Creative Conversations: Matt Luckhurst + Brian Collins
YGX Matt Luckhurst chats with his former professor/current employer Brian Collins about design, painting, and those two nights he spent in jail. We are now accepting entries for YG11. Reformed graffiti artists encouraged to apply.
Brian Collins: Let’s jump in. You were my student in a masters program.
Matt Luckhurst: Yes. I was at the School of Visual Arts, MFAD program run by Steve Heller and Lita Talarico.
Brian: I’m interested to know the decision making process that got you from Alberta to a graduate program in New York City.
Matt: It’s awfully cold there so I had to get out. Graphic design was my way out. New York City seemed like the biggest, baddest sort of challenge out there. It’s where most of the design I admired happened in North America. I wanted to get here and get my hands dirty. SVA was silly enough to accept me, so off I went.
Brian: So what was so interesting about the SVA program?
Matt: One, was New York. Two, were the teachers. Three, was the “designer as author” approach. The idea of authorship, that you as a designer are a maker, and - not being too high-minded about design - that’s what has always interested me.
”Design is a big word but, ultimately, kind of dangerously meaningless.”
Brian: Paula Antonelli at MOMA told me she wants to move design out of the East Wing and into the West Wing. I think that’s the good, right ambition. Design is a big word but, ultimately, kind of dangerously meaningless. It covers everything from a reinvention of global governance to trying to figure out what color the drapes should be.
Matt: Design thinking. It’s really stopping ourselves from looking at design so simplistically – only as someone on a computer with a stylus. Design affects everything.
Brian: Do you think our daily work with craft - with making stuff - has been minimized within the broader context of design thinking? One concern of mine is that people who actually love to make things - people who draw and paint and build - are somehow diminished in the “thinking” conversation.
Matt: I agree completely of course. I think we get caught up in it at times though. There is still beauty in making something beautiful, that’s not a bad thing. Yet, design needs to be able to be, elevated. I think where it can become diminished depends on the audience its directed towards. It feels like we’re marketing ourselves to ourselves in a way. I don’t know if that’s always necessary.
Brian: I knew that you were a graphic designer, but I didn’t know until I saw the illustrations in your thesis that you were also a good painter and illustrator. Why is that important to you?
Matt: I think every designer needs to look beyond what they’re comfortable with. It’s all about making things. I started in sketch books and then graffiti and went to jail, and then…
Brian: Wait. You went to jail? For graffiti?
Matt: Arrested, I should say. I spent two separate nights in jail. Yeah.
Brian: Jesus. Did you have to wear safety orange?
Matt: No. They let me wear my normal garb. Some good jokes, though. Cops have great senses of humor.
My undergrad was at the Alberta College of Art & Design. They drove home the importance of drawing. It’s important to develop the ability to get an idea out quickly. It doesn’t always need to be beautiful. It doesn’t need to be anything other than a way to visualize what’s going on in your head.
You need to try as many things as you can. This is something I’ve learned a lot the last couple years - just keep pushing it. Even when you think you’re done, what else can you do? Imagination is great, but you can’t actually say whether this thing works or it doesn’t until you really look at it. See it. As much as you can theorize what might work, ultimately, there is a level of straight, blue collar effort that has to go into this stuff to find appropriate solutions.
“When you go into a project you first pursue only one direction. Done. Then you’ll suddenly ricochet and do the exact opposite thing.”
Brian: That’s interesting. You’re super productive. I mean, you quickly generate a really wide range of ideas and get them up on the wall, fast. It seems to me, that when you go into a project you first pursue only one direction. Done. Then you’ll suddenly ricochet and do the exact opposite thing. There are few designers I’ve worked with who like to produce such a broad exploration - and who enjoy producing it all so quickly. Usually, designers have a sort of specific sensibility they prefer.
Matt: That’s why I like painting. It’s is my own self-expression. Design is something else. You need to find what’s appropriate for that need or challenge or whatever problem confronts you. The best solution may not always be an aesthetic direction you love. It might not be your favorite thing personally, but if it really solves the problem then it’s up to you to push it to a place where you do like it.
Brian: I think in designing anything you can never be really, truly objective. You also want to put smart things, things you love, into the world, right?
Matt: Of course. But sometimes the dumbest idea has the best result. The amount of dumb things I’ve made that have turned out lovable is fascinating. You can’t really discount anything at the beginning.
Brian: So at the beginning of an engagement that’s why you’re okay firing off an explosion of different ideas? Some, say, more personal ones and others that you’re not sure about but are still somewhat interesting to you? Then you’re willing to let that idea land anywhere. Fine. But then how do bring it back and make it your own again?
Matt: You inevitably will, I think, make it your own. If you actually give it time and work it and nurture the thing enough, eventually you will see it become your own.
Brian: Is there anything in your Young Guns work, that is more personal that you’re proud of? And another piece that is more objective, that you’re also proud of?
Matt: Obviously, the children’s book I made is very personal - Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox: The Big Pancake Adventure. It’s a story I wrote and illustrated. I was in so far in over my head on that, I learned a lot. There was no turning around and pointing at a client brief on that one. Then there are logos in my work that have a geometric, reserved touch to them, I think. But that’s the difference between identity design and a children’s book. One will always be more emotional, intentionally.
Brian: So what do you look forward to over the course of the next few years?
Matt: I’ve reached a place where I’m getting to do all these things that I always wanted to do. One, working here. That’s been an opportunity to work on big projects and be challenged.
Brian: That sounds like sucking up.
Matt: That’s okay. I’ve had the opportunity at Collins: to do all of these bigger things and at the same time the ability to work on other, personal projects on the side, like the kids’ books. I’m not looking at this as “how do I change the world of design.” It’s more of a personal journey. I’m still new to this. I’m still trying to gain perspective on how to do it and continue learning. There is always some new challenge ahead and that’s wonderful.