An Interview with: Matt Black

Written by Lazy Gramophone on Saturday the 17th of July 2010

Matt Black is a long-time collaborator and member of Lazy Gramophone, contributing illustrations to our many publications, displaying work at our events - especially the successful ICA show in 2008 - as well as offering constant advice and critique. This month we have asked Matt a few questions to hopefully shed some further light on his dark arts.

Lazy Gramophone: Chicken or egg?

Matt Black: I am quite partial to both, but not at the same time. You can't beat a good dipping egg with soldiers though.

LG: What's wrong with society today?

MB: Don't get me started. Nothing, absolutely nothing. I'd like to think that we are all somehow heading for the same goal, just in different ways.

LG: What do you feel was your greatest moment?

MB: Witnessing the birth of my children.

LG: How did you meet/join Lazy Gramophone?

MB: I was, and still am, very good friends with Danny and Ben Chidgey. It's who you know.

LG: What music are you listening to at the moment?

MB: Deerhoof, Animal Collective, Beach House, The Liars, Polar Bear, Can, Grizzly Bear, Wild Beasts, Panda Bear, Deerhunter... There appears to be a lot of animals cropping up in those names, perhaps it's some kind of collective consciousness thing happening, some unspoken agreement that guarantees quality. Deer and bears aside I enjoy haunting soundtracks; the music from David Lynch's films is always amazing and I love Angelo Badalamenti. The score for Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is pretty special too. It's all very inspirational.

LG: Brown Sauce or Ketchup?

MB: I think I'd have to say Brown Sauce, although of course it depends on the food and the mood.

LG: Can you tell us what book you have on the go at the moment and give us an idea of some of your all time favourite books?

MB: I am currently reading Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin. It's a slight departure from what I usually read, in that I don't generally read naturalist writing, but because of my fascination with trees and a hearty amount of recommendations I thought I'd give it a go. It's a fascinating read and full of philosophical gems. Deakin is an eccentric who sees the world through the eyes of a child with all the wisdom of God. Five books that are up there are: The Third Policeman, Crime and Punishment, The Trial, Day of the Triffids and Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Carl Jung.

LG: What was the last film you watched and how did it make you feel?

MB: Synechdoche, New York. My initial feelings weren't very positive; the film isn't particularly easy viewing. But the more the film went on the more I began to understand and in the end it became an overwhelmingly profound and emotional experience. It's the kind of film that stays with you for a long time and requires several viewings. I have always been in awe of Kaufman's ability to write stunning screenplays and with this film he has proved himself to be equally as good at directing.

LG: Are there any particular film directors whose work you admire?

MB: David Lynch is my all time favourite director, closely followed by Wes Anderson and Andrei Tarkovsky. With each of these directors the style and quality of their films is unmistakable and extremely unique. That is some achievement.

LG: Can you remember the first image you saw that made you pick up a pen/brush/camera/scalpel?

MB: Blimey. There's not one image that I remember in particular but I believe that record sleeve designs, in particular those created by Roger Dean and Storm Thorgerson, had a great impact. Also I was fascinated by book covers from an early age and used to read a lot of horror. That had a big influence on me; some of the stuff I used to draw was very gruesome. My mum must have been worried. Probably best to get that kind of thing out on paper I guess.

LG: A skilled chap you are, but what skill or technique that you do not yet have a mastery of would you most like to magically possess?

MB: I would like to master alchemy. Failing that I would like to possess enough skill in writing to be able to feel confident enough to unleash more of it into the world. I have always wanted to write and often do, but I find it more difficult to judge the quality of what I've written compared to images that I've created. Perhaps I could be magically blessed with the ability to objectively evaluate my own writing.

LG: Soya milk or dairy?

MB: Soya; I can't take too much dairy.

LG: You have recently submitted work to be included on the cover of our forthcoming Lazy Gramophone Shorts booklet. What other projects do you have up your sleeve?

MB: The design work for Lyrebird's forthcoming EP is ongoing at the moment. The front image has been completed. The next stage is the typesetting and overall layout. I also have some paintings on the go, which I'm quite excited about, although because of the kids, production is slow. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while and it's been years since I picked up a paintbrush.

LG: Which LG artists or writers have you enjoyed working with most over the years and whose work do you like most?

MB: I have been producing artwork for Lyrebird for a long time and I always find them a pleasure to work with. It just seems to flow really well and we have a lot of trust in each other, which is important. I always enjoy working with Sam Rawlings; he writes in such a way that enables me to go off on one. I tend to be able to read between the lines with his work and more often than not it seems that what I have produced is pretty close to what he has imagined. I find that quite satisfying. In a similar way I enjoy working with Danny (Chidgey) too; we have a good understanding and I always feel comfortable working in an instinctual way with him. We tend to get good results quickly. My favourite LG artists at the moment are: Mina Milk and Nikki Pinder. A lot of artists have come through recently to critique and these are the two who have stood out for me. They are both very talented and unique.

LG: Outside of Lazy Gramophone, which other artists (writer/musician/illustrator/performer) have most influenced your own work?

MB: David Lynch, Peter Doig, Francis Bacon, Carl Jung, Hughie O'Donoghue, Mikko Rantanen, Andrzej Klimowski, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective... mostly.

LG: Do you have a favourite piece of your own work? If so, what is it and why?

MB: It changes everyday, but currently the piece I'm most proud of is Love Machine, because I feel that it is the most fully realised piece that I've done. There's nothing that I would change about it. That is very rare for me. In a similar way I am quite fond of the new Lyrebird image that is still under wraps.

LG: In this world of generic computer produced work how would you describe the style of your work (imagine you were speaking to someone who had never seen a single image of yours before)? What do you feel makes you stand out from the crowd?

MB: I would like to think that the viewer is never quite sure how it has been produced and that each piece contains an element of mystery. I try and keep computer work to a minimum to achieve this. I have never bowed to any particular style or trend yet I feel over time that I have developed a way of working that suits me and achieves my vision. I also make a conscious effort to avoid clichés and try to think outside the box. The other day a friend of mine described one of my pieces as being 'Very Matt Black' and I'd like to think that it probably is.

LG: Why do you create images?

MB: It's like an itch that needs scratching and if I don't scratch it, it's bloody frustrating.

LG: Can you reveal a little about your creative process?

MB: It depends on the project. If I am working from words, then I tend to brainstorm quick, initial ideas that generally turn out to be rather clichéd and obvious. Then I replay words in my mind, think about it almost non-stop and eventually I begin to delve beneath the surface and install a part of myself. It's like looking into a piece of art rather than just at it; it's my own take on it. Sometimes, like with my recent paintings, the images have already had an internal existence, either as dreams or quasi-visions, prior to their existence in the outside world. I am always excited when I see such images taking form outside my head and it often feels quite cathartic.

LG: Our own lives and experiences often affect our work (in your case this is obvious), but in what way does the act of image making effect your own life?

MB: If a piece of work isn't going well it can affect me greatly; I become irritable and frustrated. It isn't always easy. Yet I believe that the irritability and frustration is often a necessary part of the process that ultimately leads to contentment and excitement at eventually finding a solution. A big part of what I do is problem solving and during the process I am never that convinced that I will find a solution, but generally I do.

LG: Where is it that you do most of your artwork?

MB: My head, my shed, my couch and my kitchen table.

LG: Describe your perfect imaginary studio...

MB: Ever seen Francis Bacon's studio? Something similar, with a divide, that links to the exact opposite.

LG: Dogs or cats?

MB: Dogs. Although, I'm quite partial to cat on toast... with a little brown sauce.

LG: You currently live in Oxford and have spent most, if not all, of your life there. Why do you think that is?

MB: I think it has a lot to do with keeping the family in a reasonably close radius, especially now with the kids; I like them to be able to see Grandma on a regular basis. Before the kids we had serious thoughts of either immigrating to either Canada or France but it just never materialized for one reason or another. Oxford is a good place to be based, it's got some great countryside and its proximity to London is convenient on occasions. It's the sort of place that you appreciate more when you've been away from it for some time. The downside is, that it is so landlocked and ideally I would like to be a lot closer to the sea. I am just grateful of having seen a lot of the world and hope to show the best and worst of it to the kids when they are ready.

LG: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself artistically in five years' time.

MB: I have a long-term plan of studying Art Therapy. I am currently, very slowly, clocking-up enough hours of work experience to enable me to do this. Alongside this I would like to continue being a practising artist, doing more painting and hopefully exhibiting. Fingers crossed.


To see more of Matt's work click through to his LG profile here.
Tags for this post: Matt Black, Lazy Gramophone, Interview.
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