Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame plunges us unapologetically into the jungles of India from the turn of a page.

His illustrations in Speaking to an Elephant and Walking is a Way of Knowing, published by Tara Books, have gained critical acclaim: described by The Times of India as “visually celebrat[ing] the teeming richness of the tropical forest and its many creatures.”

Every illustration is decadently overgrown. It immerses you in native plant life, tumbling fruit, larger-than-life crickets and snarling panther jaws. It’s ready to swallow you whole and spit you out in the speckled shadows of a forest floor.

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It’s difficult to believe that this artist could ever question his incredible talent. However, Matthew reveals that he spent the months leading up to his six month residency at Tara’s headquarters “worrying that I would be ‘found out’, that I couldn’t draw, that I was totally talentless and that there had been some sort of terrible mistake in inviting me there.”

This “perpetual state of anxiety” can be read in Matthew’s drawings, which are precise and overwhelmingly detailed. No space to ask questions. No room for error. Each piece of work – from the 8-storey mural commissioned by Zap Architecture, to the album artwork for Pete and the Pirates – share the same barrage of information. As a recent client Dr. Piyush Pushkar put it: “You see the strokes of Frame’s marker pens, and then feel yourself pushed backwards as far as possible to grapple with it all.”

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However, in Matthew’s newer illustrations we discover a distinctly looser style. In fact, some of the drawings featured in Walking is a Way of Knowing and Speaking to an Elephant are taken straight from Matthew’s sketchbook.

Matthew’s experience in India where he illustrated the two books – working with limited tools from his bedroom, getting ink all over the floor and enduring the worst monsoon Chennai had seen for 100 years – sparked a new, liberating perspective in his abilities. “I […] realized that my artwork isn’t about the things I have around me – I don’t need anything to be able to work effectively, I just need me.”

Since returning to the UK, Matthew has worked on many ambitious commissions, including a mural titled The Marisolysian Fields which celebrates the joint Indian and British heritage of baby Frederic Pushkar. He is now starting a new chapter as a professor of BA Illustration at Portsmouth University and MA Illustration at Falmouth University.

Matthew says: “My one bit of advice to anyone reading this would be to be constantly putting yourself in situations where you feel slightly out of your depth […] Nothing will compare to the sense of achievement you get when you have completed what you thought to be an impossible task.”

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This article is one from my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists whose work I love. Let me know what you think to the article and Matthew’s illustrations, which you can find more of here!

– Karis

Are Selfies Bad?

Selfie culture has taken over our social media and become a part of everyday life. But should we embrace the fad or take a step back from this strange segment of online culture?

The growing prevalence of taking selfies does not mean that our culture is getting more vain or more image conscious – pride and vanity in our appearance has always been there, in every culture, in every time period. It is just that now we have found a new way to express it. However, showing our vanity through the medium of selfies is much more acceptable now, to the point that it is celebrated and encouraged through systems of approval such as ‘liking’ photos and posts on social media.

Selfies are after all a way of controlling our appearance, and therefore how we are perceived by others. It is only natural to want to show our best side in order to represent ourselves well. However, controlling our own image to the extent that we now take it only makes our standard of beauty (for ourselves and others) much higher. This promotes negativity about natural, uncontrolled, unflattering images of people, to the point that we will criticize and try to disassociate ourselves from “ugly” pictures by ‘untagging’ ourselves or censoring which photos we share. This high standard for our own image creates dissatisfaction about how we really look and an unwillingness to embrace our whole self, warts and all.

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My selfies

Whatever the consequences to our mental health, the fact is that taking selfies is now part of our culture. As sociable animals, it is a natural instinct to want to fit into our society and associate with our peers. Avoiding being in photos can result in people thinking that you do not fit into normal society or that you are purposely isolating yourself from it. This may lead to further social exclusion, meaning participating in selfies is in some way necessary for our social survival.

Furthermore, the act of taking selfies has become a bonding experience for people. It is a way of documenting and celebrating our relationships with people – whether long-term or fleeting – and showing other people that we have accepted them into our social circle. When we look back at the photographs, we get pleasure from remembering the connection and the happy memories that we associate with the image.

Like the act of taking a photo brings us closer together, sharing it gives us confirmation that we have been accepted by our society. Sharing a selfie is a way of getting direct feedback on the way we present ourselves through comments and ‘likes’ on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Receiving this (usually positive) feedback reinforces the idea that we are valued by, and fit into, our society.

It is definitely not healthy to need to receive this feedback, since it means our sense of self-worth is determined by something external to ourselves. A much better attitude would be to be comfortable in our own skin and to not need other people to openly tell us that we are looking great to believe it. However, such confidence is not so easily obtained, and therefore it is only natural to seek it from people who we also admire and who’s opinions we value.

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Documenting friendship through selfies

In the long run, the world is changing, and as animals who live in a complex and highly social society, we must adapt to fit into it. The alternative is to be left behind by our peers, and potentially to be considered as old fashioned, stubborn, strange or unsociable. When we stop to consider the act of taking selfies, we realize how shallow and strange the concept actually is. However, it only stems from a natural and very important desire to belong in human society.

In general, selfies do not harm anyone, they are not evil or cause cancer or destroy rainforests. However, neither do they promote acceptance about the way we naturally look and can actually diminish our sense of self-worth. Overall, we should not over-indulge in this modern pastime. We should not take ourselves or the images of ourselves too seriously, and remember that the number of ‘likes’ on our latest profile picture does not equate to our level of beauty.

Your true friends will be the ones enjoying your body positivity (and probably ‘liking’ all of those photos), but equally will be the ones who couldn’t care less if you never took a selfie in your life.

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