PROVIDENCE NATIVE, PAINTER MATT MIGNANELLI IS QUICKLY BECOMING KNOWN FOR HIS VERY CRISP & VERY CLEAN GEOMETRIC ABSTRACTIONS. SENSITIVELY COLORED AND METICULOUSLY DETAILED, HIS PAINTINGS CONJURE MEMORIES OF THE EARLIEST VIDEO GAMES AND GRAPHICS. DIRTY FIRST COLLABORATED WITH MATT IN MARCH OF 2011, WHEN WE APPROACHED MR. MIGNANELLI TO DO A LARGE SCALE MURAL FOR DIRTY’S MEDIA LOUNGE AT SCOPE ART FAIR, DURING THE ARMORY ARTS WEEK.
A FEW WEEKS LATER, AFTER THE SUCCESS OF THE LOUNGE & MATT’S INCREDIBLE GEOMETRIC TWO-WALL MURAL, DIRTY CAUGHT UP WITH THE RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN GRADUATE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HIS PROCESS, WHAT INSPIRES HIS WORK AND.
TEXT Paul Bruno
DIRTY: WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU PICKED UP A PAINTBRUSH? HOW OLD WERE YOU?
MATT MIGNANELLI: I was very young when I started painting, somewhere around 6 years old. I began drawing first and painting came along as my drawing advanced. It fulfilled a need to create pictures with more color and complexity.
D: WHAT DID YOUR FIRST PAINTINGS LOOK LIKE?
MM: Growing up in Providence, I was enrolled in after-school classes at the RISD Museum starting at a young age. During those formative years I was always fascinated by the ancient objects in the collection much before the paintings themselves. My first paintings were representational, and I remember clearly painting those antiquities. The work then evolved towards the figure and was influenced by cartoons.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR FAMILY’S REACTION TO YOUR DECISION TO STUDY PAINTING?
MM: My family has always been extremely supportive in my pursuit of painting. They recognized from an early age my desire to paint and did everything they could to foster that. RISD has a large presence within Providence, and growing up involved in the arts it was always my goal to study there. The decision to study painting formally, came about as a natural progression as the seriousness of my pursuit deepened throughout high school, it was the only choice for me.
D: WHAT WAS YOUR TIME AT RISD LIKE?
MM: It was a very challenging and motivating time for me that greatly helped to shape me as an artist. The workload of the curriculum was demanding, but the competition amongst peers was even more driving and invigorating. Being surrounded by people who were creating at such a high level always seemed to push you harder and further, so creating sub-par work just wasn’t an option.
D: WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO NYC?
MM: I moved down to NYC in September of 2006 with my now soon-to-be wife, into a studio apartment on 9th avenue in Chelsea. I moved back home for a year after I finished school to get things in order, and wait as she finished up school in Boston. We’ve now been in the city for 5 years and couldn’t be happier. The energy and opportunity that exists in this city is unlike anywhere else.
D: COLOR PLAYS A HUGE ROLE IN YOUR WORK — HOW DO YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR PALETTES? WHAT IS YOUR COLOR PROCESS?
MM: Color has always been extremely important in my work, and the process by which I arrive at the decisions has developed over the years. My older work was extremely colorful, but has always dealt with a light source that informs the space. I would begin by laying down the main background color and slowly making the choices as I went. As the work has progressed I’ve begun making most of the color choices before I begin, using small studies on paper. I began isolating areas of color in the work painting them monochromatically as a means to separate space and portray light through the use of gradations. What has come next for me is this latest series of monochromatic works in blue.
D: WHAT ABOUT GEOMETRIC / ABSTRACT PAINTING INSPIRES YOU?
MM: I have always painted extremely flat with a love for crisp edges and clean color. In my older work I began incorporating areas of geometric patterning and fell in love with the process and result that it produces. All of my work is painted completely free-hand, so the personal challenge to create work so precise invigorates me.
One of the greatest experiences that art produces for a viewer is the individual interpretation of a piece. For me abstract painting provides that in a way unlike anything else. By employing familiar elements in my painting I like to tap into those subconscious preconceptions.
D: WERE YOU GOOD AT MATH / GEOMETRY AS A KID?
MM: Throughout school math was never a strong point, numbers and formulas just didn’t engage me. Geometry has alway interested me from a visual standpoint, but not logistically. The use of such strong geometry in my work never came about as a love or pursuit of math, but more the visual experience that geometric repetition creates.
D: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
MM: At the moment I’m continuing to work on new large-scale monochromatic paintings of undefined environments in blues. I began working on this latest body of work in January during my residency at the Vermont Studio Center. The challenge of creating these works in a single palette while maintaining the vibrancy of color I strive for in my work has been refreshing. When you don’t have multiple colors to separate planes and spaces, it really pushes you to make smart decisions. The depth that I’ve been able to achieve within the spaces has really excited me.
D: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE COACH ARTIST SERIES?
MM: The project was presented to me after being recommended by an editor who had covered my solo exhibition in Glasgow. Coach had seen my work and felt it would be a perfect fit. They were launching limited edition artist series bags at their Madison Avenue flagship during Fashion’s Night Out. It was a great project and opportunity to partner with a brand like Coach.
D: HAS YOUR WORK EVERY BEEN INFLUENCED BY BASIC COMPUTER GRAPHICS?
MM: Having been born in the 80′s I think it would be hard for me to say that I wasn’t in some way influenced by early computer graphics and digital colors, but it’s not a main influence behind the work.
D: NAME ONE DREAM COMMISSION / PROJECT.
MM: I’ve really been thinking quite a bit recently about creating large-scale sculptural works that use light sources. To have the space and means to realize one of those installations right now would be very exciting.
D: HAS ANYONE EVER COMPARED YOUR WORK TO PIET MONDRIAN?
MM: No they haven’t, but it would be an incredible honor to be compared to someone whose work I so greatly respect. While both very geometric and bold, I think my work differs largely due to the viewers perception of depth within the space. When I view his pieces I greatly enjoy the physicality and aesthetic of the paintings, but for me they exist in a much shallower, flatter space than my work.
D: WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS?
MM: My favorite painters are Caravaggio, Picasso, and Guston. They have all influenced me greatly and in very different ways. Currently Amy Sillman has been a favorite. I love her sense of space. I really enjoy the work that Eddie Martinez has been producing. I’ve been following his work for a long time and it has always engaged me. I also really enjoy Keegan McHargue’s paintings right now.
D: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ALBUMS OF ALL TIME?
MM: I would have to say AC/DC’s Back in Black. I love that album, and it’s amazing to paint to. The Sound of The Smiths (Greatest Hits), Queen’s Greatest Hits, and The-Dream’s Love Hate.
D: TELL OUR READERS SOMETHING DIRTY ABOUT YOURSELF:
MM: My two front teeth are fake, I lost them in Boston…