You Are Forgiven: An Interview with Matt Leines on his new book

Matt is having a signing for this book tomorrow, Friday 24th at Desert Island in Williamsberg, Brooklyn. You should all go and I will see you there! Go here for more details.

I’ve known Matt for almost ten years now since we met the very first day of college at Risd. Matt was in most of my classes and never failed to impress everyone from day one with his unique style. I feel so lucky to have been able to watch his work evolve to what it is today. Through intricate details and patterns and a group of strange characters- bearded men for the most part- Matt tells us stories through his work. These stories look like they came from ancient times long ago where men battled tigers with lightning bolts, and used rafts or rode armadillos for transportation. I am always amazed at Matt’s crazy imagination because from the outside he seems like such a normal guy wearing a baseball cap, plaid shirt and adidas sneakers.

Today I am so so excited to let you know about his brand new book that has just come out. This is his first monograph and it is gorgeous. My favorite part is that under the dust jacket the cloth bound hardcover is embossed with one of Matt’s designs. After a funny introduction by Gary Panter and essay from Taylor McKimens, the book is page after page of Matt’s works, really beautifully printed on matte paper. I recognize some of his earliest work in the beginning from back when we just graduated school. And the book has work all the way up to his most recent shows. I thought it would be nice to do a little Q & A with Matt about this new book which you can see below. Thanks Matt!

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Matt, first I should say congratulations, the book looks fantastic! Did you ever think you would have an entire 144 page book of just your own work?! How did this book come about? Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with Free News Projects?

I’ve known Max Lawrence (of Free News Projects) for a few years now. He had bought a piece of a mine from one of the very first shows i had. And he’s a member of Space 1026 in Philadelphia and we had crossed paths a few times since then. At one point he had commissioned me to draw an album cover for a music project he was working on. And at that lead to him asking if i’d be interested in working on a book. I was psyched from the beginning but was nervous that i didn’t have enough work yet, but three years later and after actually editing out a lot of work, the book is done.

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What was the process of like of getting all of this together for the book? How much were you involved with design and format of the book?

I haven’t been very good at archiving my work. We had scans of a lot of smaller drawings but some of the older, bigger pieces we had to track down and get photographed. The design of the book is pretty straightforward, focusing on the work rather than adding bells and whistles, which i don’t think were necessary. The format was based on some other books I liked the feel of, and Tony Smyrski, the designer, laid it all out and I’d come back in and rearrange some pages. But seeing the images laid out digitally and knowing roughly what the book’s physically form would be couldn’t have prepared me for opening up that first shipment and actually holding a copy in hand. It’s still strange to turn the pages.

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The book seems roughly to move chronologically through your work. The beginning has some very early works. How do you feel about these works now? Looking over this whole body of work what are the most striking things you’ve changed over time- stylistically and thematically- and what things have you kept (ie bearded men)?

Some of those early pieces are some I hadn’t seen for years, so that was interesting to see how they matched up with the picture i had in my head of how they looked. For the most part I still like seeing them, especially those brick faced people I did years ago, and I don’t think we came across anything I was too embarrassed of. The thing that sticks out to me, probably more than it would to others, is how the eyes have evolved over time. I think more than any other element, eyes show up in the majority of the work I’ve made, and its interesting to see how much they’ve changed through time, since I don’t think i was really aware of it during the process.

I always wonder where you get such imaginative imagery. Are their specific things that influence you the most? Do you have an example where you saw something somewhere and that gave you the idea for a painting?

I used to have a short list of things I knew were influencing me, but over time that list has broadened to include so much. I obviously look through tons of books, but lately I’m noticing how seemingly ordinary things around me are seeping into my drawings.

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Can you tell us a little bit about your process? How much of your work is planned and how much just happens as you start drawing?

Lately it has been very planned as far as the final drawings, but the majority of the ideas start in my sketchbooks, where an idea could take years of revisions and reworking to develop. The stuff in the book runs the gamut of different processes though. When I worked more with acrylic I had a larger margin for error so I could just start painting and see what happened. Some of those things stick out to me now though as strange, but there is something about that process that I miss.

It seems to me like your work has had a big influence on a lot of other artists. Do you feel like you are part of a movement? And what artists are you most influenced by or do you associate yourself with?

I’m not sure if I recognize that I’m part of a movement. There is a lot of spiritual and myth based art happening right now, but some of it doesn’t seem so honest to me. I consider myself to be associated with drawing based artists who even if they are working with paint or sculpture it all mostly stems from the act of drawing. I would include Ben Jones of Paper Rad, Misaki Kawai, Taylor McKimens, and even Gary Panter, who graciously took the time to write me an introduction, in that category.

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You recently moved to Philly. Tell me the three best things about Philly and the three worst things.

Best: Riding a bike again, Springsteen played here for free on the street, inexpensive Malaysian food
Worst: I think there was a shooting in my neighborhood last night

What’s next for you?

I have a solo show called The Great Gates of Zenith opening at Roberts and Tilton in LA on November 15th, that I really should be working on.

Thanks Matt! And don’t forget to check out the book signing tomorrow or if you can’t make it pre-order your copy of the book right here.

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