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Matthew Craven

Michigan-born and LA-based artist Matthew Craven gave us some insight into his latest book PRIMER, his artistic inspirations and methodologies, and his life during lockdown. Matthew has exhibited and curated widely in both the United States and abroad.

Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind PRIMER, and the decision to both interweave and juxtapose such distinct imagery and symbolism from so many disparate cultures and time periods around the world?

PRIMER came about as a natural collaboration with Anthology Books. I had worked with them in the past, doing cover art for the Huerco S. album Colonial Patterns, then I worked as the Art Director for Mexican Summer’s 2017 Marfa Myths Music and Art Festival in Marfa Texas. They approached me about doing a Monograph Book, and we all wanted to do something original. It was my idea to not make the book a retrospective of work / exhibitions, but to instead make the book more of a psychedelic exploration of colors, imagery and Time Travel. I didn’t want text throughout the book and I didn’t want it to focus on completed work, but rather details and scale shifts of my work. I wanted PRIMER to feel more like how I interact with my materials in the studio.

“It was my idea to make the book a…psychedelic exploration of colors, imagery and Time Travel”

What was the process behind researching and identifying images, prints and artefacts you wanted to use for the book, when the source material you’re pulling from is so wide and varied?

All of the imagery in the book is from completed work, I exhibit in galleries, I didn’t make any new work for the book. So all the imagery and patterns are exactly what I have been collecting and exploring for almost a decade, I have collected old art history books for so long, that when put together covers a wide range of the human existence. The book really encapsulated my practice as a visual artist.

What usually inspires you with your artistic work? Where do usually you have your stand-out creative thoughts?

For me everything starts in going through old book stores historical sections, I have spent hundreds of hours sitting on book store floors, flipping through old books, just waiting to find images that activate my brain. I find comfort in the old paper/ smells, printing techniques of these books. It is the feeling of my childhood, and a Pre-Internet existence. The layers of meaning in these outdated forms of education that no longer serve a purpose in today’s world, makes this the material I most want to create with. Giving these images a second life, outside of the traditional western narrative of history feels like a more powerful way to present the cultures of our past.

How has everything for you been affected by lockdown?

It’s been surreal for sure. My partner, artist Tosha Stimage signed a lease to move from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in California a week before everything closed down. We both had a solo show in San Francisco secluded for May, and that gallery closed permanently due to the pandemic. This caused us to adapt quickly, find alternative ways to survive outside the traditional gallery system. I honestly have no idea the long term effects of the pandemic and social uprising in America, let alone how it will effect artist. Strange days indeed.

Who are some of your favourite up-and-coming or artists or photographers in the scene around you?

I ended up getting a studio space in Oakland above a wonderful art space called PT.2 Gallery. It’s an immaculately curated program that shows primarily Bay Area artists. Even as the gallery has been closed for regular hours and only open by appointments they have continued to put on great exhibitions, last month the painter Cannon Dill show blew my mind, and right now Muzae Sesay is preparing his latest solo show at Pt.2. I am lucky to be able to see these amazing artists every time I go to my studio, And excited to live in such a thrilling city full of extraordinary talents. Other Artist Pt.2 exhibits worth looking up are Adrian Octavius Walker, Jean Nagai, Liz Hernández, Lilah Slager-Rose, Saif Senussi Azzuz and Ryan Whelan.

“Don’t wait on others to validate your creativity or your worth”

What advice would you give to young emerging creatives worldwide right now?

Do it for yourselves, not for recognition, clout or money, it will kill your creative soul. Also surround yourself with other artists, meet with them (zoom if you have to these days), Artist only survive and thrive in communities. Collaborating is also more important than ever. Creative’s traditionally thrive in isolation, but push yourself out side of that comfort zone. Organize to create opportunities for yourselves and others. Don’t wait on others to validate your creativity or your worth.