Inside Matthew Revert is a perpetual motion creativity generator. He is the go-to cover designer for several indie presses and has created over 600 book covers in that capacity. He’s also an author in his own right with a three-title reprint coming soon from 11:11 Press. But today we’re going to talk about his artwork, which usually takes the form of collage in one way or another.
AMY VAUGHN: Hi Matthew, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s jump in. Your book of artwork, Try Not to Think Bad Thoughts, came out in September 2019 from CLASH Books. It has a very distinctive style—pastel yellow, pink, and blue watercolor on paper collages. Was that something you did just for that collection? Are you still working in the same media?
MATTHEW REVERT: Hi, Amy! Lovely to talk to you. Given the visual art I’ve been sharing with the world lately, the work in Try Not to Think Bad Thoughts must come across as slightly incongruous. There’s actually a method to this stylistic change and it comes down to COVID. The work in my CLASH release was completely indicative of my style at that point. My desire was to make cheap and dirty collages using cheap and dirty materials. When COVID introduced itself to our world at the beginning of 2020, it became apparent it was going to have a profound impact like nothing I had ever lived through before. I made a decision to create a new piece of visual art each day as a diaristic exercise. The art didn’t have to be about COVID, but it would act as a visual reminder of who I was and how I felt during that time. It felt logical to demarcate this with a change in style. With the paranoia surrounding physical contact that a pandemic tends to bring out in people, it made sense to make my art digital—almost as a statement about ‘touching’ by removing the tactile nature of my previous work. The intention was to continue making art like this for the duration of the pandemic. This pandemic just keeps on going, as does my pandemic style. When this finally ends, I’m not sure what direction I’ll take. The work I’ve been doing appears to have resonated with far more people than I could have expected (to the point where I have become intimidated by my follower count on Instagram). This is all to say that the style in my CLASH book is completely indicative of my style. The moment just called for a different style. Who knows when this moment will end?
AV: You’ve said you like to use the least expensive art supplies available. I love this. Can you talk about why it’s important to you?
MR: Although I touched upon it in my previous answer, I think it’s worth expanding on this because it’s an ideology that permeates most of what I create. I have always been deeply uncomfortable by the tendency to venerate one’s artistic tools to the point where it begins to overshadow the reason the tools are being used in the first place. I remember a time where I felt intimidated by the thought of making art, be it visual, music or film. The cost associated with the tools felt like such a barrier. A real turning point for me was recording my first LP for Kye Records called Not You. I used to be heavily invested in making music, but I never liked what I made. It didn’t feel like me – rather I was poorly mimicking others and I felt I had no musical language to speak in. After this, I turned away from music and focused on writing, which led to a number of books that were better received than I could have expected. For a number of years, I forgot about any desire to make music and I just wrote. Eventually I hit a brick wall with my writing, which led to frustration. I remember plugging in an old TASCAM 4-track my sister gave me for Christmas when I was a teenager. I found a 5-minute cassette tape and just started doing ‘things’ into a microphone. It was primitive nonsense, but I loved it. Within that primitive nonsense, I saw more of myself than anything I could have made with the ‘right’ tools. So I recorded a lot of this stuff. Just for me. 5-minute single-take oddities. At the time, I had been doing design work for Graham Lambkin’s Kye label and we were talking about this stuff I had been recording. Eventually he suggested releasing an LP. And that was that. It was so liberating.
I took this mindset into my approach to visual art and decided to ignore all the right tools. No canvases. No good quality paint or brushes. I started making collages with inkjet print outs from my computer and Crayola watercolors. Once again, I felt liberated. I was making visual art every day for the first time in many many years. Eventually Leza Cantoral from CLASH Books said, “Let’s do an art book.” A year of daily art later and Try Not to Think Bad Thoughts was made.
AV: Assuming you don’t have a time machine, how do you balance time spent on your own art with time spent on commissioned work?
MR: The short answer is not very well. I make my commissioned graphic design work my priority because people are parting with their money in order to have me do it. I view it as a very serious responsibility and hate the thought of letting people down when they’ve invested in me. This is one of the reasons I haven’t released a book in so long. I make it a point now of spending each evening making things purely for me and that has been a nice discipline to adopt. I’ve made a shift in mindset where I am someone else who has invested in me and I don’t want to let me down. There is still a far greater balance for me to find, but I am getting there ever so slowly. The COVID lockdown has been quite helpful in that way.
AV: You recently taught a graphic design class for LitReactor. Do you teach often? Do you enjoy it?
MR: This is the second time I have taught this course for LitReactor. The credit goes to Joshua Chaplinsky, who contacted me one day and suggested LitReactor try a graphic design class. It was all a bit of an experiment because graphic design is not a focus of LitReactor. A few brave souls signed up for the class and I went for it. While I do enjoy it, I feel like a complete and utter fraud purporting to teach anyone anything. I have no qualifications in graphic design and it’s weird to even come to terms with the fact I’m a graphic designer at times. I love graphic design. I just worry that all I’m teaching are the mistakes I’ve made along the way as I’ve fumbled through it.
AV: What inspires you? What do you hope to achieve with your art?
MR: I find it difficult to approach questions like this because I always try to answer in a pragmatic way, and I find myself drawn to grandiosity when I think about inspiration. I feel the idea of inspiration is given far too much credit. Sure . . . we are often compelled to do what we do based upon what has moved us, but I want to place the lion’s share of credit on the act of doing rather than what inspires that doing. All I have wanted to do for as long as my memory stretches back is create things. This has never changed. What has changed is the discipline surrounding the act of creating art. Most of us will spend our lives immured in real world shit that exhausts and/or stresses us. It doesn’t matter how much inspiration exists in these real-world moments unless you feel all of that exhaustion and stress and create art anyway. It’s about what you do when every part of you is screaming to collapse in front of the television or go drinking with friends or stay in bed a bit longer. It’s about working full time in a job you don’t like and taking those precious moments we have for ourselves and giving them to art. Inspiration means nothing unless you do something with it. I have no concrete idea about what I want to achieve with my art. Perhaps I should give more time to that thought. I’m naïve to an extent and have this feeling that if I keep putting my work out there, amazing opportunities will result.
AV: What’s next? Anything coming up you’d like to tell our readers about?
MR: There’s some wonderful things in the pipeline, but not a lot I can announce. One very exciting and very imminent thing I can announce is a new cassette tape, which is launching a new tape label called The Geryoneis founded by Joseph Bouthiette Jr. While I have had several tapes released in the past, I am particularly excited about this one because it will be my first official metal release. I have loved metal music for as long as I have loved music and it’s amazing it has taken so long for me to express this love so directly with my own music. It’s called Hail Obliteration and if you want to have a suffocating and oppressive time, I highly recommend giving it a go. You touched upon the biggest announcement in your introduction, which is the impending reissue of all my books via 11:11 Press. It means so much to me that the wonderful people at 11:11 wanted to bring my work back and I am doing everything I can to do them justice. The first of the reissues is due toward the end of 2021.
For more Matthew Revert, check out matthewrevert.com, follow him as Papercrisis on Instagram, or connect with him on Facebook. Hail Obliteration is available from The Geryoneis, Try Not to Think Bad Thoughts is available from CLASH Books, and reissues of A Million Version of Right and Stories, The Tumours Made Me Interesting, and How to Avoid Sex will all be available through 11:11 Press.
Amy M. Vaughn writes weird little books like Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel and Skull Nuggets. She’s also the editor of Dog Doors to Outer Space and a contributing editor at Babou 691.