“I like the idea of slipping between light and dark,” reflects Matt Robinson, flipping through his biro-scrawled sketchbook. “My work has a slightly violent undercurrent, dressed up in a nice, fancy pastel way. It has a playful flipside: at times soaring to dizzy heights, then crashing down into something extremely negative.”
Since being asked to copy a piece by Aubrey Beardsley in a GCSE art class, Matt has been hand-picking references and ideas from various artists’ work, sprinkling them over his own, and watching them sprout organically into something fresh and vibrant. His Fine Art BA helped to filter out the weaker ideas to leave something special: in his words, a “multi-referenced strange thing – a world within a world.” Monsterism meets landscapism, with a dash of Ren and Stimpy.
“Have you ever had a fever?” he begins, grasping at the nearest real-world experience to his trademark surrealism. “I had one in India. I got this strange feeling where I felt either massive or tiny and compact – almost a meditative space change within my own head. Sometimes it’s claustrophobic; sometimes you’re engulfed by too much space. But it’s always slightly warped – never a true angle of the narrative.”
This timeless struggle between real and unreal, dark and light, good and evil is integral to Matt’s work, where saccharine-sweet forest creatures and kitsch utopian ideals are often twisted and distorted to release grotesque, shadowy alter-egos. “I like the idea of something furry that you can go up and stroke, but if you get too close it’ll bite your head off,” he continues with a mischievous grin.
Recent sculptural experiments have involved hunting down the kind of ornamental tat normally reserved for grandma’s mantelpiece and fusing it together like a crazed vivisectionist. A row of pre-op critters fix us with chilling porcelain stares from a paint-spattered shelf, and I put it to Matt that they’re pretty sinister even before they reach his operating table. He smiles again. “Everything seems so perfect: a stream flows by as a couple stares into each others’ eyes. So I’m hacking them apart, reforming them into this horrible monster with a head growing out of its back.”
With the archetypal image of the wild-haired scientist screaming ‘what have I created?’ dancing in the forefront of my mind, I have to ask if after spilling the darker recesses of his imagination, Matt ever surprises or shocks himself. “The scared factor is buried in my unconscious,” he responds after a few seconds’ thought. “This brings it out, and I thrive on that – delving into the darkness, having a rummage around ‘til I find a gold nugget. There’s a certain amount of confrontation there. I’m going into this scary land that’s familiar: I’ve been scared there before, now I’m going back with knowledge.”
While molten polystyrene, expanding foam and plaster-filled condoms have all helped achieve the bizarre appeal of his 3D work, Matt still enjoys the challenge of attacking a blank canvas – although he’s yet to translate the nervous, stream-of-consciousness quality that gives his sketchbook scribbles such urgency. Turning to an acrylic piece on the wall, he highlights yet another tension of opposites: this time a bulbous growth swells through a crisp, angular architectural form: organic unpredictability tempered by man-made rigidity. “Here it looks like the fabric of the canvas has been pierced, and it’s pouring out,” he gestures. “It’s a fantasy world, a free play of ideas.”
© Nick Carson 2006. First published in Issue 4 of TEN4 magazine