Mathew Curran, one of the artist showing in our current exhibit, Imprint, "creates works that evoke a sense of wild and yet fragile nature through his use of deer and birds. The direct stencil process characteristic of urban street art utilizing ink or red NC clay as a pigment, lends his life-size subjects a haunting presence."
-Edie Carpenter, Head curator at Greenhill
We had the pleasure to sit down and talk to him about his methods and what got him into printmaking.
How did you get into printmaking? (as opposed to other mediums)
I had an interest in graffiti and participated in some through high school and college. Through graffiti I had learned about stencil making, a quick way to execute work on the street. Around the same time I was starting college at UNCG and studying in the fine art program. I was taking Lithography, etching, graphic design & photography. All of these courses combined was a great learning experience for me, and all worked so well together. Each course helped me learn something about the other. At the same time I could use what I learned to develop stencil making & screen printing at home. I continued these courses all through school and towards the end focused most of my energy in stencil work.
How long have you been printmaking?
I have been printmaking now for close to 16 years. I had cut my first stencil around 1998 after graduating high school.
Your work, along with the other artists in this exhibition focuses on elements from nature such as flowers and birds. How did you pick the specific animals or plants for your art?
I draw the images from my surroundings. Things that I'm exposed to; nature, architecture, people, things I would see in the urban landscape… For this exhibit I focused on the nature. I chose to work with ravens, cherry blossoms, roses, bugs, humming birds and a couple of other birds. These are things that are around my home, things I see every day. I like the energy, the movement, how they work in space when separated from their surroundings or plucked from the ground or a branch. I like to take these elements and place them into areas where they won't be seen. Dark alley ways, broken down areas of the city, roof tops.. places that I can make a little more beautiful or energetic.
You mostly work in stenciling for your prints it seems. Can you tell us a little bit about the process and the challenges with stenciling?
The process begins with an ink drawing. I use india ink and a paint brush to create the image, photograph the drawing, scale it using the computer, then print it onto a 300lb paper. Once the image is printed I can cut out all of the negative space away from the drawing. I use xacto blades to do this and can go through 100 blades in about 10 hours. It can get dangerous and the blades start to slip as they get dull, this is why I need to continuously use the sharpest blade possible. A dull blade will tear the paper and pull at other areas of the stencil. Then there is registration.. lining up different layers of the stencil to compose an image/print. Once I have cut the image away from a sheet of paper, a hole is left in that sheet. I can use this hole to paint a base layer of the print, then add the color and image on top of this.
I love your use or lack thereof of color in your works. I especially enjoy your white on white works with several of your prints. Can you speak a little about the color schemes behind your works and how you came up with them?
The black images come from the black ink drawings…. which comes from my days involved in graffiti tagging, the sharp black inky tag lines. The white is the image in negative and can be seen when its shadow is created. I would focus mainly on the print, the painted stencil and the cut paper was always thrown away after it was painted. I wanted to preserve the paper, create less prints and focus more on the "plate," the stencil itself. Each stencil will be used one time (seen on the cardboard) or not at all. The cut paper is the most important part of my work and I just love how the light works with the paper when floating in space.
Is there a broad message behind your works?
I want to create things from what I find to be beautiful in my surroundings. I want to make dull places more energetic and people to create their own stories about my work and interact with it on the streets.
What do you think is the best part about printmaking as a medium as opposed to other types of art?
I love the reproduction. Each print has it's own unique qualities and at the same time the printmaking techniques produces pretty consistent multiples from one image. It's a speedy process and I love how many of the same image works as a whole.
If you'd like to learn more about Mathew's works, visit his website here. Otherwise, you can come see some of his works in person in our Imprint exhibition going on through March.