Interview: OPEN:FORMAT & Matthew Kelly Debbaudt 

Matthew is among the first group of artists to move in to our studios and we’ve loved getting to know him and his work. We snapped some shots with him in the studio and chatted about his affinity for holes. 

OF: Your work often features a caricatured version of yourself. Have you always been the main character in your work and is it an alter-ego or a true representation?

MKD: I was always the central theme in my work even if I wasn't painting a self portrait. It took me a while to come to grips with that. I've always made work about my experiences and my psychology. But for the past 5 years or so, I've been working within a narrative form, and using myself as the main character, examining myself in different ways, placing some kind of hellish version of myself into a sticky situation. I think it's a combination of alter ego and true representation, but also completely exaggerated. For me, it's about accessing different channels within myself,  opening new doorways as a means to gain new insights not only about myself, but about the world around me and my place in it.

OF: Holes (and the phrase A HOLE) are a central theme of your work.  Can you give some hints to the meaning behind them, or rather, inside them? You've been working with holes for (from what I can tell) 5 or 6 years - has the meaning changed throughout these bizarre times?

MKD: The “a hole” project.. that is my pride and joy. No pun intended, it's kinda deep. It's a play on words. An adventure of miscommunication, language, numbers, calculations, belief systems, and good old fashioned potty humor, as my mom likes to call it. It began actually years and years ago as scattered drawings throughout my sketchbooks. There was always a caption “don’t go in” or something like that.  It always made me laugh making them. But then about 4 years ago, I had  a muscle tendon in my shoulder snap off from the excessive physical work I was doing, and then I was hit by a car on my bike in downtown houston. My body was hurting and I began to question the physical nature of my work. Without much else to do, I went looking through my old sketchbooks for fun, and reacquainted myself with these hole ideas. It made me laugh again, and then I began making more hole drawings and eventually found myself in a hole of “a hole” writing and drawing this wacky ongoing comic, making myself laugh out loud. The drawings were simple, messy, and it didn't hurt my body to make them. Eventually, the hole began to expand, finding  its way into paintings and performances.

MKD: There are many things going on in this “a hole” project, the meaning behind it, the ideas, but if I had to boil it down, it's about the “lack” or the “void” within, the unknowable dark and scary depth. For me, making this series was about me examining my (lack) hole and communicating with it, communicating with myself. The meaning of this work definitely has changed over time, as have I. When i was a kid, I had a recurring nightmare that would jolt me awake, terrified. In the dream I'm in a white void playing with a tennis ball, it bounces into a black hole, I go after it, plunge into the hole, twist, turn and slide through a dark tunnel as if it was some kind of water slide or roller coaster. At the end of the tunnel, I'm back where I started. I find the ball and at that moment, the blank white walls surrounding me start to converge together until the walls squish me and that is when I wake up. I still don’t know what that dream means.. I never played tennis, but I always did like that ball as an object, the color and texture and its bounce.
OF: Go in the hole or don't go in the hole?
MKD: Good question. I really dont know.. 

OF: Is there a meditative/introspective aspect of your process? Do you spend any time in your studio staring at the work, closing your eyes and going into the worlds within your work?

MKD: There is most definitely a meditative/introspective aspect to what i do. I often get so spaced out when I'm working I lose track of time, and I can't even hear someone nearby. And I'm jumpy and easily freaked out. So because of this I definitely don't close my eyes. At least not in my studio.. unless I need a deep breath to relax. I'm more of a wide eyed starer.

OF: The pandemic has been hard on up and coming artists. No opportunity for gallery openings, much harder or impossible to network or arrange studio visits. How have you adapted and have you found ways to deal with those anxieties? 

MKD: Until recently I was struggling with all this. I hadn't had a studio in so long, or the dedicated time to make work and dive deep into it.  I've had copious amounts of time to finally get to work and space to do it in. For the first time in a long time I'm truly connected to my work. I've been going through all my scrap materials that I've collected/developed over the last 5 years, revisiting old ideas or remnants of things that  I never fleshed out or realized. Right now I feel like I'm doing my best work yet, and that's all that I care about right now. I do want my work to be seen, and hope to find a way to make that happen, times are crazy though.. But all I can control is just making my work.. From there hopefully the universe aligns.

OF: What's the weirdest object in your studio?

MKD: I don't really have any weird objects or any objects in my studio for that matter, but i think the weirdest thing for someone else to see is the drawer of scrap material labeled “skin”.. 

OF: Your work reminds me of some a lot of southern folk artists. Would you consider your work to have a folk element to it and if so, how did a guy growing up in the SFV hook into that vibe?

MKD: I think it's safe to say that. I have been thinking for years about variation. Combining different elements or techniques together to make a hybrid, modge podge type of thing. To me it's more true to life and more visually dynamic  to have these variations taking place within the same piece. Growing up, I was never as interested in “fine art” as I was with most other forms of art. Hated going to Museums. It was mostly movies and the underground “Weirdo” and “MAD” magazines and comics that held my interest, especially as I aged. I wasn't an avid reader of comics, I was mostly in love with the drawings and the covers and the whacky and humorous imaginations. I mostly played sports and video games. 

See more of Matthew’s exploits on his website or instagram.