Matthew Hawtin, The Link Between Techno And Modern Art

Richie Hawtin's brother is exposing his 'electronic paintings' at the Mutt gallery in Barcelona, as part of the Sónar 2012 'Dimensions' exhibition

Richie's brother Matthew Hawtin is a reputed plastic artist, who designed record sleeves for projects like F.U.S.E., and who's practiced abstract painting. The Mutt gallery in Barcelona is exhibiting his collection “Dimensions”, coinciding with Sónar.

Flying diagonals, neon spirals, abstract lines, and geometric figures floating in space. It's not Malevich's suprematism, nor is it Rothko's expressionism: it's 3-D music, it's the purest electronic music materialised. Matthew Hawtin (Richie's brother, yes) isn't only a DJ and producer: he also uses white canvases to express his particular aesthetic vision, visually (and aurally) soaked in the spirit of 90s Detroit techno, minimalism and gliding ambient. Refined forms and saturated colours on absolute white, in order to conceptually deconstruct the sounds of techno, all under the slogan 'less is more'.

Coinciding with Sónar 2012 (where festival regular Richie Hawtin will play earlier than usual this time, on Friday night at the SónarClub), Barcelona's Mutt gallery (Carrer Comerç, 15, from Monday to Saturday between 11 am and 9 pm) is presenting Matthew Hawtin's first Spanish solo exhibition, “Dimensions”, starting today (the vernissage is until 7 pm), until 19th July, and which was already successful at the Red Gallery in London. Hawtin fans (both Richie's and Matthew's) will recognise the foundations of the legendary record sleeves by F.U.S.E. (Richie's alter ego in the early 90s), and will see a visual history of Matthew's plastic arts. We spoke to the man about his work, his music and his relationship with his brother.

You designed many of Richie's record sleeves, and we would like to know to what extent F.U.S.E. and Plastikman's records have contributed to expanding your art. In other words: is there a direct link between Richie's music and your art?

I did the first F.U.S.E. Sleeves, but I never did any for Plastikman. I never set out to make art for any musical projects, it just happened, and it grew as we were working together. I was looking for my own style in my early works, but “Dimensions” shows that what I was doing in the past and what I'm doing now is pretty similar.

He makes music, you make art and both of you are DJs. What aesthetic do you share?

Less is more.

Your father was involved with electronic music, which helps to understand Richie's interest in techno in his teen years. Where does the interest in art come from for you, given these family influences?

My grandfather was a Sunday painter, not a professional one, so I feel art was already around me. But the most important thing has been that my parents were very liberal, and the let us explore everything, making us into the people that we wanted to become.

Richie has a couple of your paintings in his Berlin apartment. Is he a collector of your work? Has he got part of your work hidden somewhere?

He has a few pieces of mine in Windsor, and there's a couple of 'hidden' works in the studio, which will be used for an exhibition soon, fortunately, when the time is right.

Where can a collector find your work?

I sell most of my work through my website, and the galleries I exhibit at. There are a few loyal collectors, and there are always new people interested in my work. I also do bespoke work, that's always interesting.

“Dimensions” was set up in collaboration with Plus 8 and M_nus. What are the rules to tell the visual history of those labels through the artwork?

We don't work according to any pre-set rules. What you see at the expo is simply what happened to my art in a certain time frame, parallel to what was happening in electronic music. It's always been an organic process of working together.

Do you listen to music while you paint? Which artists and sub-genres (we assume they're electronic) inspire you the most?

I listen to music most of the time in my studio, but it varies: classical piano music, electronica, some pop. It depends on the moment, my mood and what I'm working on that day. While I was working on my most recent pieces, “Torqued Panels”, I was listening to the Daft Punk soundtrack of “Tron” a lot, and Alva Noto's “Xerrox” series.

What would “Dimensions” sound like if we translated it into music? What would be the ideal remix?

I still hear the early stuff by F.U.S.E. When I think of “Dimensions”, but most of all it would be ambient music.

In your work we can appreciate influences from painting, music and even architecture. Who or what inspires you more: Malevich, techno, or Mies van der Rohe?

I don't think one is more important than the other - they've all had their moments - but they are all still important and relevant today, and will continue to be so, and will inspire new people.

"I try to evoke an essence or something; a feeling, a concept, an idea..."

What do you look for in your work: the purest form or an essence?

Interesting question. Although lately I've been exploring very pure forms, I try to evoke an essence or something; a feeling, a concept, an idea...

Lines, circles, diagonals, cubes, 3-D; your work is full of geometric figures and colours (or, sometimes, the absence of colour). Do you feel part of the tradition of the Russian constructivists, the futurist movement or abstract expressionism?

I would like to say I feel part of all of them, but my influences and my artistic history are from abstract expressionism. Both at school and at university I spent many hours looking at Rothko, Gottleib and Newman at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

What do you think about the art of Joan Miró? Do you feel close to his abstract surrealism and his colour treatment?

I love Miró's work; it's such a pleasure to visit his museum in Barcelona. What I like about him is that he always looked at the future while constructing on the past. And his use of colours is very inspiring.

What material do you usually work with?

I use glass fibre panels most of the time, but I also paint on canvas with wooden frames. I mainly work with acrylic paint, because it gives me exactly the surface I look for.

How did you design the iconic sleeve art for F.U.S.E.'s “Dimension Intrusion”? Do you create a 3-D space on a 2-D surface to visualise the music?

To be honest, I don't really remember how I got to that design. I know I was interested in the idea of “computerised space”, circuits and networks, all applied to electronic music. I always try to explore the 3-D space on the plain surface of the painting, and over the years my work has developed into 3-D paintings.

Do you feel your art is like music, in the sense that forms, volumes and textures fill your paintings? Do you understand geometry as sound?

Definitely, there is a parallel language between art and music, something the “Dimensions” exhibition expresses. I don't necessarily think about art when I listen to music, or vice versa, I only try to enjoy what I'm listening to or watching. And if something happens when I do it, I explore that path.

In 2010 you released an album, “Once Again, Again”, which was a mix of 90s ambient. Will there be a follow-up? And, if so, would it sound similar, mixing ambient and intelligent techno, or will you look for something new?

I was thinking about how to do a new set a while ago, but this time I think it would have to be something more contemporary, with today's electronica, to take my ambient sound to the present. But for now that's only an idea.

It's the only record you released, and it was in 2010. What was your intention with it, and why did it take you so long to make it?

I believe life is a lot of time, and when it came out in 2010, it was the perfect moment to give the people an idea of the first ambient music. Sometimes my ideas take a long time to materialise, I don't try to get ahead of myself, or force any project. If it's destined to become real, it will.

Apart from Richie, who do you really want to see at Sónar this year?

My family and me always love coming to Sónar. This year my must-sees are Daniel Miller, Mouse On Mars, Lana Del Rey, Nicolas Jaar and James Blake, and I have to spend a lot of time at the Enter.Minus store.

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