Matt Mignanelli grew up in Providence, Rhode Island influenced by the "huge mohawks" of RISD students and Shepard Fairey's Andre the Giant Has a Posse stickers. After graduating from high school, he attended the famed art school, then moved to New York City where he worked on commercial projects for clients including Michel Gondry, GQ U.K., and Akademiks while continuing to paint. After solo exhibitions in Glasgow and San Francisco and a number of group showings, he gave up the commercial world to focus solely on his own work.
Surrounded in his Brooklyn studio by black-on-black canvases and organized cans of paint, Mignanelli spoke to Complex about painting, the path of an artist, and what makes Bushwick Bushwick.
(Full disclosure: I was in Mignanelli's high school class. He was, and will always be, a much better artist.)
I like to offset the viewer. It makes the experience more interesting.
Your newer work is different from the paintings you were doing even two or three years ago. How did you get here?
The work has definitely evolved a lot. It started to get more abstract. It was a lot more colorful a few years ago. I've striped it down, looking for purity in the painting. There's something in the simplification of things, where it's become more about the painting. All my new work is architecturally influenced.
Did you study architecture at RISD?
No. Just painting. My work as become a lot more about my surroundings. [Looks over the Brooklyn skyscape through the studio's fourth-floor windows.] Before, while the works was abstract, it had a more landscape feel to it. I was creating unknown, almost surreal, environments. Those landscape environments were more zoomed out. I've slowly moved into the image. In my mind, the larger environment still exists, but the paintings I'm making now have become larger magnifications of the environments. The work is pared down now. There were small elements that called out to me, and they were the most pure message that I was trying to rely in the work.
I like creating these environments that are very mysterious and enigmatic. I like to offset the viewer. It makes the experience more interesting.
Why did you stop with the commercial work?
It's always been my goal from the beginning. Before, like any painter, you just do what you do to make money. I saw that side of it as my day job. It's been a slow transition. I'm a cautious and calculated person. [Laughs] But at some point I realized I could do it.
Any recent successes?
There have been a couple of things. I was really happy to be included in a show of New York painters in Copenhagen. The guys that are in the show with me are really respected guys. I knew their work beforehand, and I was honored to be included amongst them.
How do you become known as an artist?
It's not easy, and there's no book. It's an organic process. There are certain times when you think, "What can I do? What can I do?" but it always comes back to the work.
For me, it's been just being myself, but you have to talk to people and get out. That doesn't come easy. I've been talking to a lot of people. And when you do have small successes, you have to send them to people. [Laughs]