WORDS AND INTERVIEW BY MATHIAS BENNET PHOTOGRAPHY LEE SPIELMAN @LEESPIELMAN PAINTINGS COURTESY OF THE ARTIST WWW.MATTRMCCORMICK.COM @MATTRMCCORMICK NEW YORK UNITED STATES
Matt McCormick’s visual language is familiar, even to a European like me who grew up without being able to avoid the great American icons of the past. Perhaps somewhat nostalgic, like the cowboy figures and their background landscapes, or the characters of contemporary popular culture that he uses in his works, mixing elements that would appear to be incompatible, but that coexist with skill, showing heroes and anti-heroes alike.
Perhaps “familiar” is not the exact word I should use, but if there is one thing McCormick knows how to do well, it is to make us feel the true American spirit, transporting us fully into what the artist wants to convey with his brilliant contemporary vision of the iconography of the American West. His paintings exude a certain autobiographical touch, perhaps a reflection of his own struggle and survival in the past.
A self-taught painter, former tattoo artist and former tour manager for the rapper Tyler, the Creator and Trash Talk. He’s also been a hero and an anti-hero, so he has sufficient licence to talk about what he talks about. He often uses texts that he pulls from music lyrics or song titles and that serve to give depth to his work. Personally, when I see some of his work, it makes me want to take up smoking again, roll down some dry dusty road, relive epic duels or ride around in a convertible with my arm resting on the window. All those deep emotions rooted inside our subconscious, somewhat primitive, like hidden vices that are difficult to erase. Reaching that point inside a person is not an easy task. That is the true work of an artist and Matt McCormick does it to perfection.
Your father was a painter and your mother a photographer, right? What values do you think you learned from them?
They showed that being an artist was a viable way of living. They also supported the necessary thinking to take that chance and never discouraged it, which I’m am forever grateful for.
I personally see your work as a contemporary version of American icons or symbols with a certain autobiographical touch, perhaps reflecting your own struggle and survival. Is that how you see your work?
That definitely touches on it. You work with what you have. I have my experiences and my story, so that’s generally a way to get into the work, then from there I’m able to move into the more subconscious part of making work. Which is the best part.
What do you like most about being an artist?
Probably the undefinable nature of what that means or what your responsibilities are as an “artist”. Once I was able to come to terms with that I was gifted a much more free existence and ability to try new things creatively.
How do you usually start your paintings? With a sketch, a draft or is it just an improvisation?
I’ve been heavily influenced by appropriation artists past and present, and have consistently worked from found/sources imagery. The text is usually just a further extension of that, that generally comes from music lyrics or song titles. I have note pads all over my studios that I will have different excerpts stashed on. It’s a way to recontextualize and give new meaning to the music that is such a baseline almost subconscious influence on my life and practice. It also serves as a way to attach another moment to the work that may support another layer to come to fruition that can contrast or prop up the images.
Do you work from dawn to dusk like a good cowboy?
Depends on which studio I’m in, but in Los Angeles I arrive around 10/11 and handle emails/ meetings/etc, then usually paint in the later afternoon, head home around 8. In New York I have a looser routine that usually ends up being a mix of walking around the city, going to shows, painting for a bit, seeing friends, then painting later in the night. It’s a nice balance that really helps me keep it fresh.
A quote from a well-known artist you really like?
“Nothing I can say about my work can make it look better” Ken Price was very freeing when I stumbled upon it for the first time. Reminded me to take chances and remove insecurities around making that continue to rise to the surface.
What can you tell us about the studios you have worked in? What is the most important thing for you in your studio?
I’ve had a bunch of studios of varying functionality over the years and every one seems to get better and better. You learn more about yourself and what you need to grow as an artist in the spaces and some advice I received early on was to take risks on the spaces because it will force you to grow into them. The original ones were usually just a desk in my bedroom. Now I split my time between a larger studio in Los Angeles where I have a team that are the glue that hold it all together and my other newer studio in New York where I can really isolate with new work. The both serve different necessary purposes, one allows me to have an almost factory style approach to making work and the other allows me to grow and take chances.
Do you have future plans for your work as an artist or do you just go with the flow and live day to day?
I just want to continue to grow as an artist. As long as I never stop learning I think I’ll be on the right path, but I have no specific expectation or plans. More so big dreams to push toward.