Artist Interview: Conversation with Matt McDole, Artist of “Strawberry Mansion” on Exhibit at Revelry thru June 4, 2019


Interview by Rev Reporter, Stephanie Lindsay


Rev Reporter: Please tell me about childhood influences in your work.

Matt: I don’t start out making a show with an idea. I just make things and then I think about how it all fits together. This time I wanted to do a neighborhood or a place, and I settled on “Mansion” because I always loved that word. It was my password when I was fifteen.

Rev Reporter: It’s a cool word. What’s your fascination with it?

Matt: It’s the first time I was aware of something being spelled weird but knowing it’s the right way to spell it, and so I felt really smart as a little kid. I guess I have this picture of my childhood house on my desk, and I was thinking about it. 

Rev Reporter: I read that being raised in a religious family had a big influence on your work.

Matt: My mom is the sweetest, most Christian lady. I’ve always thought about dying in general, and I think it ties back to that...always hearing about dying from a young age in church. My first memories are being scared of dying but not really being dead. I had this terrible fear of going to sleep, them thinking I was dead, burying me, and then waking up in the coffin. I am extremely claustrophobic, and I cannot get on elevators.

The first time I realized I was claustrophobic--I was in a cabin (I grew up on a farm and most of my friends lived on farms nearby), and somebody closed this door on me and I realized that I couldn’t get out without them letting me out. After that, I remember becoming extremely scared of elevators. I still am.

 Rev Reporter: Are there certain images that you use as language or symbols in your work? 

Matt: I don’t start out with a big theme. I think,  “I want to do this one thing and I want to add more to it”. Then into it, I figure it out and then maybe the next thing I want to draw, I decide not to add because it doesn’t go with the story in my head.

Once I realize that I am leaning on something, then I naturally just stop using it. It’s kind of like when I am obsessed with a band, and it’s all I want to listen to. Whenever I realize that’s the only thing I want to listen to, then it’s kinda over. If I catch myself in the habit of something (snaps), I try not to lean into it. With that being said, sometimes I’ll feel like I’m being repetitive and then years later look back, and wish I’d have done more.

Rev Reporter: It comes across to me, for instance your use of the dagger, as there being storytelling language that you choose sometimes to use and other times not to use.

 Matt: I’ve looked back on my collages and thought, “Man, this is awesome. I wish I made more of them.” But back when I made it, I was trying to stop making the same thing.

Rev Reporter: What are your mediums?

Matt: I use acrylic paint and paint markers a lot. I think there is one thing in this show that is screen-printed.

Rev Reporter: Talk to me about your skater background and its influence on your work.

Matt: I definitely think skateboarding helped me become the person who I am by opening me up to all of these things I really love. Growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, I loved skateboarding and thought it was so cool. I had never seen a real skateboarder. So, I didn’t think it was real but something you just saw on TV. Same with comic books. I thought they looked so awesome but I thought they were a TV thing. Same with allowances, curfews….

Rev Reporter: When did you get your first comic book?

Matt: Not until I was at least 18.

Rev Reporter: When did you first start skating? 

Matt: I got my first skateboard right when I was going into 5th grade. There was no Internet then and I was in the middle of nowhere so I would ride my bike, ride my skateboard, play with my action figures, draw stuff.

Rev Reporter: When did you first start drawing?

Matt: I think I was drawing or coloring before I was making memories. I remember drawing a lot of Batman and Wolverine and underwater scenes with the blue sky at the top. Very 2D. I was like, “I want to draw. What can I draw?” It’s a lot how I do it now. I sit down and think, “What can I do?”

Rev Reporter: So, you are totally self-taught?

Matt: I went to a really small school, Trimble County High School, and I graduated with about 90 people in my class. In high school, we had Art I, II, III and IV. I didn’t take my first art class until I was a junior. It didn’t seem like the cool art that I liked. It was more boring oil paintings. I remember seeing the first Metallica album and thinking how cool it would be to do that. I remember thinking I want to paint, but I want to paint quicker and use thicker lines and have it be more solid.

I remember the first paint pens I used sucked. They were the kind of thing you would find in your parents’ garage. Then I first became obsessed with them four years ago when I discovered good ones. I still happen to have the first piece I made with them. It was a benchmark.

Rev Reporter: It’s interesting. My son is in the Visual Art program at Manual, and he recently had this revelation that his favorite materials are the cheaper ones, like paint markers. 

Matt: When I first started with paint markers, I never used pencil. I would just do it. Then I started using pencil, going over it with paint marker and erasing it. But now I have figured out how to make it good the first time. Getting tattooed and seeing how people do things really helped.

I first started painting only on boards, windows and things I found. I didn’t have money but even if I could, it was too much pressure to start (on something new). I could never go to the art store and buy a big wooden panel.

Rev Reporter: How about now? 

Matt: No. I still can’t. I’ll buy paper, but I always use frames that I bought at thrift stores, or I’ll paintings at thrift stores and paint over it.

Rev Reporter: How old were you when you consciously started making art?

 Matt: I always skated, and that was my thing that I really cared about. I was 14 when I made the decision this is what I do. They built a house nearby and there was all this wood, and so I built a ramp. I went there everyday. My friends didn’t want to, and I didn’t care. I had skateboard magazines. The Internet was just starting, and I’d search “what do skateboarders do?” Then I’d see they listen to punk music, and I’d search “punk music.” I decided that I didn’t care if what I like is cool or acceptable to people around me. Apparently there are other people who think it’s cool, even if no one here does.

 When I moved out at 18, all I wanted to do was skate. By 24, I was always falling and getting hurt. I’d have to take time off work because of it. I was working at Please & Thank You. I had all of this time of not being able to skate as much, and I started making art. Working there was the also first time that I was around people who I looked up to and their opinion on art. Amanda Bishop and Tony Bisig who were in the kitchen and of course, Brooke (Vaughn Pierce) and Jason (Pierce). I looked up to them. Their thinking “this is cool” led me to think maybe I need to do more of this. They were very motivating and let me do my first show there at Please & Thank You. 

Rev Reporter: I remember that show! From there, where did you start exhibiting your work?

Matt: I had my work in random places, like skateboard art shows. At first, it didn’t seem like I could make money from it. But then, other than skate, it’s what I wanted to do all the time. That, and work at Please & Thank You. All I wanted to do was make art at night. I got really comfortable being alone and making stuff. After a couple years, I found it selling more consistently and then people reaching out to me. Now, all I do is make art for a living. I work for Mperfect Design. It’s graphic design and design in general. I’m about to paint a mural on a garage. People reach out about an album cover or a show poster. I do a lot of skateboard graphics, like designs for Home Skate Shop and shirts for the new little skate park, Breslin Park.

Rev Reporter: I’ve seen your work applied in people’s homes.

Matt: Yes, I love painting on walls, in people’s homes or businesses. The bathroom at Lupo is one of my favorites. At the KMAC “Sing, Don’t Cry” exhibit I was allowed to paint on the walls. They had a few items they wanted to show, and I picked a couple of the other pieces from their storage. Then I painted on the walls all around it all.

Rev Reporter: I saw a cool screen-printed shower curtain of yours at a friend’s house. Do you think of ever doing a line of products?

Matt: I’ll have an idea to make a thing. I’ll make a couple and see how it sells, but I usually want to make it just once and be done with it. I made a bunch of big matchboxes for Revelry, and people love them and they sell like hot cakes, but I’d rather make something new.

I think being limited helps a lot. I once heard, “there is nothing more crippling than a blank page.” Any little bit of direction helps to start. Using found (materials) makes that easier too. You just pick something and do it.

Rev Reporter: Are your tattoos your own illustrations? 

Matt: With the exception of a couple, they are other people’s work.

Rev Reporter: How did tattoo work affect your personal work?

Matt: I think it’s the same way as with skateboarding or the movies I love. Not literal. I think most tattoo work is very shaded and mine is more solid, graphic style.

Rev Reporter: Is there any particular piece or group of work that has been really fulfilling for you to create?

Matt: Most of the time I am really excited about the last thing I’ve made. Or, the thing I am working on right now.

Rev Reporter: Are there any artists who influence your work?

Matt: My number one is Margaret Kilgallen. I love all the Beautiful Losers documentary people, like Ed Templeton, Barry McGee, Mike Mills and Stephen Powers. I like Andy Warhol’s early stuff, but I mainly find him inspiring as a person. David Lynch, I love to hear him talk. I get inspired by people who I think are genuinely themselves. Basquiat. Lou Reed.

Rev Reporter: It makes sense that you are drawn to storytellers. Have you found a community of people, or artists, who inspire or support your work?

Matt: It’s easy to think about famous people when you think of your favorite artist, but really it’s more about someone I know. Letitia Quesenberry is a favorite artist. She is one of the first people who made me realize that you can just make art—not for companies—but you making your own art and then selling it. Jason Pierce is one of my favorite artists, his mind! Megan Mraz is insane. My girlfriend is always taking photos. I just love those people.

Rev Reporter: What is it you do to break through and make the first mark?

Matt: There are two parts. On one hand, I have to be comfortable. Do I have coffee? What am I going to listen to? I like a podcast because it lasts a while. Music greatly affects my mood, so it’s harder to pick out. For instance, fast music makes me really excited but it doesn’t last long. Or sad music makes me sad. Mindless movies are good. I’ve gotten into a whole genre of bad stuff, like action movies in general--Men in Black or Die Hard. Or, old wrestling. That’s the comfortable part, which takes forever to get started. The other part is you just have to start because you can always come up with a million reasons not to start. On one hand, I need to be comfortable but then it’s just about starting and that’s hard.


May 23, 2019 — Mo McKnight Howe