The Natural Way of Things: A Studio Visit Matthew Craven
On the occasion of his solo show, IN BLOOM, Matthew Craven sat down with Hashimoto Contemporary's Vanessa Indies (as well as welcomed Shaun Roberts to his studio) to share his practice, the genesis of his new works and the natural progression of how his paintings develop.
Vanessa Indies: How did lockdown affect your work and process?
Matthew Craven: The Pandemic had a big impact on my work. Right before the Lockdown, me and my partner relocated to the East Bay, so I was in a new city that I could not explore. Typically I start all bodies of work by scavenging thrift stores and used book stores, looking for inspiration/ new ideas, and themes to explore. Unfortunately this was not possible last year. I was left sitting in my studio looking inward for inspiration. I recognized this moment as a different kind of challenge, one that required an exploration of my internal world. This and other factors led me to making my first show without found images and is my first drawing only exhibition.
Do you plan out the concepts for your artwork before you begin a piece? Or do you start a piece and build off of a directional feeling?
I never plan a drawing, I feel out a drawing. Even when I might have a general Idea what I want to accomplish in the beginning, I let them grow naturally. For this body of work I did lay down a grid with pencil, and left elements of that so the viewer can kind of deconstruct my process by looking closely. By avoiding specific plans, it gives me room to maneuver and improve my way through otherwise very tedious compositions.
In relation to the meditative process, your works tend to resemble prayer rugs. Can you expand on any spiritual meaning to your pieces?
I'm always exploring my role in this insane universe, and how to navigate through life. The existential nature of life has been essential to my art practice from the very beginning. While many throughout human history have used religion & spirituality to investigate their place, I have always used drawing. I recognize the deep connection that decoration has with meditation. I love how complexities can comfort the soul. It’s a magical human connection I enjoy exploring.
Do you borrow any specific traditions from different cultures during the creation of your work such as weaving techniques or textile references?
I was very lucky to be able to travel to both Africa and Asia in the six months before lockdown and those experiences changed the way I look at my own work. Most of my life, the only access I had to the larger world was through looking through books.
IN BLOOM contains lots of moments from these recent travels, things I saw with my own eyes, touched with my own hands. In many ways that is why this exhibition didn’t need collage elements. For the first time I had real life experiences to draw from and not just my old books.
What are your intentions with creating these pieces? Do you want the viewer to learn something new? Compare/question cultural relevance?
Honestly, after a very difficult year, I really just wanted to bring something beautiful into the world. Creating something that represents growth and positivity. This work in many ways helped me get through such strange times. The drawings are much more focused on meditation and slowing down my racing mind. Hopefully viewers can get lost in them and find some sort of peace, even only for a moment.
Are you ever surprised with the commonalities between traditional folk art from different regions over time that you’ve referenced?
A lot of my earliest work explored this very idea. I was reading books like the Chariots of the Gods. I was more focused on the earliest civilizations. I was fascinated by similar motifs/ carvings/ patterns from civilizations separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years. I was trying to figure out the urges for decoration that lie deep inside the human sub conscience. I am fascinated with breaking down complex patterns into similar shapes and colors, then reimagining them into new compositions. I see these things as something that can bring people together, despite other cultural differences.
What else influences your work besides the obvious references to folk art/spiritual work?
The new work was both consciously and unconsciously influenced by my new environment. My partner took on a new occupation as a florist, and we would take long walks during the pandemic and investigate the bountiful wildflowers of the Bay Area. I’ve always been inspired by the natural world and incorporated that into my aesthetic, but the complexities and colors of the local flora kept creeping into my mind. I wanted to express a botanical feeling of my new home city without ever referencing that imagery directly.
How has your work and stylistic approach evolved over the years?
I like to focus on different subjects for different bodies of work, depending on what old books and images I would find. The drawings have evolved in their own unique ways regardless of other imagery I have used. IN BLOOM represents my most ambitious compositions to date. They were intended to be much more lush and complex than any of my previous work. I'm always trying to make subtle evolutions in my drawings, opposed to making drastic shifts in style. For better or worse I've never felt the need to force my work into new directions, it has always just evolved naturally over time.
Matthew Craven’s solo exhibition IN BLOOM is on view at Hashimoto Contemporary’s San Francisco location through June 26th. In-person appointments can be made here.
All photography by Shaun Roberts