Deconstructed rainbows, a box of crayons run amuck. The paintings of David Matthew King, in a tight selection of colors within expanses of white space, hang ripe with emotion and movement. Fat lines in blue, red, green, yellow, and violet, leap and bend their way across the canvas, seeming at times less the object itself than the outline of something hidden.
What sits between these forms is King’s affinity for language, guiding the work itself. Every painting, seemingly simple in its execution, starts with the introduction of a small mark on the canvas–a word, if you will. From here, King builds on, adding further. Sentences of paint form together to tell a story of their own. The lines hang in suspension from one another in interactions that are not always straightforward. It is a ballet, a harmony, an exploration into dependence and autonomy.
In King’s artist statement, he notes: “What we say can never fully express the entirety of what we mean, and what we mean isn’t how we really feel.” His pieces are gap-filled, obtuse, contradictory–a perfect mirror of the imperfect nature of human relationships. With an impending move to Los Angeles on the horizon, we head to King’s New York workspace to talk punk logos, Shakespearean analogies, and the experience of language.
Former occupation and your most notable memory there:
When I was 17, I was hired at the local record shop. It was run by a Londoner, a genuine punk rocker who had no patience for that which he deemed contrived and whose heart crumbled in the presence of anything genuine. As far as I was concerned, that shop was more of a cultural center than an art museum or a mission or a college. Opinions were given matter-of-factly by a staff of misfits who could recommend punk, country, reggae, pop, electronic, jazz, blues, no wave, and soul records with surgical precision.
Sometimes we’d have dinner together on the elevated counter. If one of the staff had a car, they’d take the boss to pick up Indian food, and when we had Indian, there was only one record we were allowed to play while we ate: Tattoo You. One Friday night, it was a bit quiet in the store when we started eating. The place smelled like tikka masala and vindaloo and our fingers were a mess from the garlic naan and soaking up the spices.
We didn’t notice that the movie theater across the street had let out and the store was now packed. A couple people came up to the counter with stacks of CDs ready to pay. I looked at my greasy fingers and then looked at my boss with his greasy fingers, then told the customers to keep shopping because I wasn’t ready to ring them up. They turned around. The shop was bleeding and we needed every dollar we could get. I was 18 and was allowed to call the shot. I looked at the boss and he nodded his approval. A few minutes later we finished eating and cleaned up the counter and announced the the store that we were ready for their money. They lined up. Their stacks of CDs and LPs had grown. That’s how good the Indian food smelled.
Your first experience with art as a child:
I didn’t really have experiences with art as a child. The only kids in my childhood who were encouraged to do art were those who had somehow displayed some aptitude while doing some other official thing like a school project or illustrating “The Stations of the Cross.” I was a junior in high school when I took the first art class I can remember. We had to paint a portrait based on a photograph. I had forgotten to bring a photograph to class, so I used an image of Ben Hogan, who was on the cover of the issue of Golf Digest which happened to be in my backpack. Up until then, my art experience was drawing Descendents, Black Flag, and Adolescents logos on my notebooks and shoes.
What did your parents do for work? Were they interested in the arts or design?
For the most part, my parents pieced together a living through a series of part-time jobs. My mom worked mostly in office administration and retail. My dad worked mostly in hardware stores. He had done some painting and drawing around the time he was courting my mother. Some was made specifically for that purpose–some of which still hangs in the house. My dad is a true hardware man who built useful things and took on ambitious projects. However, his real talent has always been developing solutions to various problems using whatever tools and materials he had at hand. His interest in the arts and design has always been part of his survival mechanism. ”Necessity is the mother of invention” is something he knew long before he’d ever heard the phrase.
How does your love of language inform your works?
Language does all the things that I want my work to do. That’s the ultimate goal. It is the Fool in King Lear, and it’s King Lear in King Lear. The painting can be what it does while doing what it does. This is the consequence of watching The Marx Brothers on VHS over and over from the age of seven: the boy is sent to the principal’s office because the teacher thinks the boy is making fun of her but she isn’t quite sure. Meanwhile, the boy was doing what he thought was being asked of him and doesn’t understand why he was sent away. This is how my love of language has informed my work.
Are you an avid reader?
I’m not an avid reader. I am, however, an avid learner. I was raised to believe that those two were the same, and this was a source of great suffering in my life. The obstacles that some people face while reading are nearly impossible to empathize with unless you have similar obstacles yourself. A couple years ago, I made a video intended to illustrate what the experience of reading is like for me. It was very accurate. Some people could only watch a few seconds before saying they’d had enough. Ironically, that’s about how long I can comfortably read before I put down the book.
What was the last thing you read that informed your work?
Yesterday a very dear friend wrote that he was celebrating two years sober. To be honest, that informs my work as a painter as much as Albers or Hickey or Berger or Sontag ever did. Those people wrote wonderful things, but they’re just people who exist on a page.
Your favorite word:
How did you find your current workspace and where is it?
Most recently, my workspace has been the apartment of some very good friends. It’s a large, open, loft-style apartment. They gave me a key and said I could come while they’re at work or when they go out of town. As for location, I like telling people, “It’s near Brooklyn.”
Daytime worker or nighttime worker?
Both. I think a lot of people would agree that a very large portion of the work is done without a paintbrush in the hand. I’ve agonized for days about a single mark–sometimes while out to dinner with friends or while riding on the subway. Some people are able to stop working. I’m not one of those people. As for the physical marks on the canvas, my brain makes no distinction between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. If I have materials and space and light, time doesn’t matter.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Today was coffee, avocado toast, and donut holes… and a donut.
What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?
Take a walk to the coffee shop. Take a quick look at the work I made the day before. Make breakfast. Make a chore/to-do list. By that point, the day has probably gone off the rails. Pick up food at some point. A couple more coffees. Work is done throughout all that. Take some pictures of where I left off. Evening walk. Ice cream. I don’t have many typical days in a row before the whole structure changes.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I almost always have music going wherever I am, but when I’m physically working on a canvas I try not to have music playing. If I do, I try to have some variation so that I don’t fall into the music’s rhythms. It’s not unusual to go from Chet Baker to ’90s skate punk to Bob Dylan to Irma Thomas to Jamaican ska to The Clash to Patsy Cline within an hour. Mostly I listen to random TV interviews or audio recordings of academic lectures or archival poetry recordings. I like the jagged edges of conversation and the pauses when people are trying to figure it out in the moment. I like when I see that happening on the canvas.
Least favorite question people ask you as an artist:
“Who is your favorite artist?”
What are you currently working on?
I often don’t know what I’m working on until I see it. I have a lot of materials on hand so that I can go wherever I feel I need to go, but that’s got more to do with providing myself an opportunity for discovery. I have some ideas, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
What material do you go through the most of?
What medium/ tool/ color are you most interested in presently and why?
Charcoal. The contrast between charcoal and paper is so striking that it commands my attention. I think a lot of the work I do with color is an attempt to create that same type of contrast in a bold manner. I love contrasts. I love seeing one thing through its relationship to another thing. Charcoal helps me see a lot.
What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?
The opening scene of Reservoir Dogs. I’m putty in its hands. It tells you what’s going to happen and it knows it’s going to be misunderstood. It’s a living, breathing thing. I’m in awe of living, breathing things.
Simplicity is ____________:
Simplicity is when you stick out your elbow and she hooks her arm through it.
First word that comes to mind when you hear “New York City”:
What about “Los Angeles”?:
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is “The nearest exit may be behind you” every time I’m on an airplane. I think we need to be reminded that the things we need most are frequently much closer than we think. It may be just as useful to make this announcement after landing. Welcome to Los Angeles International Airport. Local temperature is 86 degrees, and please remember that the nearest exit may be behind you.