.@YourEmeraldLife Winter Pride Art Awards 2016 Finalist Interview – Matthew Stradling

Hello Matthew, 

Congratulations on being named as one of this year’s finalists!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work, and what made you apply to the Emerald Life Winter Pride Arts Awards.

Hi, I’m a painter based in North London. I’ve been practicing for 26 years. My work mostly involves depictions of the body – it’s vulnerability, it’s beauty as well as it’s repellance. I draw a lot of inspiration from the old masters and their depictions of the nude, often  subverting their themes with a contemporary twist. Much of my work attempts to express humanity towards the subject, often dealing with themes of desire, loneliness, loss and mortality. I applied to the Emerald Winter Pride Arts Awards because I am very interested in the idea of beauty – what is beauty? is it purely physical? how much are our notions of beauty defined by societal values and the baggage of past representations? Much of my work places the male subject in the traditionally accepted role of the female, often lying passive, available to the viewer. In this way I hope to challenge notions of what is accepted as beautiful and also the role of ‘the male gaze’  – who is the viewer and who is the viewed.
Matthew Stradling 'Darren 1'
What does the awards brief this year ‘Line of Beauty – exploring sexuality, gender and identity’ mean to you? How do you feel your entry fits with this brief?
I am interested in breaking down traditional notions of beauty, redefining them and exploring new ones. As a member of the LGBTQI community, I find we are seldom represented sympathetically in mainstream culture and especially in art history.  I feel my piece fits into the brief as it takes the art historical image of the Venus figure/courtesan and makes the subject male. He is placed on luxurious fabrics, not normally associated with depictions of ‘maleness’ (also referencing a set of early photos of the contemporary Venus, Marilyn Monroe). He is available and vulnerable, with a gaze that both seduces and questions the viewer.
What is your inspiration? What makes you want to work?
My inspiration comes from all realms of visual information, from pornography to modern advertising to the greats of Renaissance painting. I am very aware that painting has a long history and I feel it is my place to comment on what has gone before. I have a great desire to subvert the representation of the nude from art history, to touch people with honesty and humility. My work also tries to reclaim all the gay artists who have been acclaimed as great, yet their sexuality has never been acknowledged as an important facet of their creativity, from Leonardo to Michelangelo. In a way, saying ‘we have always been here and we always will be’.
The Arts Award is open to eleven different art forms this year – what to you is art? 
To me, everything can be art. It really is about the intention of the artist and what they wish to communicate. If it lifts the viewer out of the mundane and asks you to question or wonder at the world, then, to me it is art. But it’s very subjective and I guess everyone has there own needs and definitions.
With cuts to funding and arts studios looking to continue in the UK, what do you think are the greatest challenges to artists? Do you think that society still values art and artists? 
I think the greatest challenge for artists is to keep going and believing in what you do. Artists nowadays do need strength and a belief that what they are doing is for the good. It’s a matter of ‘keep on going’ no matter what. Being adaptable but still nurturing creativity is essential. I do think society still values art and artists. People need visual stimulus and I think the ability to create is greatly revered. On the other hand I do not think our government still values art with their emphasis on consumerism, money-making and educational ‘dumbing down’ but I think we should remember that this is just a blip in history and things will change. So don’t give up!
And finally, we are all going to be feeling proud this Winter Pride season, but what else makes you feel proud?
I am proud to still be producing work without jeopardizing my integrity. I am proud to be part of an all-inclusive community which continues to seek freedom for all. I am proud to be living in a time when humankind faces so many changes and challenges and yet there is still a strong drive towards integration, understanding and hope.


Interview by Alice Botham, Emerald Winter Pride Arts Coordinator

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