David Matthew King: Leading With Curiosity
David Matthew King splits his time between New York and California, making bold, contemporary works while maintaining childlike curiosity. Of course, his path as an artist is a winding road — one comprised of music, performing, teaching, and writing. He is, without a doubt, creatively gifted. Each of King’s professional eras has informed the next one, and it could be said that his work is reflective of his cumulative time spent learning, discovering, and changing. Here’s a glimpse inside the thoughts, inspiration, and story behind his works.
How did you get started as an artist?
DMK: It’s difficult to say exactly. The seeds were always sort of there — whether by nature or circumstance or a combination of the two — I can’t really be sure. My path to being a painter hasn’t been linear. I’ve been a songwriter and a drummer and an educator and a performer. All of these endeavors inform my work as a painter and vice-versa. I used to get in a lot of trouble in elementary school and I didn’t really know why. Adults would ask for explanations that I couldn’t give, and I asked them for explanations they couldn’t give. I think a lot of the work I do now is in some ways a continuation of that childlike search for answers.
Why do you create? What does it bring you?
DMK: At first, creating things didn’t seem to be a conscious decision so much as an impulse that I couldn’t really control. There’s a difference between making a decision to create vs. creating things being one’s default position. I think there’s a segment of the population that opens their eyes to find themselves somehow standing with a paintbrush or a guitar or sitting at a computer halfway through a stanza without fully understanding how they got there. I’m one of those. When I look back it all seems so obvious and inevitable, but while it was happening it seems nobody really knew what the hell was going on. In that sense, it can bring the joy of discovery — which is sometimes no real joy at all.
Your works feature bold colors, lines, and shapes. Has it always looked that way? How has your work changed?
DMK: The changes in my work really come from the changes and events taking place in my life. After over a decade of museum and gallery visits and reading and talking about art I sort of came up with a working set of criteria for what a painting should be. Then I made a bunch of paintings that met that criteria. Then I used them as a list of what not to do. I hid some of them but destroyed most so that people wouldn’t ask for them. Like many painters, my earliest work came out of my technical training — still life drawing, landscapes, human figure, etc. Until I started larger scale work I didn’t realize how important those lessons would be. Shape, form, gesture, tone, perspective, composition, color theory — it’s all there.
What does being creative mean to you?
DMK: To me, being creative simply means making something that wasn’t already there or presenting a pre-existing thing so that we understand it in a new way. People often use the term interchangeably. I think most people can do the former but I think the latter is much more difficult. I think some people have a need for things to be understood in new ways merely as a matter of survival--as a way of making others see their perspective in an effort to make life a bit more bearable.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your job as an artist? What blocks do you run into?
DMK: There are tangible logistical challenges having to do with space and materials, and then there are intangible challenges such as the innumerable self-conflicts that need to be worked out every day. The job is negotiating a lot of stuff — inside and out — at all times, while attempting to communicate a complex idea in an aesthetic manifestation that will resonate every time you look at it forever. And then when that’s done you realize you haven’t even started yet and you go through the whole thing all over again.
What do you hope to bring the world with your work?
DMK: The only thing I hope to bring to the world with my work is the actual work. I’d love to think my work is a vehicle of social change or some other grand notion, but I don’t. There are songs and films and pictures that have had a major influence on my thoughts and actions and perspectives, but I always got the feeling those came out of a need to soothe some ache in the soul of the creator rather than cause a young man to take action thousands of miles away.
Do you consider yourself a creative type? Have you always felt that way?
DMK: I’ve always felt a bit like I didn’t really fit in with established groups, whether musically or professionally or artistically. It’s a natural feeling that I don’t really belong anywhere, so I sometimes end up doing some caricature of what I think a normal person does. When I can’t stand that anymore, I end up sitting at the dinner party making some silly thing on my phone to amuse myself. It’s been some version of that at every stage of my life. My friends seem to have X-Ray vision and can see through the madness of it, but I’ve walked into enough rooms where being a creative type was considered the same as being a threat to others, so I don’t go around boasting that I’m creative.
What's a piece of advice you would give individuals who feel creative but haven't yet found their way?
DMK: A creative writing student asked me what they could do during the summer break to improve their writing. I told the class to stop writing. Take three months off. No stories, no dialogue, no poems. If you can last three months, you probably don’t need to be doing it. If you feel like you’re going crazy during that time, the impulse will tell you where to go.
Is there a major concept or theme you have in mind while painting that is reflected in your work?
DMK: There are themes that I find I return to over and over, but I wouldn’t say my returning to them is intentional. Sometimes the themes only become apparent to me when reflecting on a work after it’s completion — they seem to tell me how I was feeling even when I wasn’t quite sure myself. Language, human relationships, the passing of time — these things weigh on my mind everyday, especially while I’m painting. I wouldn’t say it’s healthy, really. If I start to think about the actual painting while I’m working, I have to stop until I can become unaware of what I’m doing. If I recognize the image is starting to look like something recognizable, I have to stop and make adjustments until the image becomes unfamiliar again. If I finish a painting and I know what it is, I’ve done something wrong. Usually I hope my focusing on technique will get me through. It’s like swimming, or like a cartoon character running off a cliff. There’s a certain amount of strange faith involved.