TSOTA x TRS Studio Visits: Matthew Nightingale
TSOTA x TRS Studio Visits is a collaboration between The State of the Arts and The Royal Standard. TRS is an artist-led gallery, studio, and social workspace in Liverpool, working with over 40 artists. Every month we will be presenting interviews and studio visits with artists working in the space and chatting to them about their practice, inspirations and what art means to them. This month, we talked to performance painter and artist, Matthew Nightingale.
Helayna: Hiya, lovely to meet you! I guess I’ll just start with, who are you as an artist? Tell me about what you do.
Matthew: That’s a good question. So, I guess in a nutshell I create performance paintings. I put on short performances whilst creating paintings, which means I have two disciplines almost. They are performances with a very dark sense of humour to it. While I was doing my Masters, I found how I was painting was more interesting than the outcome. So, that made me like think about my approach to my practice and then what I was painting.
At the time I was researching torture methods because I found it fascinating what someone can do to someone. Like how can people do those things? Obviously, there’s no justification in it at all, but it caused me to think about how I could use some of the techniques to make a piece of art. I didn’t want to make the piece of art sad and that’s not to discredit people who have been through torture, but rather trying to shine a different light on it. If people can do these things to other people, if I do these things to myself what can I produce?
Helayna: Tell me a little more detail about some of the performances you did. I saw on your Instagram 3D painting stuff, which looked like it was made out of expanding foam, was that part of one of the performances?
Matthew: Yeah, so that’s stemmed from my final performance for my Masters – I was drowning myself whilst painting people. I’d like take my last breath of air to and then draw someone’s face. I was pushing myself as much as I could before I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t do any practicing of breathing underwater or anything, so it was just the relationship between the viewer and me… yeah, it’s quite intense. They were literally just staring at me whilst I was trying to draw the face, but also being under water. I used the foam to measure my breath. I set the expanding foam off as my head goes into the water, then take the balloon out, put it on the stage, put the Perspex sheet in the expanding foam and then it just sort of did its thing, creating individual sculptures. So, each section of breath had a sculpture.
Another I did involved creating a kind of torture box (click here to watch), which was too narrow to sit in but too small to stand in, so I had to crouch and couldn’t see out of it. I only did 3 performances, around 20 minutes between them, where, with a crayon, I drew the sounds from the audience outside hitting the box. It was quite fun to be in the box trying to jump around, finding the crayons on the floor to mark up these noises on the wall.
It was interesting to see how people had gone from seeing the box, not knowing that I was in the box and then seeing other people hit the box and then do it themselves, then hitting it harder and harder. It became a herd mentality.
Most of my works have just been short clips where I’ve been getting loads of wine glasses, filling them up with ink and then pulling the sheet from underneath them. I own a cafe at the moment in Liverpool called ‘Land’, so I’ve been influenced from that.
Helayna: So, it seems like your practice is definitely more process based, but do you see any recurring themes within the work you’re creating?
Matthew: Themes-wise I guess having a physical restriction on myself underlines everything that I do. I’ve done performances in handcuffs and then tried to make paintings. In another I listened to white noise for 10 hours a day and did it for like 2 weeks and didn’t talk to anyone. I also did a performance not too long ago where I set a smoke grenade off in a tent and the idea was to paint smoke. So, I went in without having a face mask, just covering my face with a T shirt and stayed for as long as I possibly could before jumping out because I couldn’t breathe anymore. It was a really nice picture, but the process was horrible. I was coughing up green for weeks after, so if I did it again, I’d probably have to wear some sort of face covering.
We’re living in a world now where people have got an attention span of 3 minutes so if something doesn’t grasp you straight away you’ll go on to the next thing. All my performances are quite short for that reason. I suppose that’s the theme: short, comedic, and restrictive.
Helayna: Have you found through your performance or just painting in general any preferred mediums? Or is it a case of figuring out how you want to like, achieve the work and then go from there?
Matthew: If I’m making something, the medium has to suit. As an example, I wanted to throw ink out of a wine glass and I was thinking about perhaps making some watery paint, but then I had some Indian ink lying about and hadn’t painted with ink before, so I decided to use it.
I like working like that because if I had all the money in the world for materials, I wouldn’t perhaps push the limits and experiment with what I can do with what I have and make something really beautiful from that.
Helayna: What would you say your current or biggest influences are?
Matthew: A lot of things that I see in the news influences what I make. My everyday thoughts and feelings about things and artists like Jon Pilkington, I look at his stuff quite a lot. Wood and Harrison are performance artists who create really funny works, a Graffiti artist called Sick Boy, I really like his work.
Helayna: Have you got anything in the works and how can people keep up to date with what you’re up to?
Matthew: I’ve got my Instagram, which is where you can see what I’m getting up to. At the moment I’m currently doing little short performances, hopefully doing a performance piece with one of my mates who’s at Royal Standard as well. There are a few ideas I am looking into, but overall, just moving my painting in a more playful direction.
Helayna: Yeah, there’s something really powerful about laughter within art and considering the serious themes you explore within your performances it’s a nice respite. Thank you for letting me interview you today, it’s been lovely talking about your work!