in thinking you recently had your first solo show? Firstly congratulations, please could you tell me a little bit about it.
You are correct. Pyromania exhibited this July in Paris with Nil Gallery. This came about because last year I did a piece called Es Muss Sein (2022) which was a painting of somebody smoking, setting fire to some flowers. Nil Gallery reached out to see if the piece was available however it had already sold. Off the back off this enquiry they pitched me a show of the similar theme. From what they told me there is this tradition in France where they set fire to crops as some form of ritual. So that’s what we did. I made a tonne of work.
Es Muss Sein, did you show this with Black White Gallery?
Yes, that’s the one!
Do you often use floral iconography?
Yeah annoyingly. I try not to as it feels often like a cop out. But it is hard not too. Eventually, one day, I will find something to replace them with. Sometimes it feels like I put them in when I don’t know what else to do. Clearly, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing most of the time cause there is flowers in most of my paintings.
Surpassing les fleurs, where are you excited to explore next?
I’ve not shared anything online as I am still trying to get my head around it but I am currently working on some sculptural works in clay. I have a mate who has a kiln so I am going to persuade him to let me use it. For the moment I am just using that air dry stuff. I can remember using it at school, and I must have been better at it then because now it is just so fiddly!
We are so lucky that we have a piece commissioned for this show Imitation of Life (2023), can you talk me through the process?
I started by looking at his work, trapsing through the books. I was considering whether I ought to re-create one of Mapplethorpe's compositions in the form of a painting, or if I should incorporate similar explicit homoerotic subjects. But Imitation of Life (2023) piece is kind of neither nor! There is this one portrait of Truman Capote (1981) by Mapplethorpe that struck me due to the background being filled by this cropped painting of fish. I started by reimaging this in bright colours and from there it snowballed into its own thing. Throughout the painting there are a heap of references and Mapplethorpe easter eggs.
Had you used Mapplethorpe as reference before?
To be honest I didn’t know much of his work prior to this show. In fact, when I was approach to do this show I couldn’t quite place his name, which is stupid because I’ve seen his work all over. The Tate Modern have one of his Self-Portrait (1988) where he holds his skull topped cane, which seems to stick out which I saw years ago. And then when I realised it was him it all became clearer. He also obviously did the portraits of Patti Smith and I love her music so it was nice to get more familiar with the artist behind them.
Do you think you’ll take further inspiration from this downtown artist?
Possibly yeah, I kept some of the references. I used to do quite a lot of homoerotic art, such as Altwinksuboyuk23 (2023) and The Wrestler (2023) However, I had that fear of getting stuck in a category: being a guy who solely makes queer work. I guess Mapplethorpe was doing that sexual work whilst having other subjects say his flowers for example. It has been a short while since I’ve done homoerotic work but I am sure they will creep back in.
They always do, and edged is a celebration of such!
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