Matt Craven

As a boy, Matt Craven developed a taste for escapism and magic. Cycling along the Humberside coast provided relief from his home town of Grimsby and the faded seaside glamour of nearby Cleethorpes, but since turning to art both these places have provided him with plenty of inspiration…

Aside from his environment, Craven’s rather unusual experiences since leaving school have also influenced his images. Following his GCSEs he worked as a professional magician and then, for the next nine years, he was a circus performer. While not the standard artistic career path, his portfolio reveals the kind of things that might well emerge after years of performing in, what he calls, “strange experimental character acts”.

For Craven, his raw and expressive work comes directly out of these experiences. “It’s all about creating work that exists in a universe that I know through and through,” he says. “University really opened my eyes to the place I left behind. Grimsby and the area around it offers me a wealth of visual information that I can place in my images. My imagination and ideas always begin there and I think my work is stronger for having this sense of origin.” In terms of visual stimuli Craven often looks to his collection of keepsakes, which includes old toys and strange nicknacks. Photographs that he took as a child on a Kodak 110 camera are also referenced when he’s constructing new imagery.

Much of Craven’s work is blackly comic. His illustrations also seem to have come from a place that relishes the bleaker side of life. “Some of the dark humour that exists in my work comes from the fact that while Cleethorpes is supposed to be a fun holiday destination, it’s actually quite run down,” he says. Similarly the idea of probing behind the mask comes up in relation to his time in the circus, too. He was, he says, a bit of a “sad clown” and it was as he began to experiment more with painting and drawing in his free time that he realised illustration was where he wanted to head next.

Craven’s aesthetic also comes from working largely in monoprint. Usually, a metal plate is used to create a one-off print, but his tools are more esoteric. He employs a grubby plastic ‘stop’ sign as his plate; a roller, or his hands and feet, to press the paper onto the ink. “The monoprint method allowed me, really for the first time, to make gutsy and raw images without a brush or a dip-pen,” he says. “This old technique has given me a refreshingly new approach to working. Sometimes I start with a rough drawing and place it directly on the ink.”

He also has another string to his bow, a talent for wielding the clay material, Sculpey, into weird and wonderful 3D pieces. A series of heads on plaques, Monsters, attempts to place elements from the Craven ‘universe’ in the real world. Next, he hopes to make reproductions of objects using pewter and a “bizarre homemade rotocasting machine”.

We look forward to the results.

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