What happened when Mat Maitland hacked old NARS beauty campaigns for Dazed Beauty
The artistic heir to Warholian tradition, recalibrated in the digital age, Mat Maitland’s work blurs the boundary between high and low culture. His collages are pop, playful, cerebral and surreal. They’re steeped in nostalgia in as much as they reference future worlds, as witty commentaries on contemporary culture. Think an image of a packet of crisps juxtaposed with a luxury Dior watch, a sign for In-N-Out Burger framing a glamorous woman in designer shades. “There’s been a huge shift in the way fashion is consumed, the democracy of it and the way it’s been appropriating everyday life,” says the collage artist and creative director, “I suppose I was making a comment on this concept by placing high fashion items against everyday products such as fast food or crisps.” Born just outside of London, Mat’s artistic inclination manifested from a young age. He attended art college from 15, moving to London two year later to study design where he spent his time creating fantasy record covers. Turning his fantatsy into reality Mat got a job at Warner Brothers, where he designed record covers and promotional imagery for the likes of Prince, Elton John, Mark Ronson and Goldfrapp amongst many others. Since then, he’s carved out a career for himself as a subversive image-maker, working with clients from Kenzo and Louis Vuitton to MAC Cosmetics. But it’s the work he does in his free time which first caught our attention, in particular, a project called MARS, in which he reinterprets the visual language of iconic NARS beauty campaigns, reframing them as subversive beauty ads from another world. A project that he revisited exclusively for Dazed Beauty issue zero. Here we talk to the artist about the future of beauty and the power of pushing things to the extreme.
Do you think that your childhood influenced your aesthetics and the way you go about creating your surrealist images?
Mat Maitland: Definitely. I think we all capture something magical in our minds when we’re young based on limited understanding and imagined theories. I’ve always been obsessed with fantasy and constructed realities. This originates from the innocence of my early teenage years when pop culture was so omnipresent and concentrated in a decade driven by shameless dreams and outrageous glamour (the 80s, of course). I adopted the technique of photo-montage while I was at school creating fantasy record covers and this way of working informed my career as a collage artist today.
What’s the first thing you do before starting a work? Describe your creative process.
Mat Maitland: As an image-maker, my process is quite back to front. So, rather than create a sketch of an idea to create, I will find an image I like and transform it and that will inform where I take it. I might start with a loose thought or a theme but the process is a series of planned accidents. I will assemble and amalgamate bits of imagery to create one final piece that is my own, a reflection of my world. I suppose the raw photographic material is my clay. One collage could consist of 50 various found elements.
When do you know when it is finished?
Mat Maitland: This is a difficult question. I think the answer is simply intuition. Of course, if the image is for a commercial job then there will often be other things I will need to take into consideration. The process then becomes a little more specific.
You often use themes of Ancient Greece and Rome in your work. Do you think history plays a key role in how people should view the world?
Mat Maitland: Without history, the present or future doesn’t exist so I do think it’s crucial to finding inspiration. The past, much like the future, is exotic, enticing and unknown - at least from a first-hand experience. I love to join them together with the present to conjure up a new world.
In the past, you’ve made contrasting images of typical luxury items versus mundane everyday things. Why did you do this? Do you believe there is a thin line between beauty and what’s not considered beautiful? Do you think we’re compelled to look at expensive items as more beautiful than the simple pleasures in life?
Mat Maitland: There’s been a huge shift in the way fashion is consumed, the democracy of it and the way it’s been appropriating everyday life. I suppose I was making a comment on this concept by placing high fashion items against everyday products such as fast food or crisps. Fashion is frequently seen in a carefully created setting whereas in reality it brushes up against everything and is often viewed merging with other things. It’s not that strange to see someone wearing a pair of Gucci sunglasses while eating an In-N-Out burger so I liked the idea of them living together in an image, to highlight that contrast and normality. At the same time, it’s also a reference to pop art and its inherent glorification of ubiquitous consumer products that we have a familiar connection with.
You celebrate the woman and the female body a lot in your work. What inspired this?
Mat Maitland: Femininity and the female form will never go out of fashion and broadly speaking it often acts as my muse when creating imagery or appeals to me when I view other art. Of course sexuality is an aspect of this but the facets of interpreting and celebrating woman are endless.
Tell us about your interest in beauty advertising.
Mat Maitland: I like to imagine an alternative universe of beauty advertising. A more extreme and avant-garde fantasy version of it where conventions or traditional codes don’t need to apply. I find current beauty advertising often quite bland, particularly when you compare it to the work Serge Lutens created for Shiseido in the eighties or Dior’s campaigns from the seventies. I’m fascinated by the years when fashion was more dangerous and untamed. My MARS project was just a fun way for me to explore a hypothetical set of beauty adverts for a future world and species.
Today we are flooded with unrealistic images of perfection both in advertising and on Instagram. What do you make of this?
Mat Maitland: I feel that we have always been presented with an idealised notion of beauty going back through the ages. From ancient Greece to the golden age of Hollywood, beauty was instilled via a heightened and crafted image which was aspirational but also knowingly out of reach - a dream of another world. The same could be said for fashion editorials and advertising from the past. The difference now is that because the world is so connected, celebrities and models have become less otherworldly and visual language more accessible meaning their presence through social media - even though just as crafted - masquerades as being real so the distinction between construct and real life is harder to decode, especially for younger teenagers. In one way Instagram offers a platform for people to express themselves freely to present and inspire new forms of beauty...but unfortunately, it also perpetuates a clone-like template to emulate.
Why/how do you want to challenge this?
Mat Maitland: I don’t necessarily want to challenge this but I do believe in the power of individuality and self-confidence. I recently created an Instagram series where I altered the faces of famous female icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn by giving them surgical modifications and enhancements. I wanted to strip them of their instantly recognisable beauty and give them a look that fits in with current beauty trends. It caused quite a debate online. Some people might look at this series and think that I am making a hard commentary on cosmetic procedures. This isn’t the case at all, I’ve always been hypnotised by people who push beauty to the extreme. However, as cosmetic approaches to beauty have now become more attainable the contemporary ideals of beauty are easily achievable. You can observe the new normal across the world. This is what made me think about identity in the modern landscape.
Your aesthetic is very futuristic. What do you think is the future of beauty?
Mat Maitland: The MARS series is futuristic by design because of the theme I applied to the project but more broadly my work actually combines a myriad of styles - some quite nostalgic but in essence pop and surreal. Personally, I think beauty images should inspire and provoke, the same way art does. I like to think that they can make us push boundaries, experiment with other ways of being and accept or experience something different. As the world becomes smaller through shared experience, people should be encouraged to break free from trends and adopt a more personal expression. I believe that society is progressively becoming more accepting of differences and this will hopefully, in turn, strengthen diversity.
What do you hope to achieve with your work? If you had one simple message for people looking back at your work in 100 years what would it be?
Mat Maitland: I don’t see my work being this profound or even consider what people might take from it in 100 years, it’s not really for me to say. Ultimately I’m creating images that excite me here and now and if they survive as inspiration for other people in the future then that would be amazing...but it’s a lofty thought to predict!
What else are you working on at the moment?
Mat Maitland: I’m working on images for Nike’s ACG S19 Collection and a set of animated films based on Salvador Dalí’s perfume bottles.