When we sit down for a brew and a chat in Fallowfield, ostensibly about his art, the conversation begins about his support for FC St. Pauli in Hamburg who he travels to watch several times a year.
That’s not really surprising though, when Matt talks about how the club was built and his own views and values.
“FC St. Pauli grew to its ‘kult’ club status in the 80s, when the city’s big club Hamburg SV developed a fascist right wing following. Many fans turned to St. Pauli, based in the dockland area of Hamburg, who were the first club to ban right-wing nationalist activities and became a ‘kult’ club for social inclusion.
“Since then crowds of less than 2,000 have grown to sell outs of 20,000 at most games. And it’s not really about the football, it’s more the atmosphere. For a start I can stand, rather than paying forty quid for a ticket and being told what to do, to sit down. When I’m standing, it’s next to anybody from any walk of life at a club that focuses on supporting causes in Germany through to providing drinking water in Africa.”
Of course Matt paints football too. Not the players, but the social interactions and situations that happen around the game. “I guess I’m an urban artist. I like busy places.”
That too is more than apparent when looking at the energy in his work; bold, spontaneous gestures making up a cacophony of shapes and colours – whether a football crowd or a cityscape.
“It’s instinctive, but there are no rules. Sometimes there’s a snobbery in painting. A feeling that painting should be ‘in oils’ to be valid. I sketch out with a pencil, then use acrylics, oil and chalk pastel, tester pots for painting walls. I’ve even used tippex and biro. Oils when it’s right too though. But I guess that I just attack a picture, see what happens. I paint with headphones on and just thrash really quickly. It’s the only time I feel concentrated and relaxed.”
A ‘D’ in both GCSE and ‘A’ level art at school weren’t great precursors to a career as an artist. But Matt credits his tutor at Greenhead College in Huddersfield who, obviously seeing the potential, challenged him to make a painting in ten minutes, then five minutes, then one minute.
“I loosened up,” says Matt. “Then took my portfolio to Leeds College of Art and was given a place on the foundation course based on just that, despite my academic results. But my mistake was enrolling for a printmaking course, which I didn’t like and dropped out of after three or four months. Actually I was kicked out…”
Matt relates how he signed on and painted solidly for six months before applying to Manchester School of Art, from where he ultimately graduated in 2012. But importantly, just before entering MSA he had held a show in Holmfirth. Matt still looks quizzical when he says, “I couldn’t really understand it. People bought my work. I’m more comfortable selling my work now than twelve years ago!”
I put it to Matt that he’s been ‘under the radar’ for quite a while and, whilst I guess he agrees, he has quietly been accumulating recognition in shows for emerging artists and selling his work through several notable galleries.
“I’ve progressed naturally for seven years or so. Experimented. I have a job as well as my art, so I don’t have to rely on it. I live on what my job pays. But I’m fairly prolific, maybe averaging two paintings a week.”
When I press Matt on how many paintings he has he pauses to think. “Well I’ve sold a lot, I have a lot here, a lot at my parents’ house in Huddersfield….” Hundreds then I suggest? “Yes I guess so. I started a spreadsheet recently, trying to keep track. But I really don’t know where some of them are. And I’ve only started an online presence in the last few months.”
I’d hazard a guess that Matt being ‘under the radar’ is about to change, although in reality he has had notable success during recent years.
And I’d also hazard that he won’t qualify for awards as an emerging artist any more. His work is vibrant and exciting, but it’s very much underpinned by his philosophy:
“Football and music and art have the potential to change people’s views.”