FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS | BOOTH'S BLOG Exclusive Interview With Artist Matt Dixon
By James Whittington, Tuesday 12th March 2013
Matt Dixon is one of the most in demand concept artists and illustrators around. His work has graced some of the most popular gaming titles around as well as specially commissioned poster art and comic strip covers.
His latest book, Girls On Top 2: More Pin Up Art has just been released with a foreword by legendary scream queen Caroline Munro and is a collection of pieces inspired by different sci-fi and horror genres. Here he chats about his career and plans for the future.
HC: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to be an artist?
MD: Well I always knew that I wanted to draw. For as long as I can remember it's been my favourite way to spend time but my motivation was always just the pleasure of exercising my imagination. It never occurred to me that I would be an 'artist' and I still have some trouble with the idea in fact, it seems a rather lofty title for someone who spends most of his working life painting aliens, robots and curvaceous women. I certainly never entertained the idea of pursuing a career in art. No one I knew made a living from art and it was never suggested to me as a possible career path as I was growing up, it just didn't seem to be an option. When I left the education system, I started training to be an accountant! (I lasted three hours!)
HC: Is it true you got your first break working in the computer games industry?
MD: That's correct. From around eight years old I'd fiddled about with the computer as an art tool, making pictures out of ASCII characters and learning how to code my own little bitmaps before finally discovering art software. This eventually led to me contributing graphics to a Commodore 64 game while I was still at school. A few years later I had a phone call out of the blue from one of the guys I'd worked with on that game - he'd started his own development studio and was looking for artists. At the time I was working in a guitar shop and was ready for something new so I jumped at the chance and spent 12 very happy years working at that studio. Things might have gone very differently had I not had that phone call.
HC: What's been the most satisfying piece of concept art you've created?
MD: That's a tough one. I enjoy what I do enormously, but once a piece is finished I find it difficult to see anything but flaws so I tend to look forward rather than back for satisfaction. It's horribly corny, but whatever I'm working on at the time is probably the work I'd find most satisfying.
HC: Girls On Top 2 is your latest book, a collection of pin-up pieces. Where did all these ideas come from?
MD: 'Where do you get your ideas?' is probably the question I hear the most often at convention appearances and such. I should really have formulated a satisfactory response by now, but the truth is that I don't know. Ideas just pop in there, and I don't like to think to hard about where they come from in case I somehow break whatever mechanism brings them into being. The pin-up stuff is a little different as the focal point, the female form, is always the same so whether it's the pose that comes first, a situation, or just an idea for a cool costume, it's all built upon that common foundation which makes it a little easier to get started. Once I've got something, however small, to start on I like to start sketching as soon as possible as I find ideas often present themselves while I work. Those early stages of an image where I get my first look at how the finished piece might appear are always the most exciting
HC: I love "Return Of The Gherkinoids" which reflects the humour a lot of your work in the collection contains. Do you feel it’s an important part of your style?
MD: I hope so. For me, art is entertainment. Entertaining to look at and entertaining to make, and that's still my main motivation when I sit down at the computer and pick up the stylus. It's not always a deliberate decision to make my work humorous, but if I'm enjoying myself during that exciting sketching stage I think it often comes through in the ideas I choose to draw.
HC: Caroline Munro has written the intro, how did that come about?
MD: A mutual friend introduced us at one of the memorabilia conventions where I sell my work. I'd had the idea of asking an actress I admire to contribute a foreword to the book for a while and after meeting Caroline I knew she'd be ideal. Good pin-up art doesn't simply present the viewer with some well placed curves and a plunging neckline; the allure of a character lies in the personality on display. I like my women to display confidence, strength and self-awareness. Caroline embodies these qualities perfectly, as do many of her best loved roles, so I was delighted that she agreed to be a part of the project.
HC: Your females in this release reminded me of the curvy models seen in artwork of the 50s and 60s, would you agree?
MD: It's not a conscious choice but I certainly draw a great deal of inspiration from that era so I'm not surprised you can see a connection there. I'm rather pleased with your assessment in fact, I think the more natural portrayal of women in photography and art during the 50s, 60s and into the 70s is a good deal healthier and more flattering than what we often see today. My intention is that my work should be light-hearted and fun but as a guy who paints the opposite sex, I'm acutely aware that I'm only one clumsy brush stroke away from an image that could be labelled sexist or even offensive. Naturally I hear a range of opinions about my work but it's enormously rewarding to have had so much positive feedback from women. I'm not sure if the body shape I favour or the attitude of my pin-up girls is the bigger factor there but female customers account for the majority of my pin-up book and print sales which reassures me that my pin-ups are on the right side of the line between exploitative and celebratory.
HC: All your work is now created digitally; do you miss the "old methods" you used to use?
MD: There is an occasional nostalgia for the old days. The one aspect digital art will never emulate is the multi sensory experience of working with physical media; you can see your digital work, but a real painting can be also be touched and smelled (and frequently tasted when a paint-smeared thumb is nibbled during a moment of contemplation ). There's also an immense satisfaction in producing a 'thing' after your hours of toil - an object that you've willed into being. Digital artworks are forever trapped behind the transparent prison wall of the monitor or stuck to paper. When those thoughts stroll around my head I do miss it, yes. Then I remember finding pencil shavings in my navel or great chunks of toxic cadmium orange paint dried into my hair. All those poor paintings spoiled by spilled water or coffee, or unexpectedly enhanced by various bits of studio detritus that decided to adhere to them. All that stuff is part of the fun of course, but when I'm surrounded by a pack of angry deadlines and about to make batlle, the instant drying, easily undo-able, predictable magic of Photoshop is my chosen weapon.
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
MD: I've just completed a batch of work for the World of Warcraft trading card game, and my schedule for the coming few weeks includes illustrations for some mobile phone games, some more trading card art, a private commission and a project for a European band. Working freelance means all kinds of work arrives in my inbox and that variety really is one of the best parts of the job. I'm also hoping to find time for some more personal work. Now the Girls On Top 2 has been released I'll be taking a short break from pin-ups to focus on something a little different, and I hope to be able to announce my next art book in the summer time.
HC: Matt Dixon, thank you very much.
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