Matthew B. Nelson, Hustler of Stitches, 36, Arlington, VA
22-year friend. Musician. Artist. Matt has been true blue his whole life. A creative force from a young age, I remember stage diving at his high school performances and later supporting his live concerts in legit Los Angeles night clubs. Fast forward another decade and I'm falling in love with his fabric art all over again. The folk inspiration. The human touch. Matt's creative output is full of feelings. Here's some of the tenderness. And lots of the soul.
How many careers have you had?
I have quit more jobs than any person ever. Student, mail room boy, musician, barista, INS employee, student, graphic designer.
What is your current title?
What project will you be working on next?
Your house is burning down. What one possession (aside from human/animal life) would you grab on the way out?
My collection of Motorhead CDs. Lemmy!
When and how did we meet?
High school, but I was socially awkward.
We've been friends since we were 14 years old. Back then I only knew you to be a musician, a drummer. Later on, I learned more about your artwork. How did you make the transition from music to visual arts?
I have been doing art since elementary school. So I was always doing both art and music. I took art classes in high school. I had started playing drums in junior high. I think I always was more comfortable on the art side because you can put art up, where as a musician, you are the show and I do not want to be the show.
It's obvious music has a very large influence on your art. Tell me which you reference first and why.
I listen to a lot of music. The music and sometimes the life and personality will spark the idea to do a piece of art about the musician.
So then who are your musical influences?
Rufus Thomas, Lee "Scratch" Perry, James Brown, the JBs, Martial Solal, Nino Rota, The Aggrolites, John Holt, Horace Andy, Voivod, Motorhead, Miles Davis - a little bit of everything, I like a good song, a weird personality.
You're attracted to musicians with a lot of soul. Can you describe your own music? Tell me about the bands you've been a part of.
I love to learn. Listening to music can open up doors to worlds you don't know. James Brown and Otis Redding and Sam & Dave opened doors to new sounds for me. Listening to Public Enemy would have Lyrics about H. Rap Brown - I would say, " Who is that?" and go look him up.
In played in metal, punk, and ska bands in high school. I started playing drums when I was 12 or 13. In college I played with a band called fulflej. We sounded like the Smashing Pumpkins. I don't write music myself. I would do my part as a drummer to format songs. I now play in soul cover band doing Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett songs. It is cool to just play music for fun now.
Does the music part of your life have more impact in your visual arts creation process?
I think music is a source of subject matter for me, not really a visual influence. I do listen to music while I work. I love American Folk art and quilts. I like Warhol, Norman Rockwell, Phillip Guston, Gustav Klimt, Keith Haring, R. Crumb, [and] graffiti.
How did you start with the fabric art?
I saw a photo of Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction with a cloth doll in his pocket. I wanted to make one and wear it like he did. I had my girlfriend at the time teach me some basic hand sewing. I started making dolls. I did portraits of my friends as dolls. After looking at a bunch of quilts I tried doing some two-dimensional fabric work and really enjoyed doing it. I have stuck with it. It is not messy like painting. No smell, no dirty clean up. The downside is it is not very spontaneous. I always plan out ideas.
How long ago was that? So is fabric art your preferred medium of choice?
The dolls began around 1992. I began the flat quilt pieces in 1998.
Fabric is the medium of choice for right now. I have talked to my wife about this a lot. It is a slow tedious process. Unlike photography or screen printing, I can not make multiple copies of a piece. I guess that is good and bad. It makes each piece special. It takes a long time to do a piece so there is less art to get name out there. What my wife helped me figure out was, this is what I enjoy doing and some people seem to like the art, so I will keep doing it for now. I have decided to start doing some drawings to have an outlet to do art that is faster, more spontaneous, and a medium that allows changes as you go. It is really a pain to rip out thread and to redo something!
Since the process is so time consuming, have you ever thought about having your work reproduced by machine? Or would that not bring you any joy? Are your works all one-offs? Would they ever be available for production?
I have to admit, I like sitting at my table sewing things together by hand. I really enjoy the process. There are silly things I do, like write secret messages into pieces. I recently did piece called "The Timemachine" it based on the instructions to a kitchen timer that is shaped like a mushroom. The background is all white. I wrote in white thread "For a good time, call Liz " and put my wife's real cell phone number in. I guess I would not be apposed to reproductions or my work.
I guess I just can't imagine someone wanting to do it, or why. I guess you never know? I don't think you can get the same result with a machine compared to something done by hand.
Look in your MC Ren piece it says "The Arabian Prince is in the House" in white on white. It is a line from the end of the song "Something Like That".
Man, I have to pay more attention to the secret messages! Very cool!
Speaking of NWA, there's a lot of cussing in some of your art. How do people react to that? Especially where you are based? I love my NWA family loan!
I have not shown the NWA guys in public. I feel like there should be art that is OK for adults. Not everything in this world needs to be kid friendly. I do art that is clean too. Each piece is different. The NWA portraits, so much of their popularity was the extremes of their language and the situations they rapped about. I tried to put that into the portraits. Is it as shocking tens later? I think not. Watch the TV show 30 Rock. They say "dog penis "and all kinds of crazy stuff you could not get away with before.
Do you ever accept commissions for specific pieces?
I have, no problem. I did drawings they approved before I did the fabric piece. It was a gift for a lady's husband. I do portraits people don't ask for. I did a piece of my friends Chihuahua, and sent it to them in Brooklyn. Luckily they liked it!
The portraits are an awesome gift. How'd the lady who commissioned your work find out about you? Where can someone see your work today?
I was someone I worked with. She saw my work and approached me about doing a piece for her. I do have my stuff up the web now. http://designrustler.fatcow.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattnelsonfabricart/
I am doing a portrait of Gil Scott Heron; his most famous poem is the 'Revolution will not be Televised'. I am using words from two poems "Whitey's on the Moon" and "Evolution" it is a based on a photo of him from the 70s with a giant afro and I put two astronauts in his hair like they are on the moon. I am having fun with it!
I suppose there are people whom you tend to get creative input from. Who's said something clever to you recently and what did they say?
My good friend Andre from fulflej is staying with me this week. He told me a great story of how he was mouthing off to his grandma, then she pulled a gun on him, then said "Say something now!" so crazy! so funny. Great storyteller. But really, I think the best advice I have had about the art was from my wife, when she said, if this is what you enjoy doing, keep doing it. So I will. I think there is an anti-technology, clean, green aspect that I like to working with fabric.
I agree with Liz. You've been creative for as long as I've known you. What advice do you have for the new kids?
Do the funky penguin, listen to a lot of Rufus Thomas, do a least a little bit of work everyday, if not a lot, and... feeling and ideas follow action, so get and do something funky! "Did you heard me?" - Rufus Thomas.
Loud and clear. Download Do The Funky Penguin