Introducing Matt Reilly

Introducing Matt Reilly

Fionn Hargreaves chats to the artist who skateboards on canvas

New-York based performance artist Matt Reilly enjoys creating a spectacle – he has performed alongside synchronised swimmers and played a gig atop the Williamsburg Bridge. Now he is combining two of his loves, skateboarding and art, to create an entirely new way of making art.


He told me how the project emerged organically out of his interest in skateboarding.

“I had a ramp in my loft in Brooklyn and we were leaving marks all around my apartment from skateboarding and I have these seven foot tall speakers on each side of the ramp. We used to ride up the ramp to the speakers, and it was making all these marks all over the speakers, all over the walls and all over the floors. So I started to look at them and think about doing an art project.”

By attaching sponges dipped in paint to the wheels of his skateboard, Reilly produces colourful and aesthetically pleasing pieces of abstract art. His work ‘Skateboarding on Canvas’ was first displayed at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City for a show curated by artist Ray Smith.

On the development process of ‘Skateboarding on Canvas’ Reilly said: “Ray asked me to be part of the show and I really wanted to do something that was super high energy and performance based. We started talking about skateboarding – it was at the forefront of my mind as I was skateboarding a lot. It is something I love to do.”

The show was noticed by the Guardian who labelled Reilly as the ‘21st-century Jackson Pollock’. One of the greats of modern American art, Pollock pioneered the abstract expressionist movement, earning the nickname ‘Jack the Dripper’ due to his unique technique of drip painting.

When I mentioned the comparison to Reilly, he laughed and said: “Its really funny because he’s just such an iconic American artist, and we always joke about Jackson Pollock…

“But to do abstract art and I guess with the scale and the colours, I was really honoured.”

Whilst Pollock also engaged in high-energy art, what sets Reilly’s work apart is the performance aspect to his work. Even though audiences have enjoyed live performances of ‘Skateboarding on Canvas’, he told me that he was more concerned with the finished product:

“For the audience, I think it might be the reverse, everyone really enjoyed watching me making the painting and I get really serious about wanting the paintings to look a certain way.”

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Reilly is perhaps better known as half of the performance art group Japanther, who were responsible for the synchronized swimmers and Willamsburg Bridge projects. Music was also a large part of Japanther and Reilly’s artistic influences.

“I love listening to music whilst I’m on my skateboard. I started skateboarding when I was 10 years old and it led me to listen to different forms of music which I might not have been exposed to, which then led me to start a band. It’s a natural progression and I really love incorporating both of them because they’re both really fun and exciting.”

Three months ago, Reilly moved from Brooklyn to Paris. He appreciates the fact that he has the time to experience a completely different culture.

“We’ve been many times to Europe, but that was on tour so we didn’t really get to dive into the heart of a culture and to experience things I might have not been able to experience just playing a show or coming into town for one or two nights.

“Paris is really playful and the architecture is so magnificent. I love to ride my bike along the Seinne by the ancient cathedrals. I love New York too and it’s just a really nice change of scenery for me. Even more than a nice change of scenery, it’s a nice change.”

At the moment, Reilly is working with lighting artist Kiki Lindskog in Paris, developing a number of projects to do with light and sculpture. He seems in no rush to leave the continent, so watch this space.


All Image Credits: Matt Reilly via mattreillyart


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