Historical Lineage: Q&A with Matthew Craven

Much of Matthew Craven’s meticulous work exists as both colorful abstraction and surreal historical document. His transformation of  images appropriated from history textbooks nudge and reconfigure the original historical narratives. And his modular treatment of familiar forms unexpectedly activates their hidden potential for abstraction. Painting, drawing, collage and installation are linked in Craven’s practice through his fastidiously precise lines, which run across works and from project to project. Last week I caught up with the Brooklyn-based artist -- whose work is currently in the group show Paper Chasers at Nudashank -- to talk about his work, his influences, and time travel. Our conversation, and lots of images, after the jump. -Matthew Smith, D.C. contributor

Matthew Craven | wooden teeth., 2010, mixed media, 17" x 13" courtesy of the artist

Installation view of cavalry SCARS, Allegra LaViola Gallery, New York, courtesy of the artist

Matthew Smith: What are some of your artistic influences?

Matthew Craven: I have a lot of them on my blog, artsauce. I started the blog when I moved to New York to archive all the new art I was being exposed to. Later the blog became my thesis "paper" when I was attending the School of Visual Arts for my MFA. One of the exciting parts of being an artist is meeting and befriending other artist you respect . I share a studio with Matt Stone who is an amazing sculptor.  Some of my favorite artists are actually dear friends. Benjamin Edmiston, Christopher Daniels, Stacey Rozich,Sam Adams, Nick Van Woert, Natalia Yovane, and so many more inspire me and infleunce my work.

Matthew Craven| life totem I, 2011, ink on Paper with cutouts, 72" x 48" courtesy of the artist

MS: Faces and masks are recurring elements in your older work. And so are historical references. Can you tell me about these elements and how they’re interrelated?

MC: It wasn't until a few years ago when I started to work with the figure again. For many years I was working entirely with abstract imagery. When I started to include collage and assemblage in my work, I had a desire to change the narrative of this imagery. At some point masking the figure seemed the most appropriate way to radically change the image, and in turn make the viewer question the stories that accompany our historical past.  I'm not sure why my main references became historical textbooks, I guess it is just an extension of all the years I spent in school doodling in my books, instead of actually reading them.

Matthew Craven | distance., 12x9, mixed media on found book page, 2011, courtesy of the artist

Matthew Craven, HIWBTW. (CLONE), 2009, mixed media, 11" x 14"  courtesy of the artist

MS: In your new work you’ve moved away from faces and masks, but there’s still references to history and antiquity. Can you talk to me about this transition?

MC: When I  began my new body of work, I was interested in making my work more subtle and ambiguous. I have opened up my imagery and diversified my reference points to include many different  time periods, civilizations and cultures.  This new series feels like it is getting me closer to concepts I was interested in uncovering in my previous work.  This work is still new to me, so I'm not sure where it is going exactly, but I am sure the use of the figure will return at some point.

Matthew Craven | bleed., 12x9, mixed media on found book page, 2011, courtesy of the artist

MS: Your color palette has also changed and become less bold and more subtle. Can you tell me about your use of color and how your palette has changed with each successive project?

MC: For many years I painted abstractly, and what I took from that work is ideas of color theory.  When I am exploring new ideas, color is a the tool I use to unify my subject matter.  Recently I have toned down my pallet.  I am  mainly using black, white and grey.  I think these colors react in a bizarre and beautifully way with the color pink.  Again, I wanted this new work to have a subtlety my previous work only hinted at. I  hope  this new pallet helps me achieve that.

Matthew Craven | leader, 12x9, mixed media on found book page, 2011, courtesy of the artist

MSIf you weren't an artist what would you be?

MC: Yikes... that is a scary question. I really have no idea, except that I would like to go back in time and be the power forward for the 1989-90 world champion DetroitPistons, or be the drummer for  woweezowee era Pavement, circa 1995.

MS: What's next for you?

MC: Lots!  I'm in a group show with one of my favorite galleries, Nudashank out of Baltimore, this month.  Next year will be very busy as I am planning my first ever solo shows.  First with GalleryHijinks in San Fransisco in February, then I am thrilled to announce I am working with dckt out of New York for a show later in the year.

Matthew Crave | speak., 12x9, mixed media on found book page, 2011, courtesy of the artist


MatthewCraven was born in Michigan in 1981. He attended Michigan State University for BFA (2004) and The School of Visual Art for MFA (2010).  He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. When not working on his own art, he spends most days assisting the artist Rob Pruitt and eating Veggie Taco and drinking Budweiser tall boys with his lovely girlfriend, Emma.

His work is currently on display in the group show titled Paper Chasers at Nudashank, through November 26.