Matthew Plowright – Painter, designer, book designer, surrealist
Your work is hugely imaginative, often surreal. Tell us why that is?
I don’t think painting reality has ever been my strong point. It doesn’t excite me and it is beyond my ability to slave over a really accurate depiction of something exactly as it really is. I think my natural reaction to that is to delve into surrealism and apply myself to a more unusual outcome where imperfections are given extra significance or hidden. When I paint it is important for me to set up a situation where I know my own rules, always allowing for experimentation.
Your fascination with prawns is evident: tell us a bit about that?
Rodger the prawn is a champion of obscurity. The idea of giving a prawn the leading role in my art was a reaction to what I saw around me when I was studying on my textiles course at Leeds College of Art. Without meaning to sound disrespectful to anyone on my course, I noticed how similar people’s work looked – similar styles and themes, and I couldn’t understand it as this was at the stage when we were writing our own briefs. At this point I was probably as close as I’ve ever been to following the crowd artistically but I just felt strongly that I wanted to do something that would physically stand out showing that I take silliness seriously, and decided to make a 4ft prawn! It was a frantic spell of creation using papier maché, found objects and paint in a very raw way. Once Rodger was christened, I think I began to see the world through a prawn’s eyes and the potential for him to escape into magical worlds in narratives. Inspired by Mr Benn and the likes of Noggin the Nog and Ivor the engine, I developed the idea of Rodger the Prawn & the Magical Pantry and quickly became focused on producing a series of illustrated books and the ultimate goal of an animated series. I used the rest of my time on the course to develop Rodger’s appearance, environments and history. I had ideas of my own for his adventures, together with some suggested by other people. I even managed a few early attempts at animation or at least slideshows of Rodger in his early form. I felt fully supported by my tutors and achieved a grade I was pleased with despite my work standing out like a sore thumb and feeling I was on the wrong course!
You also are a fan of constructing books. What inspired you into this?
My book making skill is very basic, I wouldn’t really say I’m very interested in it as a process. It was simply a tool I thought was necessary once I realised I wanted to do books about Rodger to send to a small circle of friends. I basically learnt from one person on my course – he is much better at it than me and puts far more time into it than I do. I love pop up books though and would love Rodger to feature in that format.
What has been your career highlight as an artist?
Until I discovered Surrealism (in particular Dali and his works) and identified with it, I was just someone that loved to draw and paint but felt I didn’t make sense. Perhaps being a surrealist is about making a feature of not being able to make sense. Since I’ve related to surrealism I’ve been able to apply myself how I would like and seeing my painting ability develop has been very pleasing.
You are an avid Notts County fan, and was commissioned to paint caricatures: how did that make you feel?
Honoured and important. I was excited to draw players I was familiar with and important figures in the history of Notts County. Initially I sold a handful of them when they went on sale in the club shop and I felt great. Sales have slowed up to present but I’ve just organised to do a stall at the ground on match days where they will be available at a reduced price so hopefully I can shift a few.
How has Beeston influenced your work?
Beeston, where I’ve lived all my life apart from my college time in Leeds, has actually underpinned a lot of Rodger the Prawn’s curious local town ‘Fishington’ in terms of the basic layout. Broadgate Park features as ‘Carp Park’, Humber Road becomes ‘Cod Row’ and my street Dallas York road becomes ‘Dead End Street’, where Rodger resides at my number 21! – although the magical cellar pantry, a few steps down from our glory hole under the stairs, is entirely from my own imagination. There are even design features of Beeston, especially some of the original Victorian architecture that feature in Rodger’s adventures but I’ll leave those for the readers to uncover
Plans for the future?
.I hope to get a website soon and people will be able to view, purchase and keep up to date with my art. The plan for so long had been to get Rodger’s stories finished and sent to publishers, but latterly, I’ve run out of steam with it. To be honest, I’ve been a bit down about it for a while now actually. I was getting stifled by the nature of following a narrative. At the moment I find painting when I feel like it more beneficial to my mental health as you can choose to follow through themes or abandon them completely after each painting. Hopefully I can sell more paintings. Things have changed a bit in that respect – for ages I felt I had to cling on to everything I produced but more recently my attitude has changed and it seems more beneficial for me to be selling. If I’m particularly attached to a painting I can just bump up the price, and prints for myself or customers will always be an option. One thing I haven’t really tried yet is reproducing a painting that I have sold but I’m sure I can do that if I’m able to apply myself. I would love to have an actual studio to work in as opposed to a tiny poorly lit room. If I had a studio with a sink, I would be able to work on a bigger scale and perhaps on multiple images which would be exciting.