The eyes are what really captured me when I was looking through the works of Matt Adnate. Before I read anything about his influences or his motivations or even his background, I could just tell that there was a story behind his work. He was saying something significant and it translated just from the amount of passion that he put into developing the eyes of his subjects. The question of how he managed to get to this level weighed on my mind.
Adnate’s own story seems to start with his artistic roots. He’s an Australian born and raised street artist, who picked up his first spray can over a decade ago. He grew up ‘tagging,’ but his art has evolved into so much more than that. To Adnate, his portraits are about life in its rawest sense. In a feature article for T-Squat.com, Adnate said, “People have told stories by making marks on walls for thousands of years. It lets people know they are alive and in turn has helped ancient cultures survive. If graffiti/street art didn’t happen, we would never know these people even exist.”
In his work, He captures this essence of life using a rather unusual set of skills and influences. Adnate attributes many of his realism skills to his graffiti past which seems like an odd origin for such remarkable skill. In an interview with the website the Newcastle Herald, Adnate explained, “You learn a lot from graffiti painting that you don’t really realise at the time – things like form, colour theory, linework, hand-eye coordination, can control, working on a large scale, depth, application; I could go on and on.”
For Adnate, these graffiti-gained skills beautifully collided with his own personal art preferences. Portraits were always Adnate’s favorite pieces to view at art exhibits, especially classical portraits that featured the chiaroscuro technique that was commonly used by artists like Caravaggio. In the interview with the website Newcastle Harold, Adnate said, “…I’ve always been attracted to them [portraits], but the main reason being that you can create so much emotion, you can tell so much of a story through someone’s face.”
Now Adnate is widely known for his spray paint portraits and they can be found on buildings in New York, Paris, Berlin, and other major cities throughout Europe. Adnate has had several solo exhibitions including “Demand Attention” and “Signs of Life” that have been really well received by the art community. “Demand Attention,” Adnate’s first solo exhibition that had pieces centered around elements of life, beauty, urban decay, and the environment, gathered a crowd of 500 plus viewers.
For “Signs of Life,” Adnate really stepped into and explored the indigenous culture. He wanted to capture their hardships and their emotions and he wanted to make sure that their lives were remembered somehow. For him it was really about reclaiming some of what had once been theirs. This exhibition started off with a lot of research because he really wanted to be sure that he understood the culture of the subjects in his portraits. Adnate worked with indigenous curator, Kimba Thompson and in the interview with Newcastle he expressed his desires and concerns about the collection, “I wanted to start photographing indigenous people and she made sure what I was doing was correct. I’m a white boy who grew up in inner-city Melbourne, totally different culture, and I want to make sure that I am as sensitive as possible.”
The collection came together phenomenally. Just looking through the images of the people you can see the desperation, innocence, fear, or wisdom behind each expression on the faces of the subjects. With his expressive art and his collection of indoor and outdoor canvases, Adnate has ensured that their stories will live on and I wonder whose story he will be telling next.