As our feedback deadline approaches for this year’s instalment of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize we asked 2015 Highly Commended Artist Matt Alexander Ray to tell us about his experiences since entering the Art Prize, what he has been working on and what he found has been his significant milestones in the past couple of years.
In 2015 the Judges were bowled over by Matt’s technical skill and sensitive use of light. This coupled with Matt’s traditional style of painting, despite being a contemporary artist, proved to be a very unique and bold entry. On seeing Matt’s work ‘in the flesh’ it was decided that all of the works he had submitted would be exhibited in the Finalists show. During this time Matt took us up on the offer, which is open to all Shortlisted Artists, of sitting down with the people behind the prize. In this instance he met Caitlin Smyth, who works one-to-one with artists to guide them on career development, to discuss where he was at and what steps he could take to move his work into a more visible position. Matt has taken significant steps forward in recent years including gaining representation and exhibitions, he talks about how he’s achieved this and what the best bits of advice were for him.
Q1: Tell us a little bit about you and your practice
A1: I grew up in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and England, and am now based in London. I began my training in traditional drawing and painting methods in 2005, studying at a number of contemporary ateliers in the UK and Europe.
My subject matter covers still life, portraiture and landscape. I’m influenced by traditional oil painting techniques, but look for compositions that feel fresh and contemporary.
Q2: What is the most successful bit of advice you have been given as an artist?
A2: Actually, I think the most important thing has been something I worked out myself, which has been to not rush things. I’d received compliments about my work for years, but I waited until I was really happy with what I was producing, and was able to articulate my objectives and discuss my technique clearly, before really starting to test out the market. And I was taken on by the first gallery I approached.
Q3: What was your experience as an entrant of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize?
A3: It was really different to any other prizes or competitions. What set it apart was the focus on developing emerging artists’ careers, through the events and other advice I got once I knew I was a finalist. It was a great surprise and privilege to be a finalist, and then further to receive a highly commended award.
Q4: What do you feel have been important stepping stones in your career?
A4: I achieved gallery representation and my first sales in 2014. Things really accelerated through 2015, following the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize, with a number of group exhibitions and succeeding in national open exhibitions into 2016. Once things start moving, it was easier to pick up momentum.
Q5: How much importance do you put on managing self-representing?
A5: My experience so far is that most of my achievements have come from pushing things on myself, rather than relying on anyone else.
Q6: Regarding self-representing what do you focus on to develop your career?
A6: I’m still exploring a range of avenues, and with each I’m learning what strikes a chord with the audience. I’m often surprised at which paintings are most popular. So at the moment it’s about being adaptable and open to new things. Even where I’ve found really successful subject matter I’ve moved on so as to avoid being typecast.
Q7: What is the most important event to you in the art calendar?
A7: Whatever else is on, my wife and I will always go to the BP Portrait Award. It’s where we went on our first date, so for that reason it’s special. One day I hope to appear there!
Q8: If we want to see your work ‘in the flesh’ where should we go?
A8: I’m currently represented by the Joanne Parker Gallery, in Battersea, London
Q9: Which artists to you aspire to in some way?
A9: Walter Murch, for taking the still life genre to places it had never previously been. Isaak Levitan, for the atmosphere he created within uncompromisingly realist paintings.
Q10: What projects do you have coming up?
A10: Right now I’m working on a portrait of my daughter, who has just had her first birthday. Sittings present something of a challenge!
Many thanks to Matt for what we feel is a great insight into working as an emerging artist! You can check out Matt’s website here: www.mattalexanderray.com
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Interview by Caitlin Smyth
Oaktree & Tiger Team
Art experts giving advice to emerging artists to build their careers and find success. Organisers of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2020, artist agent and art consultants.