In Conversation with: Mateo the Nomadic Painter

In Conversation with: Mateo the Nomadic Painter

Mateo, a globe-trotting nomadic painter, has spread his murals over three continents. We met last summer at Totem music festival, where he’d been invited to do live painting on a large wooden canvas. His mural of the Hindu goddess Ganesh was predictably a massive hit. He seamlessly included the festivalgoers in the project by  handing out cans and stencils that they could use to add their own mark. The result was an explosion of colorful patterns that emanated sun and good vibes. I felt compelled to find the story behind Mateo’s art.

A couple months later, Mateo and I sat down for a chat about his lifestyle and influences: a native of Toulouse, France, he has been drawing since he was a kid and started painting at the age of 15. He enrolled in art school in his hometown, and began using stencils around that time. When he got caught by the police painting in the street, he simply explained that the painting was a school project. ‘They didn’t do much apart from advise me against studying art, which they said leads nowhere.’  And yet, just a few years later he found himself in Montreal, where he got his Masters in

Graphic Design at UQAM, followed by a two-year stint at Ubisoft. Three years ago he left advertising to focus more on art. When his visa expired, Mateo traded the Canadian winter for sunny Argentina. He contacted the Art Factory Hotel in Buenos Aires—a melting pot of travelling artists. The hostel’s ethos promotes ‘street art, stencils and graffiti.’ They invited him to paint a mural in exchange for room and board. His work at the time was predominantly black and white, but it didn’t take long for Latin American influences to start seeping into his style, infusing it with vigorous colors.

In Argentina, Mateo quickly became aware of the lack social stigma associated to street art in Latin America.

‘Painting murals is completely legal, you paint all day in the sun, and artists there aren’t like criminals having to evade the police. People stop and chat to the painters, kids come up and ask to give it a try. The local artists paint with whatever colors they find, roll on solid, bright backgrounds. They spray through elaborate stencils and improvise a piece. They have artistic freedom, countless colors, and their art is not considered graffiti, for them it’s a gift they are giving to the community, and people feel the same way, it’s an artistic contribution.’

During the rule of military juntas in Latin America, people used graffiti as a means of protest, covering walls with anti-authoritarian slogans. After the downfall of these regimes in the late 1980’s, the repressed cultural realm burst into creative expression. In the spirit of this mentality of spontaneous freedom, Mateo learned to completely let go of any artistic inhibitions or fears. He began experimenting with new styles, colors, techniques, and ideas. Prior his Latin American experience, every mural was meticulously prepared and calculated. In Argentina, Mateo started adopted the local method of walking up to a wall, rolling on a base color, and using whatever stencils he felt inspired to use. He would then add patterns, words, and ideas as they came to him. Nowadays, his creative process has converged towards a mix of artistic research and spontaneous inspiration—some of which comes from music. When he is painting he likes to bump hip-hop—Calle 13, Jedi Mind Tricks, and neo-tango group, Bajofundo. When he is working on his urban canvases, he likes to listen to more mellow and down-tempo electro—Bob Marley and Devendra Banhart to name a few.

On his travels, Mateo enjoys taking time to discover new urban centers, always eager to check out museums and flea markets. ‘I collect old magazines and use the pictures to make collages with a Latin theme in my travel diaries.’  He was also influenced by indigenous culture, using stencils inspired by patterns and friezes of Incan architecture. While gathering artistic materials is a big part of Mateo’s wanderings, travelling does not hold a purely artistic objective. He aims to educate himself on other cultures, and to continue the process of intellectual maturation that eventually reflects itself in his work. ‘I’m fascinated by pre-colonial culture, so I love all of the research and ideas behind my collages.’ He felt right at home in South America, fitting in so naturally that he was often mistook for a local.

When I asked him about the coolest place he’d ever painted, he told me the story of Ricardo: a man he had met in an Argentinian village called San Marco de Sierra. Thirty years ago, Ricardo decided to live without electricity or the pollution of modern consumption methods. ‘He dug a hole in the ground, put an old bus on top, which has been his home ever since. When we met he asked me to paint his home.’ Aside from the eco-bus stencils, Mateo’s favorite pieces are those of his new project: Duality. Make sure to check out his video documenting the project below. The project pertains to themes of confrontation and repetition, which mirrors his method of using easily reproducible stencils. One of the pieces shows a woman facing herself, emulating the idea of confrontation. Upon asking him what kind of response he gets from people seeing him paint in the street: ‘It’s mostly kids and older people who stop and watch, I guess they’re the only ones who have time.’

After leaving colorful testimonials of his presence all around Montreal, the nomadic painter has now left the city, once again trading the Canadian winter for the more temperate climates of Europe. Make sure to catch his travel-themed installation called ROAD at the Fresh Paint Gallery. On your way in you’ll see murals that were painted for Under Pressure, Montreal’s annual street art festival.  Look out for the one with foxes that reads ‘Easy to manipulate their vision.’ It’s signed Mateo.