In interviewing artist Matthew Miller, I was pleasantly surprised at his well thought, articulate responses which exemplifies not only his well read persona, but also the full scope of who he is and his firm belief in menswear, it’s influence, further potential and foundational philosophies that menswear is steeped in.
Story By: Christopher Ho, as told to by Matthew Miller
Illustrated By: Matthew Miller
It is this resolve that allows Miller, a candid narcissist, to singlehandedly forge ahead in uniting both traditional art; painted illustration and fashion, in what he considers a largely conservative and slow industry. That same self-awareness also allows Miller to transfer his charisma into the fine details of his artwork. Much like menswear, the details always matter; it is evident in his work and his upcoming published book, both of which are alluringly ardent.
What about Atlanta got you interested in menswear and fashion specifically?
I don’t know if it was Atlanta that got me interested in menswear, it just so happened that I was in Atlanta when I had my revelation. More than anything it was the creative people I surrounded myself with and that inspired my work. Menswear was the product of many years of experimentation and a moment of realization; experimenting with style and technique in painting, and realizing that no one else was doing men’s fashion illustration.
Is there an aspect or notion about menswear that really draws your passion for it? And why?
It’s the people and the stories and the potential. I’m a narcissist, I won’t deny it. One day I would love to be recognized as a great illustrator, an influential painter and a man of exquisite –yet eclectic style. There is almost no one painting menswear at the moment. I can fill that role. And within that role there is nearly unlimited potential for growth. The world is at my feet, now I just have to figure out how to seize it.
Do you have any specific influences in your art and or fashion style?
Most of my art and fashion influence come from the same places. I fell in love with Caravaggio as a young artist in University. Then there was Alphonse Mucha, John Sheridan, David Downton and Franz Kline. Then there are my contemporaries, Vincent Nappi, Leonardo Villasenor, Leo Chan and Marcus Troy. I would have to write a series of essays to describe in full, the ways that these people have influenced my artistic sensibilities and fashion style.
Do you work in watercolor specifically or do you dabble in other mediums or materials?
When it comes to mediums I am mostly constrained by lifestyle. While living in Atlanta I worked mainly in acrylic. Now that my wife and I live a nomadic life, Watercolor paints are almost a constraint. Painting with acrylics would be too cumbersome to move from place to place. I have the ease of use with watercolors that allow me to paint at live events and to move into whatever new space I have for any given time. I do love a variety of mediums though. Experimenting and mixing media is a way to stimulate technical creativity.
Do you have a specific piece that is your favorite, within menswear; ie footwear, neckties, etc? Why?
Do you mean in my wardrobe, or what I love to lust after? Or do you mean in what I love to illustrate? Honestly, they are essentially the same answer for me. The items I desperately want are the same things that I obsessively illustrate. Watches are magical, almost modernly nonsensical feats of genius and engineering. Mainly here I am speaking of mechanical watches. A quartz watch is almost exclusively a fashion item, which has its purpose in aesthetics but lacks a certain quality of story. Then I would have to go to footwear. Unlike watches, which aren’t innately utilitarian, footwear is a product that begins with necessity. Shoes begin with the need for covering the feet and assisting the body in the struggle of everyday life. Secondly, they serve an aesthetic need. Unlike almost any other every day clothing item they have to withstand a significant amount of wear and tear, and yet they are often judged by their aesthetic beauty.
I noticed your Watch Project; do you have a special interest in horology?
Aha, a perfect follow up question. It began with the community of horologists. There are these people who are obsessed with watches and these are people who do not simply pine after them, they buy them, they wear them, they add their own patinas, they test the limits of the watches, they disassemble and reassemble, they are simply in love. And this is part of the magic. Not only does the watch industry exist in spite of the world not needing analog time keeping, but they are thriving because of it. And I believe it is the stories that have traveled down through generations that keep the world of watches alive. Grandparents and parents pass down their watches; newlyweds purchase them in lieu of wedding bands. Watches are deeply personal items. This is what fascinates me and draws me in to the world of horology.
With regards to your Daily Fashion Project, is there an individual or a company that you would really like to work with or illustrate but have yet to?
Brunello Cucinelli. Hands down. Whether it’s Sunflowerman, Sunflowermatt or the Daily Fashion Project I don’t care, I would just love to work with them. And it’s probably going to be the worst client because I want it so bad. One of those “love the idea of working with someone” versus actually working with someone.
With the Daily Fashion Project it is all about capturing a product or personality in a loose and fun way. Where Sunflowerman is all about the detail and the story, the Daily Fashion is about showcasing style and product. Doing a look book for Buscemi would be a dream come true. Illustrating the suits of Strong Suit would be amazing.
What kind of story do you feel like you’re telling, with your illustrations and work? If nothing else what do you hope to get across to others?
Menswear is beautiful, it is strong, and it is evolving. This is what I hope to share across all of the work that I do. I want to share the stories behind the brands, I want to exemplify the story of their products, and I want people to feel like they belong in the world of menswear.
You’re about to publish a book on your illustrations, tell me about that.
The Aesthetic Guide for the Dapper Man is an evolving illustrated look-book featuring the best Menswear Brands from around the world. It features different aesthetics and styles through illustration to inspire men’s stylistic choices. I hope that in a few years it can also act as marker in time of what menswear was like. The Aesthetic Guide is being published in two styles. One is an Art Book for the coffee table and the other is a Magazine for easy browsing. Both options are in pre-order now on my website, sunflowerman.com.
Why a magazine version as well? And how did the whole idea of creating both come about?
I like the idea of access. Not everyone can afford the price of a coffee table book. Offering up a magazine option allows for more people to consider taking part in the movement. The menswear industry is typically very conservative. Taking risks is not usually a part of the thread of the industry. This leads me to starting many of my own projects, including the Aesthetic Guide for the Dapper Man. As much as it is an aesthetic guide for the layman, and visual stimulation for the enthusiast, it is a calling card and a wakeup call to the menswear industry. Menswear Illustration is alive and well. Let’s take menswear and make it creative. Let’s showcase the stories of brands through other means than the photography. Take a risk; show your fans that what you do is more than sell a product.
How long does it usually take to complete a piece? Or does it vary?
It really depends on what I’m doing. The process can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as a week. Some days I can finish 10 paintings, other days I can only work on a portion of one painting. The variety keeps the work interesting. I can dive into a big project or I can feel good and complete something in a short span of time. That’s actually part of how the Daily Fashion Project was born. I wanted to complete a painting to feel like I was doing something with my time. Then I realized an entirely new avenue for my work.
Do you feel like now that you and your wife are living fairly nomadically, that you’re new environments are fostering new creative influences?
It’s been two years now that we began this nomadic life. I feel that in another year or two I will be able to look back on the arc of work I have created and trace the influence of the places we have been and the people we have met. At the moment I don’t feel the difference. You don’t notice the change when you see someone every day.