Interviews with the Artist
Oracle 20/20 Magazine - May 2014
An accomplished writer, artist and designer, Matt’s work has been shown in galleries throughout the world, and featured in numerous publications. We are fortunate to have him as a resident to Atlanta, GA and to feature his art and this interview with Oracle 20/20 Magazine. His web site is www.matthughesart.com
SH: As I was looking through your artwork it was obvious that you have many different styles of art that you have done. Do you go back and forth between these styles or is there a “period” that you can identify with for each of the styles?
MH: I would say that they definitely represent periods of artistic exploration. The darker work definitely had something to do with my mental state at the time – dealing with issues such as family, religion and other personal issues. Chronologically you can go down through the different styles and correlate them to personal experiences.
SH: Some of your work looks almost like a cross between Vargas and the pre-Raphaelite styles. Is that intentional, or is that how it comes out?
MH: It’s always how it comes out. A lot of the direction that my art takes is like a gut reaction. It depends on when, like the earlier Pre-Raphaelites, I was very much into Waterhouse and Sir Laurence and then I was very much into Varga, Olivia and Boris Vallejo and those type of artists that were big at the time.I was doing a lot of conventions, a lot of comic book covers, working in that kind of industry so every time that I would go to a convention, I would be surrounded by that kind of art work, so when I would come back I would be very excited to try something new. I would be inspired to try some kind of new technique or approach. That really hasn’t changed much. The work I do now is influenced by my artistic tastes. Like so many artists I have an extensive art library and I’m constantly going through the pages hoping to find something new that will spark an idea or give me a direction to go in. That’s basically how I work.
SH: Is your artwork influenced by any kind of a spiritual practice or a spiritual path?
MH: I don’t exactly see it as any kind of a spiritual path, at least not on a conscious level. Currently I’m going more toward the dark romanticism movement. Their focus on the questions that they were trying to answer was very much regarding life and death - the afterlife. It wasn’t so much of a spiritual thing, not in the way of a specific religion, but more the question that everyone faces - death. What do you think of? What do you have to face, what do you have to deal with? I see myself as more of a free thinker. For years I was Taoist and I’m still kind of in that mindset, but I don’t label myself as such. I feel that I’ve gone in a different direction. It’s more of an interest in the afterlife and its challenges. It’s more of a view on how we exist, or co-exist in this world.Both my wife and I are vegan. And that’s not by chance. It’s a specific choice that we’ve made because I feel that all life on this planet is connected in one way or another. Just because we have cell phones and drive cars doesn’t mean that we are any better than any other life form on the planet.
SH: I’ve been vegan for about two years and do find that it makes a difference. Do you think that your vegan path influences your art?
MH: Very much so. I think that it kind of goes along with the idea that we are all one. As you know firsthand, when you start eating things that have life rather than things that are dead or decaying, the food tastes better, the sun feels better, you feel more connected with everything. It’s hard to explain unless you’re going through it, but there is a kind of a “cleanse” when you clear out your system that helps you connect with everything on a deeper, more intellectual level.
SH: Yes, I have to agree with that. – To change the subject somewhat, one of your pieces “Prometheus and the Child of Tomorrow” appears to be making a statement. Can you tell me what inspired you with that piece?
MH: There are many layers and many meanings to that piece. While a lot of my pieces I give meaning to, some of them I like to keep open to interpretation because I feel that art is not a one sided conversation. It’s a conversation with the viewer. The ideal is that you have a piece that starts the conversation and get feedback. It’s funny with that piece is that I actually posted it to an online art community about a year ago. Most of my stuff, when I post it I get “oh I love it” or some kind of constructive comment or feedback, but with this piece I got almost three-hundred comments. People were going back and forth commenting to each other and some comments were even hostile. It went all the way from religious interpretations to environmental issues to political debates. It was amazing the broad spectrum of all these interpretations and I really made it a point not to get involved with the discussions. One person even said, “I really appreciate the artist not commenting because the whole purpose of this kind of artwork is to get a conversation going.” While I would prefer the piece stay open to interpretation I will say that it has a great deal to do with Prometheus and what he represents. He gave the gift of fire to man and gave man knowledge through that gift – and he was punished for it. It’s like the piece itself was the steppingstone to address the educational system that we have right now. Look at the youth that we’re educating/training and what we’re giving to the next generation, there’s all kinds of faults with our system – everything from religion trying to work its way in to politics to the poor diets that are available in the school cafeterias. And these faults trickle over into our daily lives and the lives of our youth outside of the school system. It’s ridiculous. And if we revisit the story of Prometheus with that mind set of the gift of knowledge being wasted and the powers that be punishing the very concept of knowledge we see one possible interpretation of the piece. It is no coincidence the correlation between the use of the eagle as Zeus and what the eagle represents to us today.
SH: I know that when I first saw this piece, I had my own interpretation of it, but what you seem to be saying is that every layer has it’s own message. Does the fact of your painting it give your interpretation?
MH: That’s one of the major things that I try to approach each piece with - the meaning and the symbolism. My work is strongly based in the Symbolist Movement of the late 1800 and early 1900s. With every piece I do, whether it’s the color, elements in the piece or the composition itself I try to engrave a message for the viewer. That fact that the viewer responds with his or her own interpretation is the very meaning of art for me. That is one of those pieces that when I put it out there, I knew that people would either love it or hate it. With an artist, when you create that piece, when you put it out there, you’re putting yourself out there with your interpretation. The very nature of the medium welcomes a conversation to occur.
SH: As for the piece that we’re using for our cover this month, “Contemplation of Summer”, what is your interpretation of that piece?
MH: That piece was very much an art nouveau - Alphonse Mucha period in my career, one that I’m still in, but at that time it was huge for me. I was transitioning from the Pre-Raphaelite period. The colors were meant to combine all of the elements to convey that the figure and the nature around her were united – one.
SH: Where do you see your work going from here?
MH: I see my work moving into a more symbolist style, still very figurative but with far more interaction between the figure and its surroundings. Concept wise I think I will move even deeper into these larger universal questions of life, death, love, hate and our role. I seem to be more comfortable with letting go of a photo-realistic approach and focusing on a more interpretive technique. I’m working on a piece now that is very much intended to be more interpretive as far as the figure – rather than a representation of a female form it will be a representation of the concept of the female form. I have also delved more into creating portrait commissions. Being able to meet a person, get a feel for them, and then interpret them into line and color is quite a challenge and very rewarding!
SH: I’m looking forward, as I’m sure our readers are, to seeing the new art. Thanks you so very much for sharing your art with us this month. We are so very lucky to have such a gifted artist here with us in the Atlanta, GA area.
CATAPULT Magazine #29 - May 2014
1. Tell us about your journey to becoming an artist, up until now?
The first descriptive that comes to mind is “very difficult”. For my entire career as a traditional artist I have felt like I was behind on the game; like everyone else had a jump start and I was trying to catch up. I still feel that way but I think it is more of my inner voice than actual fact. All artists become artists when they are ready. Looking back on my career I see a great deal of change and exploration. During those times I felt that I was floundering but today I see them as phases that were necessary. I doubt I will ever settle on a technique or look but I have always been proud of the work in which I had something to say. In my darker period years ago I addressed many issues that affected me personally (religion, politics, abuse) and although those pieces may have cost me friends or even hurt family ties I am proud of that exploration and would literally do everything exactly the same if my DeLorean had the power to make another trip. Today I still address personal issues but I am slightly more subtle about it. I have fallen hard for the Symbolist movement but am also fascinated with Dark Romanticism and I think it shows in my work. There are times in which the meaning of my work becomes so complex that I feel I need to include Cliff’s Notes just to get the message across. At that point I try to simplify as much as possible.
2. Is there a pivotal moment in your life, that you feel helped you in your decision to pursue a career as an artist?
I find it difficult to think of a time in my life when I did not consider myself an artist so I’m not sure there was a pivotal moment. I think one of the moments that gave me more focus was when I attended the Governor’s School for the Artists in high school. It was the first time I had been exposed to academic artistic learning. I know this was a powerful period for me because I am able to remember each moment of it vividly. To be engulfed in that environment even for just a short time as three months was definitely a changing point in regard to my taking my artwork more seriously.
3. Who are the artists that inspire you?
The list is quite long and changes on a regular basis but I would say the main influencers right now are Alphonse Mucha, John Singer Sargent, Gustav Klimt, Fernand Khnopff, Jacek Malczewski, Gabriel Von Max, Frederic Leighton, George Frederic Watts, and Gustave Dore. I have been lucky enough to have accumulated a large library of books on artists and art movements that I regularly go to for inspiration.
4. Do you work a full-time "day job" or are you a full-time artist? How do you make it work, if you work a job and find time for your art?
I would like to say “yes” to both. I do have a full-time job but I all like to think of myself as a full-time artist. When one goes down the path of labeling their passion as a hobby it will never reach anything higher than that. Several issues ago I did right an article addressing this very question. In that article I took the stand of seeing my day job as a positive in that it allowed me to explore my artistic vision. Of course it would be much more productive if I were to explore this vision with the majority of hours we have in the day but that is not a feasible scenario right now - especially given the state of the art world and its market at present.I will say that finding the time to paint is a lost cause but making the time to paint is not. An example - I am NOT a morning person no matter what language you translate that description from but if I have a canvas on the easel that I am excited about I will make time by getting up at 5:00 am to paint before heading to my day job or setting aside a Friday night to paint until my hands cramp up. I have known many artists and graphic designers through my day job that always comment “I use to paint but now I just don’t have it in me”. I find that if I do not paint then I am miserable so I can only imagine what it would be like to stop painting entirely!
5. Tell us about the characters that you paint? Is there a story behind them? How are the conceived?
I would say that probably all of my larger paintings contain characters that are deeply entrenched in meaning. I find that the meaning or story behind the piece is one of the main drivers for me to produce the piece. In fact, in the past few years I have started writing stories around many of my paints. At first it started out as small poems but has recently developed into its own form of expression for me. Now if a concept forms that is far too complex for a single image I will usually develop it through writing a short story, poem or prose. Then there are the other pieces in my portfolio that tend to be more of an exercise or exploration in color, technique or even just a quick study that lasts 5 - 7 hours. I feel these pieces are as important as the large works because they allow me to keep on top of my skills. They are a release that is perfect for the “off times” when I have an artist block or no other piece on the easel.
6. Tell us about your writing and what inspires you? How long have you been writing poems?
What was once a side note for me has become something of a habit. I now find that I am often writing down short bits of stories or prose in my sketch book that sometimes influence a larger piece. In fact right now I am working on a larger piece that was spawned from a short prose that I wrote down while reading a section from the Divine Comedy. I would say that my main influence for this has been Edgar Allen Poe. His Dark Romanticism style continues to inspire me.
7. Tell us about ‘A Song for Eurydice‘
This piece was my take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. I often attempt to revisit myths or depict other aspects of the story. In this piece I was focusing on Orpheus just after he had looked back and lost Eurydice in the underworld. His first attempted to reach her was successful so why not try a second time? From an artistic aspect I had never painted a field of wheat or a Viola player so it gave me the opportunity to do both. One of the most memorable moments of this process was having the Viola player at our house outside in a tux playing classical music while I took photos of him. Music has always been a huge influencer on my work and my life so this was a thrill for me. Surreal to say the least. Gears turning Bones breaking The Pounding rhythm of Death approaching With voidless form it pulls the key From fates great belt it twinned for me One great turn the door came loose Pulling me from life-shaped noose
8. Were you formally trained? If so, how do you think this has helped or hindered you?
My formal training came in the earlier years of my life (mainly high school). When I went to college for a BFA I was under the guidance that “you will never make any money at painting” so I pursued a degree in Graphic Design. This track was very helpful with learning forms and their interaction as well as color but I do wish I had stayed in a more traditional curriculum if for nothing else than to have the benefit of the professors. Although the Graphic Design track has helped me in my career it has hindered me in my pursuit as a traditional artist because it has caused me to think in terms and ways that have contradicted my goals for my painting technique and style. It is hard to be “free” with paint when you are so use to thinking in angles, curves and serif fonts For the past decade, though, I have become somewhat of a self taught student of the past. Through research and more research I have delved very deep into the lives of artists that have influenced me through their work. It started with “The Golden Age of Illustration” and Maxfield Parrish and has traveled through British art such as the Pre-Raphaelites to the Symbolist movements throughout Europe to the beauty and simplicity of a single brush stroke by Sargent painted, removed and then painted a third time until he reached a “free” and spontaneous look to his work that was anything but that. For some reason I feel I have become a sponge in the last decade for learning everything I can about these artists and the times in which they worked.
9. What do you do to relax and rejuvenate?
Normally I do any kind of outdoor activity I can find. Usually it involves long distance running. Earlier in my life I was very much into music and would like to revisit that again.
10. What do you listen to while you work?
It various depending on the piece I am working on. My favorite instrumental music is Mozart and Beethoven as well as the sound track to any of the Star Wars movies (usually Star Wars). Others would include Azam Ali, Tool, Alice in Chains, A Perfect Circle, Peter Gabriel, and pretty much any music from the 80’s.
11. Do you have any advice or encouragement for aspiring artists?
Yes. Paint paint paint. The more the better. You will never reach any of your goals without honing your skills through hard work and determination.
12. What are you currently working on and what do you have scheduled in the upcoming months?
Right now I have a piece I am working on that is an exploration in a slightly different color palette that is 18” x 36”. I also plan to produce a custom frame for it which will be the first time I have attempted this. As far as the coming months I am working on putting together my third art book as well as another book that will focus on my writing with the occasional illustration included. Both will be crowd funded later this year so please look for that. The other projects I have are mainly private commissions produced in a new style I am working on in which I use grey toned paper, graphite and white pencil with the occasional inclusion of soft pastel. So far I have received several portrait commissions in this new style so I will pursue this as well as my painting. Lastly, I plan to start sculpting again this year. I always enjoyed working on 3 dimensional pieces and feel I could contribute something to this form.