Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Matt Mahurin - Searching For Truth In The Darkness

                                                        Kurt Cobain - Matt Mahurin

You know the images.  They've served as social commentary stunning the covers of TIME, Newsweek,  Esquire, Rolling Stone, and too many others to mention.  You've also seen the videos created for such iconic artists as U2, R.E.M., Iggy Pop, Metallica, The Ramones and Tom Waits - the list goes on.  But if you happened to be a fellow artist living in Los Angeles in the late 80's and 90's, seeking inspiration beyond the safe and predictable, the name Matt Mahurin evoked a combination of admiration and consternation - a formidable figure in the LA art scene. Unarguably, if you knew his name…you were hip, and when he exhibited, you were there. 

Matt Mahurin

                                                             Tom Waits - by Matt Mahurin

He was the one who landed the cover of TIME Magazine at the age of 23; but if you thought you could imitate him with the dodging and burned-edged photo manipulation, you could bet he was already putting the finishing touches on something so innovative, that by the time you sussed out the formula, he was striking out in newer and more unfathomable directions. 

                                                    U2 - Love is Blindness - Matt Mahurin

                                                            Arles, France - Matt Mahurin

                                                             Lou Reed - Matt Mahurin

                                        Tom Waits - Hell Broke Luce - Matt Mahurin

Matt Mahurin is no stranger to controversy, and his disquieting imagery was rarely as blatantly demonstrated as in his infamous TIME magazine mug shot photo manipulation of O.J. Simpson.   

                                          TIME Cover - O.J. Simpson - Matt Mahurin

                                                         Marilyn Manson - Matt Mahurin

Most of my readers are well familiar with his work; it's surrealistic and provocative, and yes, it's dark; but the imagery is there to remind us that dreams and nightmares often share the same shapes, and how they are interpreted sometimes reveals more about the viewer than the originator. 

                                                   Carnivale - Painting -Matt Mahurin

Now based in New York City, this California-born artist, illustrator and film director's works are included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  He is also the illustrator of three children's books, My Beautiful Child, Grumbles From The Forest, and Once Upon A Cloud.

If I was asked to describe Matt Mahurin, multifaceted would be my reply, but socially conscious would be what I'm thinking.  Several months ago he illustrated his second US postage stamp for Alzheimer's Awareness.  As a documentary photographer, Matt has brought worldwide attention to the problems of homelessness, the AIDS epidemic and man's inhumanity to man within the US prison system. 

                                                           Texas Prison - Matt Mahurin

                                     Alzheimer's Awareness Stamp  - Matt Mahurin

In 2015, he was commissioned by the UK band Muse, to create the cover and video for their 7th album, 'Drones;' and he is perhaps more in demand now than ever before, which accounts for the year-long 'jump cuts' the proceeding interview has taken us to hammer out!  Ironically, however, that somehow seems appropriate. 

                                                         Muse - DRONES - Matt Mahurin

Above all, Matt Mahurin is an artist with a keen awareness that the lines between the creation of art and its reflection of the society in which we live should never be blurred, if they are to withstand the test of time.  To provoke, as a creative, is to inspire one to not only recognise the beautiful, but to embrace the darkness that exists within each of us.  

For over three decades, this is exactly what he's been doing, and it is this fearless approach and fluency within a realm of materials, from the purity of paint and palette to the masterful skill of digital media, that has encouraged others to create beyond the boundaries of acceptable limits, and allowed him to seamlessly evolve throughout the decades, whilst solidifying his rank amongst the very best of his peers.

                                                           Photo Credit - New York Times

GH:  The first time I heard the name Matt Mahurin was back in the late 80’s in reference to the video you did for REM’s “Orange Crush” – which according to Michael Stipe, was not about the soft drink, heroin or acid tabs, but rather  “…about  the Vietnam War and the impact on soldiers returning to a country that wrongly blamed them for the war.”  I’ve never forgotten the haunting images in that video.  Can you tell me more about the narrative running through it, particularly the juxtaposition of the solider and the little boy?

MM:  It’s not my thing to explain what a piece means – although I can say that my intention in every creative endeavor is to put as much of myself into it as possible. Whether I’m collaborating with brilliant artists like REM, U2, or Tom Waits to name a few, I believe I am chosen to contribute my ideas and emotions to present a visual exploration of these amazing musical talents.
Over the years, I have done countless projects on the horrors of war and simply feel fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to express my feelings and opinions in a format that has a global reach.
GH:  I consider you an artist with a social conscience.  You’ve illustrated and worked as a photo essayist concerning such heady topics as homelessness, the AIDS epidemic and man’s general inhumanity to man – I am referring to your work with Time and Newsweek, etc.  Can you tell me how you made the transformation from creating within the purview of a solitary illustrator to working in the highly social realm of directing music videos?
MM:  Whatever technical skills or creative styles I possess, I have always believed the message of the image is most important, and most lasting. Whether it’s standing alone in my studio or surrounded by a rock stars and a killer crew on a sound stage, I will use every format to express my opinions. It is both an honor and a thrill to be given the resources and respect to offer my point of view on so many important issues and concerns of my time.
GH:  In 1993, you did a video made especially for the AIDS/HIV benefit.  It was for one of my favourite 90’s bands, Urge Overkill, and the song was “Take A Walk.” It’s really a beautiful reflection of the song - from the psychedelic images meshing with the sitar to the pills being automatically swallowed to the lyrics, "I don’t pray anymore – I don’t love anymore."  As a video director, how do you work with metaphor and deciding when to stay true to lyrical content and when to stray to more personal or even surrealistic interpretation?
                                   Take A Walk - Urge Overkill - Matt Mahurin
MM:  Like any successful endeavor in life it is always about a healthy balance. When I shot the AIDS piece, I simply immersed myself in a new world, in this case, an AIDS hospice, and then went about the journey of capturing and responding to those moments and gestures that I believe would most honestly and deeply convey my intention. For this piece the challenge was to balance the tragedy of AIDS with the humanity of those who devote themselves to bring comfort to those who suffer. I do my best with every project to fuse the truth of my subject’s world with the intuition of my mind’s eye.
                                                 AIDS Hospice - Matt Mahurin
GH:  As an artist who naturally gravitates towards the darker side of things, I find your work comforting, however many consider it tenebrous if not a little disturbing at times.  Someone pointed out to me in reference to the male shadows in my paintings that Jung considered the shadow an unconscious aspect of the personality.  You also have a reputation for frequently using your own image in your creations.  This seems highly personal to me – affirming a tangible connection to your work.  Are your videos entirely  tailored to your clients or will there always be the aspect of subjective artistic integrity embedded within them?
MM:  Using myself in the work is often more a result of efficiency as I often have to work under tight deadlines—and there is no time to find a model. It is also an issue of control as I don’t have to worry about conveying my needs to another’s interpretation.
My videos must of course suit the needs of my clients, but I would only do this work if I felt I had great freedom and opportunity to express my personal point of view and creative vision.
When creating the videos I believe that the artist has given me their song as a soundtrack to my little movie. Because of the powerful artists I work with, I must present a strong vision to avoid the risk of my visuals being overwhelmed by the intensity and quality of their music. Although I will sometimes be very focused on a specific storyline, I often choose a more open-ended approach to the narrative; allowing the viewer to interpret the images with a more personal and poetic response.
GH:  I’ve watched your work evolve throughout the years from illustration to music video to film.  As well, your photographic prints now reside within the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  No matter what medium or modality, there is an unmistakable ‘look’ to any Matt Mahurin creation, and you appear to be someone who knew from the beginning what visual image he wanted to project to the world.  What is your advice to young artists regarding belief in one’s own vision; or is flexibility a more important asset and definitive ‘style’ something that must be earned?
MM:  I deeply believe that whether it’s a camera, paintbrush or computer, these are simply different tools in the same hand. Whatever accomplishments I have achieved is as much a product of my failures (of which there have been countless) as it is of my successes.
What I believe is most important to true success is to be true to one’s beliefs and desires—and to not be afraid to take risks and speak up. I also believe being a solid professional is the foundation to creative freedom—to handle the challenges of the real world demands while still preserving the freedom to create with abandon and conviction.

And finally, to love what you do, trust yourself, and believe that what you have to offer as a creative being is not only unique and worthy, but has the power to truly enhance the lives of others.

GH:  Lastly, I was really excited to see your cover design for the Muse album Drones.  Much like the social commentary in Orange Crush, Muse’s 2015 concept album concerns the dehumanization of modern warfare.  How did the project with Muse come about and what was it like working with the band?
MM:  I was being considered to direct a video, but I brought all my social/political illustrations to the meeting because of the band’s commentary on abuse of power, social injustice, and authoritarianism.
The band were in synch with my point of view and the project just kept growing to include more images on crucial issues.
Because of the global reach of Muse’s fans, it was exciting to be able to connect with an entire new generation of young people with images with a message.
GH: Thanks, Matt.  Looking forward to the next three decades!
                                                  Paul Westerberg - Runaway Wind -Matt Mahurin
"That’s the scary part...  
I didn't know if I should smile, 
crack up, 
or run..." 
- The Wizard of Oz
                                                                The Wizard of Oz - (1939)