Drawing from his international roots, 2014 Stencil Art Prize Finalist, Mathew Curran, has developed a unique and personal style, which transcends a half dozen different mediums. Over the past decade, he has drawn from street life and hip-hop culture to focus primarily on stencil work.
Curran was born in Northamptonshire, England in 1979, and came to the United States as a teenager. His early years were influenced by American teen skateboarding culture, with its random and unchecked energy and raw sense of possibility. After studying fine art and graphic design at UNC Greensboro, Curran began to perfect techniques in wood, spray paint and ink. He also began experimenting with new subjects, including distorted figures and industrial objects, all the while retaining the urban street-art energy and style.
It was through his stencil art that Curran felt he was best able to capture the virility and stamina of street life, and he devoted his post college years to developing a style based on forceful lines and subtle uses of background color. By combining personal experience with his techniques, Curran has become able to duplicate the street-life intensity level, regardless of subject. His work has been displayed in galleries from his native England to Tokyo.
How did you get into making stencil art?
I had an interest in graffiti and participated in some through high school and college. Through graffiti I had learned about stencil making, a quick way to execute work on the street. Around the same time I was starting college at UNCG and studying in the fine art program. I was taking Lithography, etching, graphic design & photography. All of these courses combined was a great learning experience for me, and all worked so well together. Each course helped me learn something about the other. I was able to combine all of this experience into what I loved most.. stencil art.
How would you describe your style of art?
The black images I draw come from my days involved in graffiti tagging, the sharp black inky tag lines. I like to take this style of line work and build imagery from them in the form of stencils.
I paint mostly every day. I spend more time cutting that I do painting, but I really do love both. Watching the paint go through a cut stencil is very rewarding for me.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
I want to create things from what I find to be beautiful in my surroundings. I want to make dull places more energetic and for people to create their own stories about my work and interact with it on the streets.
My influence is from the friends that surround me. Watching and learning different techniques in graffiti, stencil work & printmaking. When I was younger, I was always in the library reading books like “Getting Up” by Craig Castleman and being fascinated by Joan Miro’s artworks.
Describe your stencil making process – how does an idea move from being an idea into a finished artwork?
The process begins with an ink drawing. I use india ink and a paint brush to create the image, photograph the drawing, scale it using the computer, then print it onto a 300lb paper. Once the image is printed I can cut out all of the negative space away from the drawing. Then there is registration… lining up different layers of the stencil to compose an image/print. Once I have cut the image away from a sheet of paper, a hole is left in that sheet. I can use this hole to paint a base layer of the print, then add the color and image on top of this with the second layer.
What sort of techniques do you use to create a stencil?
I use a 2 layer, black and white stencil technique. I paint the black first, the silhouette of the image. Then I paint the white, which creates the dimension and defines the image.
What are your goals and ambitions?
I like to bring nature back into the urban setting. Bringing it back into decaying areas of the city as well as peoples homes. It’s my way of fighting urban sprawl.
What is the hardest part about being an artist?
Self discipline has been the hardest. Keeping myself going through the thick and thin of my career.
What’s the best thing about being an artist?
The creative freedom and creating my own schedule. Making something out of nothing.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’d like to be able to continue to do what I love, continue to learn and to share with others.
What would be one piece of advice that you would give you young artists starting to explore the stencil medium?
Always use the sharpest blade possible.
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