Thursday, April 8, 2010

Matt Gauck (Next Stop Adventure!) interview

Matt Gauck is a Vegan Straight Edge artist currently residing in Portland, OR. He has worked with such notable organizations and bands as Microcosm Publishing, To Live A Lie Records, From the Depths, Comadre, xBrainiax, Coke Bust, Bridge and Tunnel, Hyperrealist Records, Food Fight! Grocery, Civil Liberties Defense Center and many others. Matt's artwork is so diverse and widespread that chances are you've already seen his illustrations, t-shirts or patches. His style is often charming, humorous and playful but he has also created some incredibly intricate, beautiful and moving pieces. Always relevant, biting and eye-catching, his art is not only aesthetically pleasing but also has tones of serious struggles within activist communities. Generous with his illustrations for benefits to animal rights prisoners and organizations, Matt's talents are a great asset to the AR community. This interview was conducted by Mike XVX through e-mail in March and April of 2010.

You can check out more of his work here:

what initially got you interested in doing illustrations? how long have you been doing it for?

I've been drawing since i was a kid - pretty much right when i started school, and in high school i started drawing things specifically for zines, mostly in the punk / diy vein. the whole arc of my 'art career' started there, and just continued, based around the diy scene. my interest stemmed from liking calvin and hobbes a lot, but mostly because i just liked to draw. i've been doing "real" illustrations - that is, beyond just sketching stuff and sending them to record labels/zines - for about 13 years.
are there any artists or friends/relatives out there that you feel inspire you?

i feel most inspired by my friends, as well as bands within the diy scene. I feel more comfortable looking up to them, since i feel like we're on the same level, which is a more realistic and healthy way of looking at creativity and making things. somewhere in there (i think it was pg 99) i learned that passion meant an ability to create. Beyond that, however, the print maker kathe kollowitz, bill watterson, rene magritte, and then a handful of forgotten french painters from the 1800's. oh, and mark tansey - that dude is brilliant - his conceptual methods are incredible.
you currently work for Microcosm publishing in Portland, OR. has that been a rewarding experience?

it's been really interesting, mostly to have a job that i care about, as opposed to the normal "crappy cleaning / bike delivery / pay the bills" job. Learning the back end of book publishing, copy editing, and then all the billions of things that go with trying to actually sell a's really crazy to see the entire process; it seems much more 'hit or miss' than i ever imagined. it's extremely comforting to work with a 'larger' diy organization and for them to still retain totally down to earth diy ideals. it's a good reminder that you don't need to compromise your ideals to grow larger.
do you feel you have a lot re-occuring themes in your artwork?

totally, and i kind of don't know why sometimes. I paint and draw strings all the time, like some kind of kinetic painting, and i think it's because i can't paint an image if there isn't a story present. I need the image to be the beginning point for a much larger idea, and sometimes using and reusing elements from older paintings helps. I have a small cast of characters (a concrete monster, trees, jellyfish, birds, a robot, etc) that i put in situations to explore emotions and ideas. I develop a concept, establish an environment, and then put a character in a situation within it.
I notice you put a lot of humor into your illustrations even though some of the topics can be somewhat serious. do you feel this can be mirrored in your personal life?

yeah, i've always felt humor is essential to life, even in very, very important subjects. I just find that in almost any argument, maintaining a sense of humor and the ability to laugh helps to help communicate effectively while not just cramming your agenda down someone's throat. My problem with the hyper dogmatic ideology writings is that they leave no room for a human element - it's too robotic and staged sounding. To make this more realistic and understandable, i use humor because we laugh when we see things that are ridiculous, but that doesn't mean we miss the point. Some things are so crazy, so forwardly wrong, we have to laugh in disbelief, and i don't think that's a bad thing.
have you set any personal goals for yourself to achieve through your artwork?

Inspiration. that's the most important thing to me; i love seeing other paintings and immediately thinking "i've gotta go home and draw!" it's also a good way to start a conversation about things i care about - environmental things, animal things, education...
so, tell me about your movie idea: "Death Challenger!"?

it's freaking brilliaint, that's what! in short, it's a movie about a guy who gets so mad that people die everyday for whatever reason (specifically sickness and old age) that he goes the direct action route and starts punching wildly in a graveyard to 'fight death'. the strange thing is that it works, and for all the time he's punching around this graveyard, no one in the town is dying, as death is pre-occupied. it would be like a long twilight zone episode. well, it WILL be like one, when i finally film it. hopefully at the premier i'll be doing free death challenger tattoos after the screening. not kidding.
how do you feel about artists like Shepard Fairey who started out displaying their work in a DIY fashion and now have installments all over the world?

I think it's important to understand, even when you start, where to put your 'cap' on things - like, defining a stopping point where you DON'T want to end up. It's really hard to say 'no' when you're starting an art career - it seems like any job that can pay is super rare, and the "i can't believe they're going to pay me!" mentality is sort of what you start with... i mean, getting paid for doing what you love is the best possible scenario, but there's a point where you need to be able to maintain your personal politics and say no to things you don't agree with. Getting popular is fine, and making money for a specific talent is fine too - and on that level, it's great that Shephard Fairey is being recognized on a large scale. However, feeling unconnected to the group that you initially make art for (in this case, the small scale diy scene) is a by-product of getting 'big' or being 'discovered' or whatever. I can't expect everyone to be content with barely getting by with almost no money, dumpstering food or whatever, while still working another job a couple hours a week - but at the same time, I was never doing this for money, I did this for the message and the need to create things; if i get paid, that's awesome. If not, i'm still going to make art; the money can be helpful, but it's never, never been the goal. Just staying afloat is okay with me. It's confusing; and it's easily the hardest question in the diy scene, and i think the best thing to do is constantly ask yourself if you're okay with where you are, and what it is that you're doing.
do you consider this "selling out" even if an artist keeps their work social and/or political?

Selling out...oh man. Well, keeping it political and relevant is necessary; when you stop being relevant, or augment your content to be less political, that's when you've sold out. If you change yourself to fit in with a culture that's asking you to join them, then you've totally missed a great opportunity - that's like half the plots of all 80's movies; nerdy outcast wants to assimilate with the cool kids, succeeds by some method, but then loses all his original friends in the process, thus selling them all out. I'm thinking of 'can't buy me love' specifically, though there are definitely others. Heck, i think Billie Jean, of "the Legend of Billie Jean" fame had it right - she got famous, she was selling shirts and whatnot - but all she wanted was to see her goal met, it had nothing to do with fame or money. Then, when everyone burns all the merch at the end, it's like everyone understood that message. Everyone has a different 'selling out' line they're wary of crossing, i know where mine is in the broad sense, but in some ways it's easy, since i'm so far from it - like, advertising for Coke or Nike or really any corporation. Since they're not asking, i don't have to worry about that. Personal growth as an artist is necessary; but keeping that growth focused on yourself is the key - not to let the greater culture push and pull you into a position where you've lost your identity.

Some of your drawings have a theme of comical violence towards record executives and others that make a profit off exploiting another person's talents; do you feel that corporate interest dilutes the original message and meaning of a piece? would you ever consider selling your artwork for an advertisement?

Corporate anything is awful. The distinction separating us and them is that they ONLY see dollar signs, and we still are grounded enough to see things like suffering, inhumane work conditions, and the list of problems with most "money is our goal" companies. For a long time, companies like Odwalla seemed totally down and punk, and then they got bought out, and then we stuck to Naked juice, but then THEY got bought out...But you can always choose not to 'get bought out'. Corporate interest ruins the strength of anything, because it automatically changes the agenda from what the individual had felt/thought, and the result is a 'borrowed and changed' meaning, repossessed to serve different interests. If Gap started selling shirts with a Banksy graphic on them, it wouldn't be because Gap was secretly 'down', it would be to sell shirts. That's it. As for the advertisement question - i would only ever help out smaller, diy entities in the advertising world, like small distros, music labels, etc. Small, heartfelt stuff.

what initially got you interested in veganism and animal rights?

I remember right when the internet 'came out' and my family had a address (this is in 1998), i was working at a kroger grocery store on the weekends during high school, and i saw something online about proctor and gamble doing animal testing, and i wrote whoever it was that was hosting that story (most likely PETA) and i really wanted to help do something, and they wrote back saying i could donate money for literature and stuff, and i remember thinking "i don't HAVE money, i wanted to know what i could DO..." Beyond that, I crept into veganism pretty slowly; i'll openly admit i haven't been "fully vegan" for a very long time - but i was vegetarian when i got to college in 1999, and then adopted a hardcore dumpster diving regimen, and for a solid 5 years i did not buy food at all. I literally was not buying anything for over 5 years of my life. I even kept a tally of all the stuff i would find, and then i added up the prices to see what i was "saving". I didn't eat any meat during this period, but i did eat some cheese (though it was really, really rare). My thing was more ecological impact from spending money rather than checking ingredients lists with a flashlight in a dumpster. If i dumpstered free ice cream, i'd eat it. Understanding how the money you spend IS your choice in food economics, i chose to opt out of all of it. The only things i would buy at all during this span were vegan things, and i'm reasonably certain it was only earth balance, since eating toast with nothing on it is ridiculous. Anyway, that was my background, and then, as most people, i read a bunch of books, saw a bunch of documentaries, and then went vegan for real. Mostly it was the dilemma of not being able to find food i could survive on (read: 'moving to portland') and then realizing what i would be supporting if i wasn't eating vegan. In my mind, it's a totally straight foward, logical thing to be vegan, you just need to get all the facts and draw your own, rational conclusion. It baffles me that more people aren't. I will say, on a side note, I was first introduced to veganism in 2000 (the term 'vegan' that is) through hardcore music, and the kids i saw play in bands that were vegan were so unapproachable and dogmatic about it that i had no interest in talking to them for fear of being beaten up. I wanted to learn about their beliefs, ask questions about their lyrics, but i saw SO MANY fights at shows, and so many "not in my neighborhood motherf-er" mentalities that i didn't feel safe about it. In short, you can be militant, just be approachable about it. Nobody goes vegan because they're afraid of getting their head kicked in. Besides, I think a lot of those kids sold out anyway. Go figure.
as a straight edge artist how do you feel about other artists who draw their inspiration from drug and alcohol use?

ugh. such a bummer. I'm not gonna cram any choice of mine down anyone's throat, but I do think that it's silly to rely on something else to aid you in creating something that's SUPPOSED TO BE a reflection of yourself. Getting high and drawing is like allowing pot to draw for you. You might as well call some random dude in the phone book and ask them to paint something for you.
how has sobriety affected your life and your art?

Actually, it's rarely affected my art, save the fact that it's kept me on the path of hardcore bands, diy ethics, etc. It's kind of another anchor to the scene. As far as my life, I just can't imagine doing things differently - i've never desired to drink or do drugs or anything like that, and frankly i don't know why anyone does. Again, it's probably my mathematical side coming out, but it simply doesn't make any sense. If i'm bummed on life (haha yeah right) i'll paint something, or go out and skate, or bike someplace. These are all outward actions - you're getting something OUT of you. Drinking or shooting up or whatever is an inward action, and you internalize whatever problem you had, and end up with more issues later. I just wanted a functioning brain, and to be accountable to only myself.

you've done a lot of work to benefit animal rights groups and prisoners, do you feel it's important to share your talents to help others in the struggle for animal liberation?

In every essay on Animal Liberation or, well, really any political or social struggle at all, there's a talk of having 'different degrees of help' - the need of the entire system of help, like, people to write >letters, people to leaflet, people to book shows, people to PLAY shows, people to do literally everything - and I somehow fit into the 'helping with art' thing really well. I believe human beings as being very visual people, almost before they're logical - the same reason that hearing that animals suffer is one thing, but then SEEING it is a whole other thing. There's a reason Earthlings isn't a book. Anyway, i hope to use my ability to make art that conveys a message to further other people's involvement with wanting to help a situation; in this case, animal liberation. The groups that i get to help out are so important, and i feel unbelievably lucky to be helping such meaningful endeavors. Honestly, it never gets old.
have you ever turned down an offer from a band or organization for artwork because of their messages or affiliations? do you think it's important to make the lines clear on what you do and don't support with your art?

I turned down a couple tattoo designs, and maybe two bands because of a difference of politics. Mostly it came down to having a band that had lyrics that i disagreed with (almost always dealing with women, and creating a negative 'it's cool to womanize since i'm in a band' thing) - so yeah, i have to maintain what i agree with and therefore support, and then i also have to turn down bands i don't agree with. I told both bands as well as some kids that wanted tattoos that i wouldn't help them because of these things, because i disagreed and didn't feel comfortable lending my name to that. It gets hard to draw the lines, though, because i've heard stories of totally awful people getting tattoos of things i've drawn without ever asking or tell me, so some d-bag in virginia might be eating a hamburger at Wendy's, drinking beer, hitting his dog, and then abusing his girlfriend, all the while he's got a tattoo i drew on his arm, maybe even wearing a shirt i did a design for. Dang. I don't support his lifestyle at all, and yet, there i am, appearing all over him. One of those funny problems we run into in the 21st century...ha.
what book(s) are you currently reading?

I've been reading a book called "Rule of Secrecy" by Jim Marrs - it's about the history of the freemasons, the pyramids, things like that...I'm also reading "Sailing Alone Around the World" - i'm way into books about crazy sailing stuff. "Kon-tiki" is one of my favorite - dude builds a raft from wood and goes out for over a hundred days on the ocean. Insane. Additionally i wind up reading random zines a lot, mostly because i work at a zine shop -'Big Hands' is a definite favorite. Next up on my list is "Alien Agenda" as well as this book on speciesism i got with a gift card i won at a raffle...
any new bands or artists you recommend people should check out?

Hmmm...i'm awful about new bands, i always miss the boat on stuff like that. Though the new 'Get Rad' LP is freaking amazing - anything that To Live a Lie records puts out...Basically super fast powerviolence, and old mid 90's pop punk. Artists though - that's a tough one, since i don't really keep up with current art too much, but Drew Speziale is always an inspiration, Nate Powell draws SO well it's insane, Micahel Porten is an old friend from SCAD who can paint better that i know how to handle. Drives me crazy. I respect technical ability a lot.
any last words?

Get outside and do something fun. And when summer hits, i strongly suggest riding your bike for 60 - 100 miles in some direction away from where you live, camp there, and then wake up the next day and do whatever you want. More adventure, less normal crap! Thanks mike! You rule!

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