In the last quarter of 2011, I was interning at Gallery Hijinks, and right before my time there came to an end I got to do an interview with Matthew Craven, a mixed-media collage artist who's definitely not afraid of pushing buttons, changing history, more so challenging the history we have set in our minds (it's like Mr. Craven's poking a big Red, White and Blue bear with an ancient broken stick, but I digress). His re-purposed, loaded images along with texture and pattern allows focus to be brought back to not just America's roots, but the ancient roots of humanity, it seems, and what has become of the tree that has sprung forth.
This interview is broken up into multiple posts on the Gallery Hijinks blog for his February show FRGMNTS. For posting here, I have done some re-purposing of my own, publishing it in full.
VS: Have you always been a pattern person? Especially with your past work dealing with Native Americans, it sometimes looks and feels like your weaving a blanket (such as "Life Totem"). Is this meditative process? What draws you to this as an artist?
MC: Yeah, I have always been a pattern person. As a kid I would relentlessly draw/doodle/deface pretty much anything in front of me. It was only as I got older that I focused that energy into something more engaging and thoughtful. As a result i have been including many cultural reference into my work in the last few years ( i.e. the native American/masonic influence in previous work). The Life and Death Totem drawings were a result of wanting to take what had been doing for years to the next level. I have always found peace in drawing. The repetitive nature of such work is very meditative and satisfying to my soul.
"Life Totem I" Matthew Craven 2009-2012
VS: Is there a specific quality that you look for in your mixed media surfaces?
MC: I spend hours/ days searching for images and materials. It has become vital to my work in recent years. I am always looking for images with great aesthetic value. I look for images with vivid textures and surface. I only use outdated textbooks for source material. These books have many properties that intrigue me. Rough/ dry paper, color deterioration and even the smell. All of my collages are constructed from resourced books. Even the blank sheets I mount my images on are taken from the front and back of old books, which typically have two blank sheets that usually are faded or stained. This gives my collages another level of historical narrative.
VS: I read in an interview that you base your decisions on aesthetics rather than narrative or commentary. Does this still hold true?
MC: That's quote was not entirely true, sure aesthetics play a big roll in the composition of my work, but I was speaking in a larger sense. The images that I use and inspire my work are also based on aesthetics. I use images that depict patterns, whether it’s textiles, carving or architecture. I am drawn to this history of the stylized/ decorative nature of mankind. I find similarities between my own impulses, and those who have come be from me.
VS: Has using the Native American/Settlers created problems for you in any capacity?
MC: I use loaded imagery, I am well aware of it. Sometime people get hung up on singular imagery and cultural ownership of such things. I feel like its primarily based out of their fear of the unknown. This country gets extremely uncomfortable with any race/ religion/culture other than their own. I'm trying to point out where we ALL come from, and the history of mankind is singular. The goal is to form connections between modern life and the lives of the people who came before us.
VS: What initially drew you to collaging/mixed media?
MC: I was in grad school, and trying to redefine my work. I had given up on painting at that point and wanted another outlet. I have always loved working on paper much more than canvas. When sourcing imagery and materials for my collages, books seemed a much more interesting way to find paper than an art supply store can ever offer. It also allows me to incorporate this hunt for materials into my practice that bring me out of my studio and into the "real" world.
"Headstone" Matthew Craven 2012
VS: Do you think that the medium one chooses to work in reveals the nature of the creator? If so, what does collage/mixed media reflect or reveal about you?
MC: Sure, like I hinted at above, it brought out another impulse of mine, which is to collect objects. I think I needed that in my work, it is a whole other skill in itself.
VS: You mentioned in an interview that your current body of work is still new to you and you don't know where it's exactly going. Do you have a better understanding of what your work is and where it's going than when you showed at Nudashank (November 2011)?
MC: Yes for sure. At that point I was just sourcing new imagery. The imagery has led me to create a whole new series of collages and ink drawing I will be showing at Hijinks in February. Like most artist you start with a feeling, and as the work progress you have time to really think and observe your own work. I am thrilled at the direction of the new work, and feel like it is finally exposing the concepts and narrative my work only hinted at in the past.
VS: What has been the best compliment(s) that you've received about your work?
MC: People typically respond well to my work, but one time in grad school Jerry Saltz visited my studio. After talking with me about my work he told me I was a "real artist." I don't know what he meant by that, but I figured I was on the right track.
"Preserve" Matthew Craven 2012