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Total Sao Paulo joins Matt W. Moore, aka MWM Graphics, for trouble and dancing while he’s in town for his first-ever solo art show in Brazil, Parallel Universe.

By Crispin Cairns / Photos by Crispin Cairns on 21 June 2009

In the early morning gloom of the street lamps, 29-year-old Matt W. Moore, the sole brain behind MWM Graphics, is drunkenly sprinting with all his might down one of Vila Madalena’s steep streets after a skateboard gone awry.


      But 2 a.m. shenanigans are just part of the routine during Moore’s one-month-long residency in Sao Paulo with Rojo Magazine, which culminates in his first-ever solo show at its ArtSpace at Livraria Pop on June 23, Parallel Universe. After an exhibit in Barcelona last summer with the Spanish art publication went so well, both parties agreed it only made sense to continue putting the Portland, Maine-based artist into Rojo’s prime galleries.


      Moore partly made his name with his graffiti sticker zine Wallspankers and has taken on the design world ever since as an incredible powerhouse, art directing, web designing, vector illustrating and conceiving ideas for such heavyweights as Burton, Nike and Citroen U.K. His work—full of chaotically assembled, colorful geometric shapes (think of it as a combo of M.C. Escher and Picasso, his heroes) that pull the viewer into its twisted and turning depths—is translated into canvas for his shows, and they mimic the vector lines of his trademark graphic design albeit done in old-fashioned spraypaint.


      We took the super-friendly artist out on the town and found out that he’s not only a well-paced drinking partner but a damn good sport when it comes to dancing the Brazilian forro.



How’s everything going?

The canvases are now entirely spraypainted. The magic tricks are the really intricate masking and stencils. In the end, the work will look like it’s been vector illustrated and printed.



How did you hook up with Rojo?

Three years ago I reached out to Rojo expressing an interest to be considered to be in the magazine, and from there that spawned gallery shows.



Do you usually reach out first?

Not always…earlier on, definitely, I paid respects to a lot of people and organizations. That was my business model as an artist and a designer before I had any momentum going. It was to let people know it would be an honor for me to work with them. Now, more recently, its been the other way around. But whenever I hear or see something that really catches my eye and inspires me, I'll reach out and say so.



If you could pinpoint a defining moment that set you sailing to be here today, what would it be?

Quitting my job and deciding to be my own boss. Having faith was the most important thing because it was such a huge risk, and then the drive that came along with that.



TTL SP’s and MWM’s first rendez-vous: 4:30 p.m., Largo da Batata. It’s at the ass end of Pinheiros and where the buses pass through, but it's got its own little charm. The venue: Remelexos, a forró dig that the locals adore. Twenty minutes into the lesson and just audible above the tinkering of the forro music, Moore is apologizing repeatedly to his patient dance partner—toes are being trodden on. There’s a country-barn feel apparent but also intimate and friendly. Although the instructor speaks English, which makes it easy for foreigners to understand the instructions, nothing will save those with two left feet. Dance partners are forgiving; however, the beginners’ senses of rhythm—this author definitely not an exception—are not.



What was your idea about forro before you went?

I was nervous. I went online and Google’d it. I found this amazing video of a couple dancing, very close and very fast. It's beautiful. My experience with dance is very classical.



So you have dancing in your background.

I went to ballroom dance classes for one year in junior high school—my folks made me. You learn how to not step on toes. I enjoyed it, but that aside, it’s not like forro. I’ve got a few breakdance moves, but they’re a private activity.



How was the class?

Everyone was kind. The instructors were friendly and the girls were pretty. For the first half of the class I was busy counting “1,2,3” in my head and developing cramps, probably because I wasn’t stepping the right way. For me it wasn’t natural at first…and in the States you wouldn’t dance [so close] with someone you didn't know. [laughs]



You’re hooked!

I wouldn’t take my moves to a club yet, but while I’m here I’ll definitely practice some more.



You’ve said your best work has been produced when you’ve been out of your comfort zone. Was that part of the inspiration to come and do this?

Partly. And to really flip the script and spend a month doing what I would be doing if I could be doing it. [laughs]



How far out of your comfort zone are you?

Quite. When I arrived, I had no art and supplies, and a gallery show happening in three-and-a-half weeks. So not only did I need to find the supplies I wanted, but I had to compromise and use the products I could find. Some of the products I had never used before. I’ve got boxes of art studio things which I didn’t bring with me, so in that sense I’m a good way out of my comfort zone.

      I think the ultimate core experience would be Into the Wild style; to be dropped off into the woods with a hatchet and some knives and saws, to create sculptures and artwork with found objects. That’s the whole other end of the spectrum and I really hope to do that one day.



But how important is an urban environment to you?

My ideal existence is to live somewhere very quiet and kind of swoop into the urban environment, spend some time, soak it in, get charged up creatively and socially and then return to my bat cave. [laughs]



What’s your process like?

My mantra as an artist is to be always continuing to experiment…always trying to fully explore the ideas that I have but at the same time keeping a list of ideas that I want to explore in the future, and then simultaneously cross-pollinating ideas, taking momentum from one discipline and bringing it into another.



What were your expectations before coming to Sao Paulo?

I came here in ’99 for six weeks. I remember how vast the city was and how vibrant the colors and the graffiti were and how evident the spectrum of the economy was (poverty to wealth).



How has your experience changed?

One thing that’s really nice is to now have the network of artists and designers…upon arriving I reached out to a few artists that I knew and got to meet them for the first time. For example, Highraff; and through him I met a bunch of other artists as well. Highraff’s a muralist and a fine artist. He does these amazing psychedelic, really organic, flowy murals and canvas paintings and sculptures. He's been very successful in recent years and we met through Wallspankers.



Does the show at Livraria Pop reflect your experience here?

In general, my biggest inspiration comes from music and travel, looking at architecture, experiences, just living. I walked around Sao Paulo today, but it’s not like, “I went and saw this that and another thing and they inspired me to do this with the painting,” but it’s more like as an individual, these experiences are making me, charging me up creatively. The work is flowing in a different way, in a more powerful way, than it would if I were at my home studio.



Who’s your favorite artist here?

Definitely Os Gemeos. I really admire them, for their work ethic and vision. I think they're gold.



How does graffiti relate to your current works?

Graffiti is such a weighted term. I'm using spraypaint on canvas, and [people] have a picture in their head. When I show them [the piece,] they think, “Oh wow, I never would have thought of that—that looks like something you'd see in an architecture magazine and not in a graffiti magazine.”



Where can graffiti go now that it’s reached the mainstream?

It’s passed its peak in the limelight, it will always survive and thrive in the streets, which is where it belongs, and there will always be people who take the momentum and process from it and do new things, in design and fine art. I think graffiti artists painting graffiti on a piece of canvas and hanging it in a gallery and selling it is tired, ever since the mid-‘80s, when Futura and Basquiat did something new with it.

      People say street art is dead. Truth of the matter is that what’s happening in magazines and galleries doesn’t affect street art at all. Street art is this [points to graffiti on the street next to bar]—these guys don’t give a fuck about who’s selling in galleries, they're doing it because this is their neighborhood, they want people to know they are alive, they want their friends to walk past this piece and think of them.



What’s your current favorite medium?

It’s really a balance. Ideally I have projects going in each discipline, and that’s what really keeps me going.



Name a few projects to which we can find you connected soon.

I’ve got a mural in New York on the Lower East Side, also a mural in Burlington, VT at this amazing design studio, a top-secret project with Ford and I’m designing the fall line of my clothing company Glyph Cue; it should have been done weeks ago!



Parallel Universe runs until July 25.



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