Much like Life Yard, standing directly opposite on Fleet Street where Paint Jamaica, a collective of which Matthew is an integral part, transformed the warehouse, where tourists now come from across the Internet to enjoy a vegetarian meal in this yard-turned-urban-farm-and-cook shop. Mind that this is the same downtown Kingston we’re afraid of, yet this little enclave is a mainstay of the annual Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) art festival; and next month Life Yard will hold their Life Eatings Cookout. No longer a secret, Life Yard is hardly what would have been expected before.
“And it’s kind of like that for me…It’s the most difficult thing that you’ll do as an illustrator to illustrate positive images, a positive image that is timeless – THAT is difficult!” reasons Matthew.
Of course if you lack the stomach to venture down the warehouse, next to where little five-year-olds must go to school, you can find the same spirit in the National Gallery where a large piece of Matthew’s art greets you in the entrance – created on sections of zinc fence. Visiting an art collector friend in country, one of many smart people to buy his work early, a large canvas of his hangs on the side of her house (which you’ll see if you scroll down this page).
Maybe this is why we rate him, but Matthew says his interest in pulling off the road to meet new people, get random slices of life (and its weirdness) came from reading FIRST Magazine, back when we were a print magazine in 2004-5. Nowadays he does his own underground Regal magazine, which he prints up and self-distributes to get his voice out there, make a point or two of his own to society, and using QR codes and suchlike to direct readers to check out the work of his collaborators online. Not to mention his fly postering, commercial work, video production and t-shirt line – the 23-year-old’s calmness masks his hyperactive output.
“I didn’t know this before, but most of my inspiration comes from what I hear people say and sometimes what I feel in people. Interacting with other people for me is like school and I realise how complex the Jamaican language is especially – you could listen to an old Spanglers walking down the road while you are painting and in two minutes he could drop some patois gymnastics that would strike me as equally profound as it was simple. That’s the beauty of the island and my work is no different. It’s a reflection of the word on the streets, what we say, sing and feel.”
Growing up Matthew was a normal kid who grew up on cartoons, just that he would sometimes have visions walking down the street, like King Kong throwing planes off a Red Hills Road rooftop. Wide-eyed about the recently finished United Purpose (UP!) tour of Europe, organised by Nanook’s Joan Webley, where he was blown away by the reception.
“I got to see how my work translated across cultural lines and language barriers which is a very different type of interpretation, compared to your friends chillin’ in studio while you’re working. You realise just how much your art style is still very much a language and as your grow you must (all compromise aside) learn how to make that language speak to as many people as you can.”
Meantime outside Holy Family Primary School, also given a facelift by Paint Jamaica, 13-year-old Javaski James and Damite Brown, 9, are fiddling with their tablets.
“Looks good,” says Javaski looking up, then looking straight back down at his tablet about their technicolour street. Not the profound answer we were looking for but then…here’s this beautiful school in-front of us and two kids sat happily outside playing games on a quiet Saturday morning. Teachers at the primary have told Matthew that since the painting, which the kids participated in, that they’ve begun reacting more positively, less violently towards one another.
Not least the inspiration they will have gained. After all it’s those happenings like the mural-painting which might stimulate another Jerome Cowans – winner of a Chevening Scholarship who comes from the Parade Gardens community, of which Fleet Street is a part. Perhaps there can be a lot more from this French Fries and Smartphone Generation.
On the other hand…
“In Jamaica where’s this culture of high consumption of material of technology of stuff and even below the poverty line and you know what comes with that? Kids are going to have to start dealing y’know because technology is enticing and every kid wants an iPad but nobody is buying an iPad for their kid so where do you think they’re gonna get it.”
“So the culture is gonna shift, the youth are gonna express themselves and it’s just gonna be the chickens coming home to roost. I see it coming, I really do.”