Matthew McDole is a skateboarder, illustrator, painter and screen printer, originally from Bedford, Kentucky, now living and working in Louisville. He is currently a part of an exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts, Sing, Don't Cry, and has exhibited at the Green Building gallery and in 2016 he was the winning participant of ARTLIK NuLu, a 10-artist collaboration with local businesses in the NuLu neighborhood. Commissioned works include record covers, t-shirts, business logos, and site-specific public and private installations.
Matt makes personal, observational paintings compositionally influenced by tattoo shop flash sheets, skateboard culture, and a preoccupation of death that developed during his youth as a child of Southern Baptist parents.
We got to chat with him about his imagery, process, and influences as well as head on over to Morel's where he was working on a mural.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Matthew McDole: About a month or so. I don’t really mess around; I’m just going to unpack and get shit done. I hate leaving things to get done another time.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
MM: Well, I’ll probably rearrange it at some point. I move things around a lot.
F-D: Why so? Practicality? Boredom. . .
MM: It’s based on whatever I need. I move furniture around to fit whatever I’m working on, or if I figure out a more organized way to keep all of my stuff. I don’t like to have a lot of visual clutter, and I’m not limited on space, but I do prefer to keep it neat in here. It gets filled with, just. . . stuff, pretty quickly.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
MM: Since I moved in here, I haven’t made a ton of stuff for myself, I’ve just been busy working on projects for other people. So I’m not really certain of the space as for making my own work. The other night I was working on some sketches for a project and I decided that I just wanted to tattoo myself instead, so I did that. I guess, because of [moments] like that, i’s nice working out of my house. I can just work all day and all night if I need to, I don’t have to go to some other place if I want to get work done.
F-D: Has Louisville’s lo-fi or skateboarding culture influenced your work at all?
MM: I’m sure it has, but I couldn’t tell you how. Location isn’t really a big influence on me, especially with the internet. I’m not located in a L.A., New York, or Paris; but I’m looking at the same internet that everyone working there is.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
MM: I usually wake up, go to Please & Thank You [where I work], I do our bank run, and then if I don’t really have anything that I need to get done there, I’ll just run around. I’ll run errands, go to the thrift store, whatever. I usually fill the day up with stuff and then start working at night. I usually work at night, and I usually stay up too late; I have a bad habit of saying “Oh, I’ll do this, and then I’ll go to bed”. . . and then I add something else to do. If I’m working on a mural for someone, I’ll usually do that in the evening as well. I’ve kind of learned that I’m a bit of a workaholic. I like to work all of the time, but at my own pace, if that makes sense. I don’t have much routine.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work? Or lack there of?
MM: I’m definitely interested in the macabre. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been interested in [the idea] of death.
F-D: What about death?
MM: Yea! What about it? I don’t know. . . What is it? What is it like? I don’t know, I’ve just always found it fascinating. I just remember as a kid, not understanding it. I was raised in church; but I guess, I just wasn’t buying what [they were saying about death], and so I felt like they didn’t have an answer?. . . I’m not too sure. But death is definitely the most common theme that I have in the back of my head.
There is also this idea of “be happy, life is a meaningless pursuit”, you know. At the end of the day, whatever your dealing with doesn’t really matter, so you might as well enjoy it. Nothing matters, but that isn’t a reason to be down, it’s a reason to enjoy things. But, to get back to the question, most of the things that I make for myself aren’t [really set within a parameter]. I don’t really create any rules for myself— but I do think that my [imagery] is more or less timeless. I try not to use elements that will date the piece in some way. I do love pop culture, and I love working on those types of projects, but I try to stay away from [dateable material] within my own stuff.
F-D: And what about tattoo history?
MM: I guess that my imagery and [composition] looks very similar to tattoo flash sheets and all of that stuff. [I think it was around 2015] that I made this piece, I had been playing around with it for, like, a year. It had like, the camera, the house. . . four or five other [images]. . . and a friend of mine happened to have come over and he told me how much he was digging it. So I thought, hell, maybe I’ll finish it. So then I just filled it up with stuff. So after that I found myself just, making work that was [similar] to this one.
F-D: It was a pivotal moment for you?
MM: Yea, for sure. Before this I had been working mostly with just tons and tons of little drawings— of just whatever I happened to be into that week— which I still tend to do, but I generally have been working larger.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
MM: Paint, mostly. If I’m making something that is going to be scanned in and edited I’ll just use paint or marker.
F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved? Do you do any image research or make any preliminary sketches?
MM: I usually am going off of an image— I can’t really draw from memory. But then there are [some stylized elements] that I don’t need to look at a picture for—if I’m drawing a snake I don’t need to look at a picture of a snake. [I do sketch] out drawings before I begin painting them in. I used to attempt to start painting freehand in an attempt to just get to work and get it done, but I eventually figured out that I ended up saving time by sketching it out first.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
MM: Occasionally I will, but most of the time there just isn’t a story. Sometimes I just want to draw a tree. A lot of times I don’t want to think about [narrative] because I’ll just never get started. People also work out their own narrative a lot. So I do like to leave a lot open for that.
F-D: So do you find the viewers’ projections to be interesting? Or is it just what it is?
MM: Yea, I find it fascinating. It’s one of those things that, you know, someone will come up and tell me what they see in my work, and most of the time, it’s something that I would have never thought of; and that’s really cool.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
MM: I wouldn't say they are autobiographical. But I absolutely put in elements that are from my own life. I know that on a few pieces I have “Carol”, the name of my dog that passed away recently. ’86’ comes out of Blacklist, the skate shop in Indiana— it’s a great filler. I do cigarette stuff, death stuff. . . personal sentiments.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
MM: Skateboarding, movies, pop culture. . . Right now I’m listening to a lot of podcasts. I just like having them going in the background; they're long, and I can listen without having to stop and either watch something or follow along too closely. Music can be such an influence on your work, and so that decision of ‘what to listen to’ can become a chore and distraction.
F-D: Which podcasts are you listening to?
MM: Right now I’m listening to a lot of The Last Podcast on the Left. Duncan Trussell Family Hour is another good one. Philosophy, political, and comedy stuff as well. I try to listen to as a wide of variety of opinions as I can.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
MM: I need my privacy. I prefer working alone and out of my apartment. I think it would be weird for me to work with a bunch of people looking over my shoulder, you know? As far as when I’m working [on location], I already know what I’m doing and so I can just kind of hop in, throw it up, and then leave.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
MM: I’m about to make some more stuff for Blacklist, and that’s great because I can do whatever I want; they always encourage me to use all of my own imagery. I’m working on a mural over at Morel’s, and then I have a few other projects going right now that I can’t really get into.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
MM: Sure. It seems like yes. . . but I’m unsure as to what it would be called.
F-D: It seems to me that your work falls heavily into the 1980’s, 1990’s L.A. nostalgia that seems to be influencing everything right now. It seems to bridge punk, heavy metal, tattoo, and skateboard culture, with little references to the Chicano Movement in a weird way. . .
MM: Perhaps. . . it's millennial throwback culture. . . if there is such a thing.
F-D: Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
MM: There are definitely some [common threads] with myself and, like, Johnny Gloom and Shane Swift. I wouldn’t say that I get ideas from their stuff, but I like it. I don’t really hang out with a ton of other artists. I know a lot of photographers, but not too many other painters or anything.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
MM: Do whatever you want, you're gonna die [laughs]; I don’t know. My buddy, Cole Wilson, put together a collage for me, back when I was making a lot of collages. It had a picture of the [World Trade Center], a [staged photo of] a dead skateboarder, and the words, “Do whatever the fuck you want, you’re gonna die anyway”. And I just thought it was perfect.
Or, I don’t know: “Live, laugh, love”. Is that what normal people say?
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
MM: I just tell them that I’m a manager at Please & Thank You.
F-D: Really? You don’t even make mention that you’re an artist?
MM: No. It depends on whom is asking me. If you’re just some person asking me, who cares. I’ll just tell them I work there. But, if someone seems like they might be interested, I’ll tell them that I paint, do murals, and some illustrations for stuff.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
MM: [long pause]
F-D: I mean, you can’t say that you don’t take risks in your work. You have and utilize a lot of imagery that has to do with death, and that in and of itself makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
MM: I don’t mind making people uncomfortable. Especially if it’s a matter of fact subject such as death.
F-D: So you don’t find discussing death as a risk, it’s just a matter of being.
MM: Yea, now me admitting that, and being truthful in that might be taken as risky. I guess it’s risky to expose yourself. That’s scary; to let yourself be out there and vulnerable.
F-D: So do you experience a lot of anxiety and fear, say, when you have an opening or. . .
MM: No, I’m generally excited when I have a show. But I [have had someone] come up to me and talk shit about the work not knowing that I was the artist; and that sucks. Also, [and this is separate from that event], my mother is your very typical Southern Baptist mom. She has never said anything to me about my representation of death [upsetting her] but it’s kind of just been an unspoken, uh. . . tension, I guess, in regards to what I’m drawing. So I guess, upsetting my family is a risk.
F-D: Words of wisdom?... a motto, favorite quote?
MM: Ask yourself why you want to make stuff. And then. . . If someone asks me for advice on how to get started, I’ll just tell them to make 1000 sucky paintings. That’s just what you have to do.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
MM: I am presently featured alongside a current permanent and private collection exhibition down at the KMAC [Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft] called Sing Don’t Cry. That’ll be up through September 10th.