Setting foot in Matthieu Bourel‘s warm studio-apartment was a relief, after a walk through Berlin’s mucky late December weather.
If a limited declination of greys prevailed outside, the French artist’s studio had much more to offer. Every wall and corner is occupied by a selection of his collages and paintings. Boxes of magazines and more collages pile up on the floor, alternating with music records and completed by a purring cat.Before even getting the interview started, I had a pretty clear idea of how prolific Matthieu is. Getting an interview with him was, in itself, an adventure as he is not only a collage artist and a painter, but also finds time in his schedule to be a touring musician (producing electronic music under the name Electric Kettle), not to mention, a father.
When asked what he is, first and foremost, Matthieu replies he is a musician, no doubt. Though he trained in film, he started making music as a teenager and picked up on collage and painting only later. He states without hesitation that he has no formal training in fine arts – what seems to be far from a handicap.
All of what the artist does tends to amalgamate into one single entity, each field inspiring the others: “I would listen to soundtracks of my favourite movies mixed with my own music – while doing collage”.
Matthieu Bourel doesn’t have a strict workflow to have his different disciplines coexist. He doesn’t try to organize his thoughts before starting his work, either – “It really depends, sometimes my first idea completely disappears as I do the collage; or I have no preconceived idea, and I’m just working straight from the images – sometimes very quickly and sometimes coming back to it way later.” Nonetheless, his works naturally form coherent series, presenting a wide variety of styles and techniques. The subjects range from geometric arrangements and uncanny situations and portraits, to paintings and collections of apparently disconnected images on large boards… “every picture losing it’s identity to participate in the ensemble – to make it mine”.
Matthieu Bourel’s work also extends to the digital medium, with animated gif and digital collages. This way, he points out, you don’t need the physical material, you can easily express an idea – while in some cases making the images even more alive. Still, his preferred material remains paper, with which he feels he has a beneficial limit, a true, physical contact. His paper, Matthieu started sourcing it while still in Paris – in his neighbour’s trash, reportedly full of magazines.
Since moving to Berlin he has kept ordering old Paris-Match issues, but also started sourcing from German books and magazines and has since started producing more art. Berlin, he says, now feels like home. Even if he sometimes thought of going back to France, it now seems clear he is here to stay. “Berlin gives you freedom, there’s something very special about it. It would be impossible to make a living as an artist in Paris.”
Wherever he is, however, Matthieu Bourel thrives to stay in progress – be it on tour, at home in Berlin, or back in France. He hopes to never stay static, or stuck in a particular style. Even when away from the studio, the artist keeps drawing and collaging in small travel books. The point being to not ever be doing nothing, to escape boredom.
His work might therefore change drastically from one series to another – in parallel, his music is quite different from one record to the next, regardless of exterior criticism. “I’m interested in knowing what people think about it, but whether people like it or not, it doesn’t matter. I’m happy when people like it! But I do it to express something personal – in music and in art.”
He will even go back to finished, already exhibited pieces (“The Power of Boredom”, SystM/Brut. Berlin, 2010) to add new layers and reinterpret the meaning. “A few pieces were taken off by my son. But it still doesn’t feel finished.”
In the near future, Matthieu Bourel, alias Electric Kettle, is looking to promote his work more actively and to expose his pieces again – not really for the market, but for the push. To have a deadline and to be driven to finish some works.
It seems, in the end, the French artist thrives to be destabilized – to push his limits and allow no preconceived ideas to slow him down. And especially, no boredom.