Matt Small portrait

Matt Small

United Kingdom 1975

Urban Art, Painting

Matt Small
Matt Small
United Kingdom
March 21, 2016

If you look at any of Matt Small‘s amazingly colorful portraits, you’ll understand what means to combine abstract and realistic while getting the best of both realms. A British artist who became famous for his unique paintings of anonymous people made on discarded pieces of metal is reconciling order and chaos in his artworks. Underneath the image is structure and definition, and over the picture is the madness of chaos. A bit like life I suppose, says Small. While strolling the streets of London, Small chooses random people as his models and turns them into exquisite portraits, something like urban heroes.

Matt Small - Village Child, 2011
Matt Small – Village Child, 2011

Inspirational Randomness

Matt Small is a highly educated artist who decided to develop his own, unique style once he was done with his formal art education. Small is not only a brilliant artist nowadays  but he was also a great student.  He obtained the first class honors degree in illustration and afterward he earned his MFA at the Royal College of Art. He also won Villiers David Art Prize in 2001 and he was a BP Portrait Prize nominee in 2001. However, for Small, art is primarily a source of joy, a game he can play endlessly, like a child without  getting tired. He loves to splash the paint around and he doesn’t stick to any particular technique. He is always curious to see the results of mixing oil and water based colors and he uses a plenty of brushes and rollers.

The idea of randomness appeals to Small a lot.  The reason why he’s using found metal objects as the canvas for his painting is that they  offer him  a great level of unpredictability and hence the excitement. Some of the found objects he used in his work were combi-boiler covers, cabinets, rack shelving, road signs and discarded pieces of old cars. The same goes for choosing random people on streets – rather than having  a clear plan on whom to paint, Small takes photos of the random strangers (of course, with their permission) and later on makes sketches for his painting based on the photographs he took.

Matt Small - Sophia, 2015
Matt Small – Sophia, 2015

Fireworks of Colors

Art critiques compare Small’s work to Damien Hirst, who often has a motif of saturated color radiating from the center of the painting, even though Small’s paintings are more dramatics when it comes to colors. Even Small himself likes to talk about the artists he esteems and also mentions Marlene Dumas and Lucian Freud as his references.  Yet, what is really unique about Small’s work is the way he turns a raw urban decay and people who belong there into real artworks. He pays a lot of attention to people’s eyes and in the midst of his fireworks of colors, eyes are still clearly visible and seem to be on a separate plane, no matter how overpowering is the multitude of colors. Smalls knows that the eyes are the single most important detail on people’s faces and they can tell a story on their own, which contributes to the drama of the whole image.

Subjects of Small’s paintings are mostly poor and socially excluded young people

Matt Small - Moses, 2007
Matt Small – Moses, 2007

Urban Storyteller

Small had his first solo exhibition in 2002 and since then has been a very prolific artist, with eleven solo and ten group exhibitions. Because of his unconventional portraiture skills combined with his urban approach and the ability to tame even most unfriendly  pieces of metal, Small is appreciated and welcomed by both galleries and urban art enthusiasts all over the world. When it comes to subjects of his paintings, who are often poor and socially excluded young people,  Small is, through his powerful art, making their faces and stories stand out.

The artist is represented by Vroom & Varossieau in Amsterdam.

Matt Small lives and works in London.

Featured image: Artist’s portrait with one of his works.
All images courtesy of the artist.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2013The Radiant OnesHoxton Hotel, HoxtonSolo
2012Seen and HeardGallery Different, LondonSolo
2012Seen and HeardBlackall Studios, LondonSolo
2012Urban MastersFactory 7, LondonGroup
2012Street Art Against SlaveryVillage Underground, LondonGroup
2012Show Me The MonetThe Mall Galleries, LondonGroup
2012The Bear MarketLook For Art Gallery, AmsterdamGroup
2011RecognitionMerry Kornowsky Gallery, LA Solo
2011Moniker Art FairVillage Underground, LondonGroup
2010That I May SeeBlack Rat Projects, LondonSolo
2010This is LondonDIE Galerie, Seoul, KoreaGroup
2010WunderkammerSesame Gallery, London Group
2009YoungstarrsBlack Rat Press, London Solo
2009RepresentBlackall Studios, London Group
2009Mutate BritainLondonGroup
2008Small FacesSesame Gallery, London Solo
2007This is EnglandLeonard Street Gallery, LondonSolo
2005Matt SmallTricycle Arts Centre, KilburnSolo
2005Matt SmallSesame, IslingtonSolo
2002Matt SmallLefevre Gallery, MayfairSolo