A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

A Conversation with Matthew Anthony Stokes (Exhibiting Artist at Demossa Gallery)

October 20, 2013
I had the opportunity to sit with Matthew Anthony Stokes, our exhibiting artist at Demossa Gallery, for a Q&A about his work. Here are some highlights from that session.

matthew-anthony-stokes1. You are an architect as well as a painter… Does architecture help your art work or vice versa?

Well, I need to work for four days in the week to pay for the long weekends when I can freely paint… Architectural and drafting work involves a great deal of cerebral focus and extreme concentration – this may also have provoked me with my more wild and free energies when I get to make art… Perhaps each enterprise helps the other – and pushes it out to its further extremes… As I get to fifty years old – I now believe I am developing a skill for both.

2. Painting is not the only form of art that you use to express yourself. In fact – theater, film, sculpture and poetry are all fields that you’ve worked in – is that so?

Yes, it is. But I am still not known in any of the arts. I haven’t been fully prepared… I have made little mark on the world as yet… But I still might – before I am completely too much of an elder – leave something worthwhile to brighten the odd day here and there for the right minded. I sure hope so. I have always been far too reserved to push myself properly you see. Or too lazy or stupid, perhaps… I have also had dreadfully bad luck with ridiculous dealers in art who have let me down.

3. How does each of these art forms relate to the others for you – and what is your exchange between each form of art?

My approach to any art is purely instinctive … I mean I am not too intellectual about any of it with the exception of poetry – and even there I try not to be clever or demonstrative … Art – any art – is the only place to which I can run to get far enough away from work and the dreadful world of dull people… It is escape. I seem to be able to switch between the different arts without thinking about it… I was taught to give things a go – sports, too – and any manner of hobbies and diversions… So, I always enjoyed dabbling… Terrible habit perhaps – but in the arts, especially, I will always be one of life’s habitual dabblers… It’s just a joy to have the chance to try my hand in different ways (including writing music when the opportunity arises and I find myself near a piano). I suppose I toy with them all – but I’m not accomplished in any.

Actually, I don’t believe the last sentence at all! I’m just being too English. I am ‘serious’ about art – and I’m a good painter in my way because I am familiar with the making of music and rhyme – and dance – and drama – and architecture – and this all comes through.  It comes through without consideration though – that is the way I deal with it. I never consider any of this.

Of course, poetry for example is much more taxing and precarious for me because I am after the impossible with it… I aim for unattainable heights – then fall… Yet, I cannot seem to stop now…Every man from my time, position and place has tried to write verse – it’s just they don’t admit it!! …I love trying things out – but the failing does hurt… Theatre and film were also certainly more difficult because of working with other people – same goes for architecture… But painting, music and composing poetry I get to do alone – and that is why I enjoy them so much… They suit my solitary nature best.

4. So, which is the art form that comes first for you? Which is the art that you would put first beside your name?

I have drawn and painted since before I could talk, I suppose… Well, we all paint as children… Like many others I just never stopped… I have painted in one way or another all my life. I suppose since the age of about nineteen when I realized I was going to become an artist I became quite ‘serious’ about the work in hand. But, actually, as must be clear by now, I don’t like to think of my painting as ‘work’ too much. For me it is best seen like a realm of child-like play and escapism. But this attitude is informed by the sort of paintings that I like. These things are deeply personal. I have never had the remotest interest in working like a ‘Master’ painter… Nor have I ever had the slightest desire to have an Old European Master on my dream wall… But, then again, my dream wall is one in an old shed or barn – a hangar with a tin mug of tea… Rain on the tin roof – a hut with a view – hidden, perhaps, in a copse of trees – in the grounds of the sort of great house where the grown-ups (who may be reading this) do hang their beautiful Gainsboroughs…  A different tribe to me… Look, I love the great masters – all my life and as much as anyone – but their work is not my choice for my happy, crappy old barn – which I believe much more beautiful than any of their pretentious palaces… You see? That’s all there is to it… I like ‘play’ – and I like things that result from play. I suppose I am a heathen or something…! I like folk art – things that are uplifting to me… things that are genuine and free and uniquely expressive. Auden said “All a poem must do – and with all its voice – is to rejoice”. I believe my painting is like that. It must stand up in praise of Nature. I see too many men and not enough trees you see… I’m so sick of the sight of bloody cars – especially “nice” ones (which are even uglier).

5. Have you had poetry published?

I have never sought to be published, no… Not yet… I did receive a prize when I was thirteen from a national newspaper and they published my first and last poem then!

6. Why not?

I seem to have been writing far away from the limelight… Never felt I was quite there… Never quite ready … I am not one for self-promotion, you see. I was brought up to think that sort of thing is not, ‘conduct befitting’ unless one has written something very, very well… And then it is even worse… Which, when I look around me now is of course (since old England is long gone) ridiculous of me! …Shame, though. …All we now get to hear are the loud, shrill voices of the most vocal but least talented drowning out the few original nightingales we have left. Who are these dreadful tv people?!  Now as I approach 50 – I shall probably try to publish my first book proper. Some may enjoy it after all.

7. How and when did you work in theater?

I had a dream childhood – old fashioned, ‘semi-rural’ really – and was sent to excellent schools… So, at prep school in Kent (in England) I enjoyed the theatre productions we’d all take part in… There was, ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ – and several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas… ‘Oliver’… When I was in my early twenties I went to Paris and, after some years studying Drama and working in a theatre company (as an actor – but also aiding the director with the costume and stage designs), five of us split away and formed our own theatre company called MAQUETTE. That was in 1989. I was designer/director but soon forged a great working relationship with Dirk Hendrikx – he is still like the brother I never had – and together we instinctively took over the focus of what MAQUETTE would be about… We each liked the idea of acting primarily so we could get to dress up in amazing costumes… We loved Tadeusz Kantor and Beckett and Joseph Beuys… Native Americans (who seemed to walk in art, live in art and for art…)… Tribal Arts, Primitive Art, Ancient Art.

So, think Picasso mixed with Cocteau mixed with Rauschenberg – with a fair bit of Joseph Beuys, Kantor, Dada – and Punk – and that was kind of the area we had rolling around our minds I guess… Yet we were totally unique back then … Film was our purpose – the stars of the films were to be heavily stylized costumes and sets – costumes of a sculptural kind – sculptures made for movement – time based – choreographed sequences were worked upon and experimented with… We wanted to make these sculptures dance on film… But, we wanted them to remain costumes for the ‘Moon Man Poet’: completely human – but interstellar… farroutist… bizarre… alien… Dali… beautiful…

We moved our group into a barn in rural Kent for a few years – performed a piece for our neighboring mechanics – or on a beach for the crows and gulls! We performed to the folks of the local village, too, of course… We then moved lock-stock to Brussels for the remaining six years of our crack at it… We lived MAQUETTE every moment of our days… We got a few gigs in smaller theatres in Holland, Belgium and France… But we were into Outsider Art – and we were simply purebred for that role… We gravitated increasingly to the plastic arts and film – so, for example, we ended up at the MOMA Ghent (SMAK) with a beautiful show in 1997…We then made a really fine show at a wonderful provincial art museum in Kortriek in Belgium before we packed it all in… We split up at a time when the hard won opportunities seemed to coming our way… We had amazing level of interest just then…! But, anyway, we broke apart… we were flat broke…It was time. I got married and moved back to London – and so went into ‘adult life’ (sulkily) as an architect.

One day we’ll try to bring MAQUETTE back, Dirk and I. I hope so. …Somehow… We need to get a museum show again – this time in New York or here in LA.

8. Did MAQUETTE make theatre performances as well as films?

The intention of the company in 1989 was to make little films based around a couple of films scripts that I’d made in Paris… If nothing else these served – along with poeticisms I’d scrawl at the time – for some kind of spring board for us to get busy with… When we couldn’t afford even Super 8mm stock we’d use still cameras instead (Dirk’s girlfriend had a darkroom in Belgium and he’d go over on the ferry to develop those pictures) – and these photographs are among the best things we made. We then made about a dozen 16mm that were any good… All I cared about was film and photographic drama… The various theatre productions seemed to happen and made sense in hindsight in that they got others involved and this helped us… We got some nice fans… But, I had zero interest in the theatre work – if I’m honest. It was for the camera and for the art world that I made those things. All those sculptures – those costumes – were made by Dirk and me equally – and they are the stars that may come out again one day.

I remember dreaming of having the chance in my future to paint alone – somewhere sunny! …Viva California.

Tags: , , , ,

Posted in Art Reviews, Demossa Gallery, Exhibitions & Events, Miscellaneous, Reviews |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box