ANNE: You’re from Nottingham originally. How did you come to be in Newcastle, and what made you stay?
Matt Antoniak: I was born in Nottingham, and studied a Foundation course there, as I was undecided on whether to pursue art or graphic design and illustration. Having decided on art, I came to university in Newcastle in 2011 and have stayed in the North East since.
After university, I knew I wanted to continue to practice as an artist, and staying in Newcastle seemed to be the best way for me to make that happen. The city afforded me time making in the studio, which I knew would be vital, and wouldn’t be the case in other places — although times have changed now, making that more difficult for recent graduates.
The main reason was my peer group, though. I had made friends and peers on the course and so many stayed in the region initially. There is strength in numbers, and whilst I was naïve about a lot of things after university, I intrinsically sensed that having a group around you after graduating was important.
ANNE: One of the things that’s exciting about your work is its hermeticism — it’s animated by an invisible logic. You’ve worked with huge canvases and wall drawings, but your work often returns to a recurring motif on a modest scale: a roughly head-shaped oval in which faces, or parts of faces sometimes appear but at other times acts as a container for trompe l’oeil-like representations of different materials or objects. Where did this framework originate in the context of your practice over the years, and why and how has it become a seam that you return to?
MA: The shape you are referring to is a simple rendering of Spiderman I found. This features as the framework for a number of recent paintings on wooden panels, shaped to frame the Spiderman image. Found drawings, doodles and markings on scrap pieces of paper have been jumping-off points for much of my previous work. Originally many of these came from the art shop I worked in for a number of years. I’m not sure of the exact provenance of it, but the Spiderman paintings come from one of these drawings.
It is a seam I return to because of the juxtaposition between the idiosyncratic and the universal. In these drawings, all found in different locations, on different days, in different places, tropes began to appear. Eyes, hearts, letters, slogans amongst them.
The Spiderman image seemed to me to exemplify this dichotomy: a motif so well known as to be widely read, but also so idiosyncratic in its wonky depiction by the maker. The drawing is reductive, slimming down the image into a handful of waspish lines that toy with the boundary of recognition.
I was drawn to the shaped panels, as we’re all used to reading rectangular paintings in certain ways. The rectangle has borders and hard edges, whereas there was none of this to play off against with the amorphous shaped panel. Its unusual form makes the reading trickier, and rewards slower and closer looking.