Karley Sciortino interviews Matthew Stone for Vogue Hommes Japan Vol 5 2010
This is the first time you’ve shot fashion. What was different about this way of working?
I wanted to make images that functioned as fashion photography and not just a repackaged version of what I normally do. Normally I shoot people naked. As much as I love clothes, and have spent years dressing up like an idiot, I feel they are distracting in my work. But I saw this shoot as an opportunity to be more playful with my aesthetic, and to show some of my humor, which doesn’t always come across in my other work.
Your work has always aspired toward the spiritual. However this shoot seems to employ more overt references to pre-existing religious imagery, for example the crown of thorns and the portrait of you cradling a naked body, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Was this intentional?
I often try to avoid specific religious references in my work because I want to find a new spiritual language, rather than just comment on the nature or politics of the past. Fashion, however, is a specific cultural conversation that celebrates the recycling of imagery, without demanding that the intentions behind their use be justified. This is what makes it so powerful culturally. The fashion world also welcomes aesthetics and beauty, whereas both are often seen as problematic in contemporary art.
In your self-portrait you wear a crown of thorns. How do you identify with Jesus? Are you a leader?
I think casting myself as a proto-Jesus is essentially where the humor I mentioned comes in. Although if you were to consider that Jesus was basically an anti-capitalist, hippy shaman with a fundamental belief in the transformative powers of love and humanity, then yes there are striking similarities.
More seriously though, anybody that makes culture is in a position of influence, and becomes a leader of sorts to other people. This is why the model of shaman as artist is so appealing to me. An artist can do more than make expensive objects. Artists should live to inspire others to further their own unique creative potential within the world. That is the role of the shaman.
So what exactly is your role as an art-shaman?
The shaman is an ordinary individual who enters non-ordinary psychological states to gain knowledge and energy. This energy is then given a bodily form as art, and shared with a community to effect positive change. So essentially the shaman acts as a bridge between the divine and real worlds. This is still happening today. Art, movies, fashion and music everywhere are all metaphors for supreme energies that everyone can learn to access and be empowered by. Culture constantly speaks of the eternal, but it becomes powerful and resonates when spoken of in the language of our times. Warhol particularly recognized this. I think we can consider his factory a spiritual home to a group of modern shamans, and his portraits as depictions of the saints of his society.
So if Warhol’s sanctified Marilyn, and claimed celebrities as newfound Gods, do you think he saw them as fulfilling a genuinely spiritual role for their devotees?
I don’t know whether Warhol intellectualized what he did to that extent, or whether he just intuitively moved toward something that people loved because it would be successful. I see Andy Warhol as a deeply spiritual artist who worked in a very intuitive way. He had a religious upbringing, so the art he experienced from a young age would have been Byzantine Catholic icon paintings—portraits of saints, the Virgin Mary, devotional figures—and you see that reflected in his paintings. Warhol’s legacy was totally of his own time, but it also transcends it. That’s what all art should aspire toward.
It’s not common for artists today to speak so overtly about the spiritual, but you seem to embrace it.
People are disillusioned with religion and associate it with hypocrisy, war and small-mindedness. Historically we have killed off Gods as they have ceased to serve the social and political reality of our times. In the twentieth century, when God died, we were left with a spiritual vacuum, and nihilism emerged as a new belief system. It’s now up to us to determine new ways of understanding our place within the universe.
How do you choose who you photograph?
Mainly I shoot my friends. Ultimately I want to make images of people who truly inspire me. Somehow I feel that if I work with people who have beautiful minds and beautiful bodies, the images will become infused with the combined energy of their physicality and thinking. Beauty on every level.
So in a way the work becomes a collaboration between you and the people in the images.
Completely. This is what I find so interesting. You can’t use people in the same way you use normal materials. You have to work with people, the same as in everyday life. The artist Joseph Beuys proposed a type of collaboration that resulted in “the world as a living sculpture”.
You’ve referenced Beuys as an influence in the past. Some say his greatest artwork was his statement that “Everybody is an artist.” How do you define an artist?
Artists are not special or worth more than any other person. They are simply those that have come to be conscious of the fact that every action is creative and can be beautiful in some way. The mindful choices that they make not only define their own lives, but shine like happy, truth-loving stars, born to illuminate and inspire the lives of those that encounter them.