I met Matthew McDole several years ago at a small popup shop dedicated to his work in Louisville, KY. Standing amongst the prints, records, clothing, stickers, and overall collective cool of the space, it was clear that this artist wears a lot of different hats. Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Matthew McDole is a skateboarder, sign painter, activist, and artist that is committed to his communities, whether skate, art, or local. The support he has shown through his craft and passion has led him to be involved in many public works, such as the most recent mural for the 29th Annual Tampa Pro at SPoTTampa. He has also used his platform and craft to raise money for Black Lives Matter and Charles Booker’s U.S. Senate campaign. During a recent interview, we explored the celebration of objects, symbols, and the void in which they can thrive within.
McDole talked about his start in art as random acts of making during moments when he was injured from skating. As art started to fill his time off the board, it became the outlet he would invest in as a priority. When asked about the connection between art and skateboarding, McDole said, “Skateboarders are DIY people… Somebody starts a little skate company and they have to figure out how to be a graphic designer and do all the other things that come with having a company just because you wanted to start something.” The mentality of diving in and figuring it out seems relatable in both worlds. Do you have a camera and can film someone skating? You start to become the go-to videographer. Do you want to change your board through cut-up grip tape and stickers? You start to develop a refined palette for style and aesthetic. The spirit and tenacity to make physical space and advocate for oneself in the skateboarding community is a potent link to unabashedly pursuing other creative outlets.
After a local Louisville spot reached out to Matthew to make a sign for their bar, he started to build a reputation for sign-making. His background in sign-making comes through in the clean iconic imagery of his paintings. The use of sign painters' tools and the ability to express a large amount of information through a minimal graphic image is the premise of what makes a good sign. The fluidity in McDole’s graphic lines nods to the rich tradition of sign painting. A successful sign needs to relay a quick message with a relatively universal meaning through symbols. The relationship McDole has to sign painting I believe influences his work in the composition, color, and limited intentional amount of visual language. It is about communication through icons. However, in Matthew's work, these icons represent things simultaneously familiar and strange. We can recognize a human, a pair of shoes, a dagger, a song title; but when paired together or isolated as a standalone statement, these icons become symbolic arrows pointing us toward their own enigmatic story. Or perhaps, leaving space as a mirror for the viewer to impart their own narrative to fill in the blanks.
The use of empty space is a moment for contemplation and opportunity in Matthew's work. The drawings rely on the empty space around them to leave a message. McDole states, “Don’t be afraid of white space. It makes you look at the thing that is on there.” There is a sense of confidence and self-assuredness to confront the empty space around an image and use it to represent it as its truest form. My interpretation of the piece, “Deep End,” stuck out to me throughout this conversation. I viewed it as this small unassuming object that brought me back to childhood memories of the pool. Yet the black body of water felt like a void that could quietly keep you, or your memories. I can remember being a child at the pool, yet the clarity of any memory I had there is foggy or distorted after all this time. After sharing my analysis of the piece, I realized how important the empty space is in his work. His version of the work was entirely different and uplifting than mine. Matthew said years after exploring this pool ladder image, he came to a realization. You don’t use pool ladders to get into pools. You use them to get out. The black void I was feeling wasn’t meant to suck me in, but rather the ladder was meant to lead me out. Now, every viewer will impart their own interpretation, but that is McDole’s point about the visual empty space: it is a quiet, open moment for the viewer to share their experiences and feel it is relatable, tangible, and accessible. It is exciting to think a universal gesture or image could bring an entirely different meaning for every person who views it. Not only because it is open to interpretation, but because it calls for and requires it. McDole says, “It’s better to let it be what it is to whoever sees it.”
Matthew McDole’s work poetically celebrates the absurd through his genuine romance with randomness. To purposefully notice what you notice during the day is to trust yourself. When any given moment catches your eye, to take stock of it and be vulnerable enough to make work from it is a celebratory act of love and recognition. This type of noticing creates room in the world for beauty through the seemingly mundane. Preserving something as small and special as a hand motion, an androgynous portrait, a rose, or a word, is to resist through reminders of the special moments we encounter every day. Matthew's work is a reminder that sometimes, the happy and the scary can exist together when given the space to contemplate.
Matthew McDole was raised on a farm in Bedford, KY, and currently resides in Louisville, KY. He is an illustrator, painter, designer, and skateboarder. His work explores love, mystery, and the macabre. He mixes tattoo flash-art style with pop culture references, seamlessly blending deadpan humor with a modest amount of melancholy. McDole’s clean, graphic imagery expresses a kind of be-happy, life-is-meaningless attitude. Ultimately, however, McDole is a romantic and this feeling of insignificance is a cause for celebration and reason to enjoy life. He believes people should make the best of their situations in the brief amount of time they have. He has exhibited his work at KMAC, Quappi Projects, the Carnegie Center for Art and History, and the Green Building Gallery among others. His work has been featured twice in skateboarding's most iconic publication, Thrasher Magazine. The imagery in his work references all manner of symbols from intimate to absurd. His designs reflect personal experiences and interests that highlight joys found in life both large and small. These things are great reminders that things aren’t always so serious, and we don’t always need to sweat the small stuff.
installation at Quappi gallery for "Shining in the Wind" show
screen printed skateboard for Stress Skateboards
Mary and Townes Van Zandt; acrylic on pesos
Townes; acrylic on book cover
Ruby; reverse glass enamel painting on found cotton bag
Kicking Against the Pricks; acrylic on book cover
miscellaneous printed items
Deep End; acrylic on paper
poster for Charles Booker; digital
untitled; acrylic on book covers
Person, Plants, & Dots; acrylic on found paper
matchboxes; painted matchboxes with screen printed images
Papers; acrylic on rolling papers on book cover
Casper; house paint on cut wood
Skatepark of Tampa; acrylic on wood
Skatepark of Tampa; acrylic on wood
Matthew McDole was raised on a farm in Bedford, Kentucky, and currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky. He is an illustrator, painter, designer, and skateboarder. His work explores love, mystery, and the macabre. Find his work at: https://matthewmcdole.bigcartel.com and on Instagram @matthewmcdole