Matthew McCarthy Talks Art, Euro Tour, Live Painting Alongside Protoje At Rototom Sunsplash Festival And Refugee Crisis
Written by Gladstone Taylor
Matthew McCarthy is a connoisseur of iconography, known for his unbiased interest in symbology. This aesthetic has undoubtedly translated to his art to the point where he has created an icon to embody his own eye-deals (unique perspectives) as he goes by the moniker, Eyedealist.
Fresh from his tour of Europe, we had a revealing reasoning about his bearings since his arrival and where his head is currently. The sun was still high in the sky. Thirty-four degrees Celsius as is common for Kingston afternoons, there was no mercy to be had. Reggae Mountain was unsuspecting as we sat on the retaining wall next to the famous Kingston Dub Club, overlooking the community of Papine. This was Matthew's ideal place to get lifted, so it struck me as somewhat strange when he said, "Let's talk while riding around the city."
That was the end of it, although the questions began on that fateful descent down Skyline Drive.
You’re back in the island now, still fresh, still processing I assume. What are some of the things that have been most comforting since being home?
Hmmm… The sun, even though it’s kind of overcompensating right at this point. It’s very hot. But yeah, the consistency of various things, like the weather, the people, the vibes. Island vibes. Still the same even though the prices have gone up, but it's comforting as what it is. That’s Jamaica. It was like a really alien environment in Germany and stuff. There were a lot of culture shocks but Jamaica is pretty much its own shocking gem, which is good.
I can imagine you are seeing things through a whole different lens. Talk a bit about how travel, in the way that you recently did, can affect an artist.
Man… I feel like people always say travel is supposed to do all these things like open and expand your mind but really, for Jamaican artists, it’s almost like it's just necessary. There are so many things that have happened in the world to date and all I’ve ever really known is one island.
Outside of that Jamaican people are nomadic from ever since, like historically. So it’s kind of just in our blood as well and that’s something I recognized while I was there. There were so many people there who, somewhere in their background, they can tell you of some type of Jamaican blood that they have, and I’m saying that’s just the nature of people. We’re in that time again where people really want to move around and stuff. So for me personally it was really just an eye opener to be able to see a different kind of melting pot because Jamaica is, in and of itself, a melting pot. But for some people it can really feel like an island prison because it’s really difficult to leave at the same time.
So countries like that now, where people gather from as south as Africa to as north as Scandinavian nations, straight over, coming into central spaces like Berlin, you can see how it reflects in the physical spaces. From the walls, the art on the walls, the way they organize their spaces, the structure of the city, the way they tackle issues like gentrification between the different cultures, it's all just very unique. Some of these things you never recognize here in Jamaica, you never even recognize gentrification on Hope Road until you see what it means to a set of people who have to deal with it over cultural lines and not just geographic lines. You come back and you start to question certain things in your local space. It just was a real eye opener to [see] how diverse life on this planet can be.
Walk us through some of your activities. I know you had some exhibitions and you did some murals, so talk about that in detail.
Well, the whole purpose of traveling was to be a part of a group of talented visual artists who are among a larger group of talented artists, to represent what is happening currently with contemporary art, music, photography, just Jamaican aesthetic. The tour was called the United Purpose Tour but it really was a tour of individuals who had very unique perspectives on various art forms. Whether it be music with Italee, photography with Jik or new age holistic medicine with Peter or fine art with Dan. It was really just an experience that allowed us in our own unique ways to express ourselves. For me personally, from day one we had this roster of events that we were supposed to do and spaces to go to, but by the time we got there, there were so many other spaces that started to pop up that we ended up doing really unique things quite often. I have to say first it was not just my exhibition in any shape or form. Almost every space we went to ended up becoming a collaboration between all of these members.
The first place we went to was Kunst St. Pauli Gallery in the heart of St. Pauli, Germany. St. Pauli is actually very close to Jamaica in terms of how it operates. The people there are very rootical and roots about their city. Like being in Kingston, it can be a bit grimy but there is a lot of tradition and culture. There’s like street art there that becomes t-shirts that everybody wears. It's that kind of environment. The guy who owns it, Harry, he allowed us to take over this living room type space with black walls. It’s something that you would find in a type of downtown urban space. It was really a space that I think all of us went into and felt very familiar. This was somebody who was from a very different world than us and he was open to whatever it is that we were going to bring. We were tasked to set up an exhibition of a lot of the Sankofa Sessions artworks, a lot of my personal prints and posters of stuff I’ve been doing over the years, as well as doing live painting in the space and helping Daniel set up his exhibition. It was our first exhibition and we pulled it off. It was really cool. A lot of people came through from the local creative community. We made links there too that helped us to continue going as well.
The second space we went to was Reggae Jam, which was really interesting. Very cool organization to let us bring so much art and ideas to the platform. We were stationed on what some would consider a market ground but it was so open, there was a lot of space. We had this round tent and we set up all the artworks in it from different places. It just ended up becoming this collaborative space.
Then we went to Yaam in Berlin. It was off the chain. Big up to the DJs of I-Revelation Sound. Big up Barney Miller. They were the DJs who were across the way from us at Reggae Jam and, by the time Reggae Jam was done, they had told us they were the DJs for Yaam. So by the time we got to Yaam we met up with them again but the whole space was really amazing. A lot of cultural stuff happens there. A lot of culture and different nationalities pass through, like Trini people, Bajan people, Jamaican people, African people, Indians - just so many different cultures coming together in one place. The space has been around for a very long time, and it keeps moving around to different places, but it’s so radical the way that they behave about the whole thing because they just squat the place.
So they don’t own it?
They don’t really own it, they just squat it and then they just build this entire creative hub. They allowed us to do an exhibition around by the peach bar section. They had an actual exhibition space, it was organized by a really brilliant creative instigator, Alesh. He put us into contact with a lot of cool artists. And also big up to Kai Hillman who gave us the real Berlin experience. But Yaam is an amazing space. Then there was Skandalos, which was an amazing indie festival, same procedure. Then we went to Rototom, which was insane. That was wild.
Talk about that experience. Were you aware that Protoje would be calling you on stage?
No, not at all, but I’m going to share this experience: I sent Protoje a link on Facebook a couple years ago and I said, “Yo, here is Flying Lotus. He’s Dj-ing and there’s like animation going on in the background. We should link up.” He had responded when he saw it and I think he said it was cool and stuff, but I had kept sending it to him like a year later. (Laugh.) There might have been like a small seed that was planted because, before leaving to do anything, we had linked up and both said we should collaborate and I think we both understood what that meant.
Whilst being at the festival, there was a set of events that lead us to gather some paint and some material to do something, but it didn’t work out, so then I just had this paint and material. At that point, when he arrived and said let's go, I just realized how fatidic the whole thing was and how much this was just the point that this had to happen. Things don’t happen by accident.
What would you say are some of the most shocking things you found while being in Europe?
The refugee crisis. For me that is the utmost shocking. That and the fact that you have to pay to use the bathroom. For me that is just wild. I mean, maybe it’s because I don’t understand but having to pay to use the bathroom is crazy. The refugee crisis is really something that makes me very skeptical about where we are headed. Do we even know where we’re headed, the whole planet? The reality of it is, whilst there, I was being confused as a refugee, and I was then hearing how badly actual refugees were being treated.
I don’t think there is any blame to be placed specifically but I’m at least glad [for] the people that we met when we were there, who were aware of how this whole thing set and are really being activists for something different. The truth is they should have been preparing for this. It's just simple math. It was just shocking to me to see how a serious lack of resources, and lack of any stance, just have these people at the mercy of the tides. And it’s sad.
Will we be able to see more of your adventures from this summer in your art?
I definitely think so. I think it's harbouring a much more global perspective even though it will still be through the Afro-Jamaican lens that I have. It’s just a realization. I’m doing art that people can look at and say rootical. When you look at what rootical really means, there’s a larger historical picture for me and people that look like me, that I can recognize when I go to another place and say, Okay I should really take it serious when I’m putting it into my art. I definitely think, more than anything else, there’s like a global idea that is forming right now and I don’t want to put any type of Jamaican supremacy on the table. So it’s more than that. There’s things happening on the planet that demand our attention and I think I was always talking about those things and I’ll be talking about them even more now. Because one day we are going to be subject to these things as Jamaicans too, so is it that we just sit and wait for them to happen?
What was the first thing you did when you got back?
I ate at Island Grill. Big ups to Island Grill. In my opinion, if you’re going to eat any fast food in JA, Island Grill is the only sensible place to eat. (Laughs.)
What’s next for the Eyedealist?
I definitely want to treat the art I’m doing as much more of a martial art. That was something I picked up, not by going anywhere but by just the reality of the way I’m living lately. Having to constantly be moving and trying different things and sometimes failing. Learning how to look at some of these ideas like Zen, and while I was traveling I was reading a lot and considering a lot of things I have read that I never really tried to implement into my life. I think I’ve been lucky to naturally have a type of activity that my body wants to do that, in and of itself, is a very martial type of art. It’s a very zen type of thing. I guess for writing it's the same thing. It’s like you feel the effects of this thing that’s actually giving you energy rather than taking it. For me, I think with the art I want to just keep doing it from a place of love, a place of consistency and practice, and finding the beauty in it even more, and sharing it with people through even things like my Instagram. I think it was ASAP Rocky who said his Instagram is a piece of art, but I think he says that because you make art with anything. You can’t just be doing things pointlessly. You have to really see why you do things and know that it’s because this is your martial art. That’s how I feel about art these days.
In terms of the physical embodiment, it will just keep growing bigger. Bigger walls, more walls, more dynamic ideas put on the walls, more brain twisters, more newspaper ideas, more freedom too. Just working from the place of being a Jamaican artist and I don’t really think it’s just a dream at this point. It’s within reach if there is enough focus and enough continued luck - I don’t mind using that word. I just have to give thanks to everybody around me, to God, everyone I’ve had in my life, all the teachers I’ve had - Micheal Franklin rest in peace, my aunty Caroline, Mrs. Holms, Mrs. Lake, all of these mentors. I’ve had some amazing ones. That’s it yo. Dem say luck is opportunity meets preparedness and these people prepared me.