The following interview forms part of a series where I invite a number of contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Matt Bannister, an artist and illustrator based in London, “obsessed with the quirks and shapes of architecture, people, and everyday objects”.
In this interview, Matt discusses the changes he would like to see in the art world, finding beauty in modern life, and how he sees artists as “enrichers” to that end.
You write that you “hope to show that everyday life is not always as drab and as flat as you think it is”. Do you think it’s possible to find beauty in anything?
I do think it’s possible to find beauty in anything, yes. Given the way the global pandemic has ‘paused’ most of our lives, I’m sure many of us have noticed the world around us in a way we may not have appreciated before. Increasingly, people have the ability to record and share things that they notice with the cameras on their phones and via social media and perhaps this is helping us all investigate our own environments more carefully.
I feel that I constantly observe, note and mentally file away things I see around me for future reference but anyone with a creative eye does that, I think. I genuinely enjoy noticing something like weeds growing through the paint of a double yellow line on the road – these beautiful, almost poetic details are everywhere and are strangely uplifting and reassuring if you take time to see them.
What role do you see artists having today in shaping society?
To carry on from the previous question, I like to think that an artist can highlight what’s unseen for people who may have missed it. Not as an announcement of how special or visionary the artist is compared with the wider society, but as an enricher and a guide to show what exists and how others may access it. Making creative work always begins as a selfish activity but it has to see the light of day and present itself to, and connect with, other people eventually.
What do you think your art says about you?
Much of the work I’ve produced recently is from the point of view of an outside observer, rather than someone in the middle of the action. This is a position that is common in many creative outlets, from literature to painting, but it seems to fit with how I am in life, really. I like to carefully consider the world before joining it; I’m not impulsive, shall we say. I like strong and balanced compositions for my work, but woven into that I like to have lively colours or some textural ‘mess’. I’m quite a thoughtful and organised person with routines and habits that run through the background and steer me through (hopefully) all the random and chaotic bits that life delivers in the foreground.
What changes would you like to see in the art world?
I would love to see art outside the galleries more often, appearing in spontaneous ways (e.g. in temporary spaces or as events). Our need for more community connections has been really highlighted by the lockdowns and bringing art into this area perhaps more at a local town or borough level would be brilliant, rather than just in the centre of large cities. In urban areas, we need to experience things together and art should be a part of that, be it temporary weekend events, dramatic ephemeral sculptures in parks, murals… something that is living and contemporary, not just academic and historical all the time. I’m not saying tear down all the museums, but we need art from the present not only the past.
What does it mean to you to be vulnerable as an artist?
Aside from the obvious financial vulnerabilities of being an artist, the act of creating something and then revealing it to the world, your peers or your family is quite a strange and precarious thing to want to do (over and over again). You are a bit exposed! You have to counteract this vulnerability by producing work that you enjoy physically making and spending time doing. In that way you have at least achieved something for yourself before it emerges from the studio.
If you were to design a new artwork to depict your own current experience of the world, what might it include?
Well, currently most of my experience of the world is at least one stage removed: it’s via a screen, it’s through a window, it’s by reading text or listening to others via headphones. I’d like to remove the distance and maybe create a sculpture that people could see, touch and interact with in the open air. I’ve never made large scale public sculpture before, but what about a giant textural painting that people could climb on and walk across? A climbing wall with perspective, colour and composition, perhaps?