On Friday May 26th 2017 we were thrilled to host Matthew Hodson alias Matthew The Horse for the exhibition ‘Forwards Always’. The launch was an absolute delight, with poetry readings by Matt and refreshments provided by Eyes Brewing.
The show was a response to the seasons through 12 screen-printed banners, each pulled and hand-stitched by Matt himself. There was also a self-published book to accompany the show.
Forwards Always is a collection of poems by which are to be read aloud. The book is a toy, a script, a game and a puzzle. These poems are activated through performance and play. How you choose to make sense of them is up to you and your audience. There is a good one about melons
We took some time out to catch up with Matt and ask him a few questions about both the show and the book and about his practice in general.
The work in the show is a response to the seasons through 12 images. How did you choose each image?
The pieces were designed consecutively, with the Lapwing being the first and the Tiny flower the last. Though they don’t each correspond to a specific month (because some months I was more prolific/ available than others), I can see a shift in their tone across the months. My main rule and the heart of the project really, is that each piece was made in response to something observed. I held a Ladybird, we saw Rainbows in the rain, I watched Lapwings looping up on the moors.
Tell us about the process of self-publishing and the relationship between you and Orlando (the book’s designer) in putting the book together.
I’ve been writing these poems for such a long time I felt that to really do them justice then I had to use Graphic Design properly in order to activate them fully. Beyond each individual poem, the underlying concept is that it’s a book about play and silliness and the performance of ideas. Orlando understood this from the offset and was able to present to me ways in which he could help create this functionality through type and layout. I think it’s worth saying that I’ve always liked talking to Orlando, he’s a funny man. We drank some white wine and ate some veggie hotdogs. I think we worked with a good balance of design focus and design japery.
Why did you choose to print on textiles? Tell us a bit about the process of working.
I spent some time on an artist’s retreat with Hannah Waldron, who is a fantastic textiles designer. We talked a bit about the materiality of fabric, its functionality and how it sits in the home. At the same time, I’d just moved house and was looking a lots of cold flat walls. These pieces were designed for interiors, there’s only so many Ikea frames I can handle. Soften your walls.
How did you manage a self-initiated project alongside your day job, how important is it to you to maintain your own practice?
Arrrrgh. Art is hard and it’s made harder by time. As well as these two projects I was also teaching three days a week, working on a children’s book and writing a dissertation. I think having to print on set dates kept my work ratio up. Self-discipline needs scheduling, I had to work lots of long nights to have all my positives ready for print as each week rolled by. This did force my hand on occasions and there are certainly some designs that I feel are rushed. But the print process needs to dictate results, it’s far better than the infinite loop of digital wizard hats.
The book is about observation, not just of things but of emotions and feelings. You are about to become a Father, do you think this framed your choices?
I’m not sure, I think all my relationships framed this project a little. I think the question I kept asking myself is what images would I like to live amongst and why? Nature was a focus, as was simplification, shape and colour. The emotional side of it is more nuanced, especially as these are still fairly representational images. There’s nothing conceptually radical about drawing snowdrops or the sun with a happy face. But I think my aim, always is to try to imbue more feeling through the line quality and it’s tone of voice. I hope the pieces feel optimistic and charming, that was always my intent. And perhaps occasionally, a little melancholy. Sadness can sometimes be a friend.
Tell us a bit about the importance of spoken word and performance in your work.
I know a lot of illustrators hate public speaking and performance, that’s why they’re illustrators. This is true and most who fall into this category are usually also far superior drafts people than I am! The main impetus for my work however, is connecting with people, sharing ideas and trying to spread some joy. This is also why I love to perform. It’s difficult, I’ve considered whether I should maybe take it more seriously, do some work on stage or theatre. I love the rush of performance and the immediacy of it. But I also like being on the fringe of not really knowing what I am, a poet, a show off, a writer, an artist…. I would certainly like to do more of it though.
Performance is crucial, it’s where my ideas come from. I’ve recognised that ideas only ever emerge from play, from a dialogue, from the game of interacting with someone or something. That’s why I try to talk nonsense with my pals, why I like to draw from imagination in my sketchbook and write stupid poetry to post online. I’m trying to write a poem about pudding at the moment.
You have created your own Universe; your style is unique and recognisable. What advice would you give anyone trying to create their own thing?
I don’t think it’s something you can rush. I do think it’s something that can only evolve from many, many hours of making. Do not ignore the tiny changes, each one is a new leaf on your tree. Hand writing is a good example, I’ve never let my writing stop evolving, there are many ways to write the letter R. Always keep pushing, speculating, do it, do it again, do it differently and reflect. I read recently that genuine style is the true manifestation of the self, when any artist has mastered a craft, they should be able to use that medium to channel themselves. I’m not sure I’m there yet but on the odd occasion I think I’ve smelled it.
Whenever we check in with your social media you seem to be out and about, yomping, planting veg, petting horses. How important is nature to you and your practice?
I’m not sure if anything else is real? Since I stopped drinking lots of booze and smoking cigs, nature seems to have over taken as a means of tempering the conflicting parts of my mind. The lizard brain and the internet brain. I’m not very fast but I love to run, especially now it’s warm and you can get into the woods. I love the woods. Ray Mears said that there is research to suggest that being in woods with native tree species lowers your blood pressure more than non-native species! We are woodland folk, land folk, dirty footed sapiens. I’m not sure what will happen next in my work but I suspect it will continue to be informed by my relationship to the soil, air and trees.
Your work makes us step back and reflect, consider our surroundings and our feelings. Is there any advice you would give to us for finding more time to do this?
I’m trying to be more radical in how I use the internet and specifically my phone. The paradox is that part of me wants to promote these ideas online. What a sausage. Though Google maps is useful and it’s great to take digital photos of our memories, I’m trying to just let things happen and then let them go. If I can do this then I can start to leave my phone at home more often and build the confidence that I don’t need to prove to everyone else that I’m having all these experiences and just have them. Let’s be selfish and self-assured. You are absolutely brilliant- everyone is saying that behind your back- so just forget about your mythology and get up that hill x
Finally. Which question would you like to be asked and what would be your answer to it?
Top 5 animals seen in the local woods whilst walking the dog?