Matt Black is a director and visual artist who has worked in fashion for the past 15 years with clients such as Dior, Jil Sander and Louis Vuitton. He directed short films with the like of Paz de la Huerta and Rinko Kikuchi. He has created a distinct style mixing influences from high fashion, street culture and cinema. His photography has been published in magazines such as i-D, Vogue Paris and V and has also curated art shows for agnes b. and Colette. Matt Black grew up in Paris and is based in NYC.
SLAMXHYPE / Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and what your upbringing was like?
MATT BLACK / I’m French and grew up in the suburbs of Paris and then Paris where I got a very early interest in street culture and movies.
I was lucky to travel to NY when I was around 10 and I was blown away by painted trains, that same trip my parents brought me to a museum and in the library there was the book “Subway art” and a book on Japanese tattoo, I wanted them so baddly but didn’t get them as at that time the dollar was king… I also went to California and discovered skateboarding. Graffiti, tattoo and skateboard became very important themes for me, almost 30 years later I’m still connected to them.
Now after Paris and London, I have been based in NY for a bit more than a decade.
SLAMXHYPE / In your own words, what do you do?
MATT BLACK / I simply make images…they can be moving or still…commercial or personal.
SLAMXHYPE / Your work lends itself to not only photography, but film and visual direction, tell us what it is about the way you see things that enables you to use each medium so well?
MATT BLACK / I think I’m just curious to try new things, I always did that and I remembered it used to bug people but now everybody does it.
For an exterior eye it could be odd and a bit all over the place but for somebody close to me it makes sense, I just like many different things.
Still I think there is a common thread in everything I do, visually and thematically.
SLAMXHYPE / What drives you to do what you do?
MATT BLACK / Appetite for life and fear of death.
SLAMXHYPE / You’ve worked with a number of iconic names in the past, Dior, Louis Vuitton and others, do you have a personal interest in fashion and art, it seems like graffiti especially is a mode you’ve worked alongside alot?
MATT BLACK / I’m interested in how images can serve to transport ideas or emotions and that is what sometimes fashion and contemporary art do.
As for graffiti it’s a bit more special, my attraction was because for me it was the purer form of expression, If you were bombing it was for you and for a very small group of people in the know. The gratification came from being with your crew against all the rules and doing something really difficult and dangerous that could only bring you problems. I was part of this for many years and I loved it. Then I moved to NY and I didn’t see the point of starting all over again, Europe had a very active scene with trains, subways and I knew the best years of NY where behind, the kings will never be beaten. So i did other things… made friends, curated, introduced people from the US to Europe and vise versa. Then the street art movement and the internet altered somehow the essence of it, even if there is today there is super talented new writers and older names still killing it.
SLAMXHYPE / You spent 8 years at Dior, tell us about your time there, it would have been a very interesting time, with the transition to the Hedi Slimane era and then onward?
MATT BLACK / It was interesting to be inside the company and see the exterior reactions, I knew Hedi Slimane works at YSL and liked it but i had no idea that with Dior it would become this huge thing that would change the fashion world but also trickle down to other places. Everything is always about timing, the mix of fashion, art and music was not a new formula but it was done very well, with a new take, new tools of communication and everybody went crazy about it, it changed the game, the youth embraced it and today everybody wants to be young, so… i remember walking in Paris, NY or Tokyo and seeing all these kids looking cool, straight out of a magazine spread, but i think they just went way overboard. Hedi Slimane stopped at the perfect moment, a great exit is as important as a good entrance. During that time I was also working a lot with the women’s division and I witnessed the true power of a big company, the machine behind it all but also the passion of the designers, the desire for quality on the part of the owners, the hunger for products on the part of the customers….It was a great time in my life but also a golden cage where I couldn’t really express my own vision and that’s what I’m doing now.
SLAMXHYPE / Where do you see your future, what would you like to continue working towards? Is there a particular medium or type of work that particularly interests you moving forward?
MATT BLACK / In the last couple of years, I started to work more and more as a director, shooting commercials, short films, documentaries, I’m going to continue in this direction, and also developing a feature film. I’m also working working on my first solo show where I’m using various mediums…photos prints, paintings and videos.
SLAMXHYPE / You’ve recently collaborated with Medicom by creating a line of products in their Fabrick line.. how did this come about, and where did your inspiration for the collection come from?
MATT BLACK / I was originally part of the Be@rbrick world wide tour, at that time I created a piece based on pictures I took in East LA and in Tokyo of tattoos then Oka from Medicom asked me to come up with an idea for a be@rbrick and a print,
I always liked diamonds but was never into the bling so I wanted to make it mine again and I decided to take pictures of black diamonds inspired by a Serge Gainsbourg necklace, then we put my signature like as if it was a modern monogram… it was a bit of an inside joke after helping sell LV and Dior logo bags! it’s sort of an anti bling-bling print but ironically with diamonds and logos everywhere on it.
It’s not an easy print but somehow it really grows on you, it’s really strong. I hope people like it and we will develop a wider line with new takes on this print.
SLAMXHYPE / What are your thoughts on the current state of street culture, fashion, art etc?
MATT BLACK / For years I approached all this as separated worlds, for me on one side there was the underground and on the other side the mainstream and I was traveling between these worlds. Today street culture, fashion and art are one and one. Everything and everyone feeds from each other. It’s for the best and the worst, one big mix. I think there are some of the best works being done right now, it’s just harder to see it with the overwhelming amount of information and content. Sometimes we need to step back to really feel what’s important.
SLAMXHYPE / What do you expect from 2011, both personally as well as from the scene?
MATT BLACK / For the scene, I will be happy if people who inspire me continue to do so, if new names emerge and old names make great comebacks.
If recycling and mediocrity are not rewarded anymore and original visions and meaningful ideas are embraced.
Personally I simply hope that I will continue to create good work…
All Rights Reserved © 2011. SLAMXHYPE.
Photography (portrait) / Jacques & Xander
Interviewer / James Oliver