January 2009, Interview with McBess

January 2009, Interview with McBess
McBess, HM, 2008, courtesy the artist

McBess: Live From The Woods
Kevin Nelson Interviews McBess

 Matthieu Bessudo (AKA McBess) has been on a steak of sorts. Since graduating SupInfoCom, one of France's most prestigious computer graphic schools, his illustrations have appeared in Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose and Root Magazine. He first grabbed attention as one of the talents behind the Sigg Jones short film, a final project for school that quickly made the rounds on the internet. With an eye towards Asian action flicks, aggressive branding and pop-art illustration, the short 3-D film showed a lot of promise.
 A far cry from his work on Sigg Jones, Bessudo's illustrations offer a more home-grown feel, often featuring a stand-in for the artist, complete with long hair and shaggy beard. A musician as well as a visual artist, Bessudo's passion for music fuels his graphic output. His illustrations feature amplifier worship, musician types with feral grins and cartoonish instruments and a lot of rock and roll excess usually played out amidst forests and meadows.
Kevin Nelson: Why the move from France to London?
Matthieu Bessudo (McBess): I moved two years ago after finishing school at SupInfoCom in France. There were like 30 people in our class, and half of us moved to London in 6 months. So all of my friends from school are working in London. It was the obvious choice because there's more work, and it's definitely more interesting than the south of France. 
KB: Do you think the art scene in London better suits your style?
MB: I don't know, because I haven't delved much into the art scene here. I've been to a few exhibitions, but I think right now the countries that are more interested in what I do are Germany and the US. 
KB: Germany? 
MB: They seem to have a lot of young artists out there. I've done two exhibitions in Germany already. They're hungry for art. 
KB: After graduation what kind of steps have you taken to get your name out there? 
MB: I was working on the Sigg Jones movie with my friend, Astrokid. We're working in the same company now. I'd been working on illustrations during work on the movie to keep sight of what I want to do. As soon as we got out of school, we found jobs thanks to the movie. I continued to work on my illustrations on the side and doing the website and trying to be part of a French art forum. Some websites like Drawn and FFFound gave me a boost, also. 
KN: The Sigg Jones movie seemed to be huge for you. Looking back today, do you think it stands up or would you have made some changes? 
MB: It's really hard when you've spent a year working on something to be objective about it. When you see the movie all you see are mistakes, but it's mostly technical stuff like textures, rendering and lighting. Other than that, it's hard for us to look at the big picture. Maybe if I stopped looking at it for 3 years I could tell.  
KN: There was a three person team working on the movie. How did the duties break down? 
MB: We were working in such a way that we were all doing everything. Astrokid was more technical. He did all of the really boring and hard stuff and we were having a much better time doing textures and stuff, because the other guy and I weren't into too technical stuff and 3-D animation can be really technical.
KN: You got a lot of attention through that and your artwork has come to a lot of people's attention as a result: Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, Root Magazine. How does it feel to be getting such recognition straight out of the gate? 
MB: It was really weird, like they were making a mistake or something. I couldn't really belive it. So many people around me that do illustration didn't really understand what it was that was happening to me, but I was really proud. I guess I put my name out there more than they did.  
KN: Having put yourself out there more and gotten some acclaim, do you feel obliged to give your friends a leg up? 
MB: We don't all have the same priorities. I guess that was really my priority, to work on my illustrations and get feedback from a lot of people that weren't necessarily my friends and so had an objective point of view. I have a lot of friends that do illustration but they're scared of showing it, and it's a real struggle to get them to show me what they do. It's a bit of two of the things: priorities and being afraid of getting some really bad feedback sometimes. 
KN: When did you get into drawing heavily? 
MB: I started drawing when I was a kid, nothing original about that. I really started drawing when my parents put me into SupInfoCom. Before that I was really into music and wasn't thinking about doing illustration or animation. My parents put me in SupInfoCom because they thought that was a more certain future. And I guess that out there surrounded by all of these people that knew a shit-load of names in illustration and movies that I learned to like and then love doing illustrations. After a while you kind of digest your influences to get your own stuff.  
KN: Specifically early on, who really influenced your style? 
MB: A lot of people for graphic reasons or how they work and get stuff out there. Dave Cooper is clearly one of my main influences. Mark Ryden and some people from that Pop Surrealism movement. Chris Ware -- I really like what he does and I have all of his books. 
KN: It's funny you mention these names because I don't see much of a correlation. There's no clear lines between their styles and yours. I see a lot of old Max Fleischer cartoons and Jamie Hewlett. 
MB: I forgot Jamie Hewlett, because he's such a part of the whole thing I like that it's too big. The old cartoons were something that my dad used to watch a lot when I was a kid. It's kind of like when your mother does the dishes and you remember that smell and you smell it ten years after and it reminds you of so many things. It's kind of nostalgic. All the things I've been digesting for 10 or 20 years: it's all getting better, like wine I guess.  
KN: I would say I see a lot of Japanese Animation in your work -- the big eyes and bendy limbs. 
MB: Yeah, the bendy arms started because I didn't know how to draw knees and elbows. I had this friend who's a brilliant drawer who does photo realistic characters and amazing storyboards of cartoony characters. He always told me to draw my characters without bendy arms. I said I can't because I can't draw. With time I learned how to draw elbows and knees. Now I just don't want to. 
KN: Now it's too much a part of your style. 
MB: I guess I'm a prisoner of my style. I'm forced to live with it.  
KN: There's a sort of maniacally cheerful vibe to your work. You draw a lot of scenes featuring musical instruments and characters jamming. It's no stretch to say that rock and roll seems to be one of your main influences. 
MB: I'm really, really into music. I kind of hope that at a certain point I'll stop going to work and just do music. That's something I want to work on for the next three years. I play music more than I draw, actually. My brother is really good guitarist and we've always been playing together. I think that's totally crept into my illustration because that's what I want to do. 
KN: Having said that, would you give up an art career to pursue music? 
MB: I'd give up the boring stuff like taking the bus to work at 9 AM. I can't complain because now I get to work on my movie, but before I worked on stupid ads for papers or whatever. I'm not complaining. It's a well-paid job and helps pay the bills and lets me have free time. I'd like to give that place to music and just play in a rock and roll band. I've always been in bands, but I guess it was never the real band that I would give up everything for. 
KN: What do you listen to when you draw? 
MB: That's kind of weird -- I don't listen to music when I draw. It depends what I'm drawing and when and where. For the last week I've been listening to Creedence. I was in Germany doing a live-drawing session so I did a drawing about Creedence. Lately, I've been working on this illustration about that Supergrass song, "Mary." I usually watch really stupid things like [Canadian comedy reality show] Kenny vs. Spenny. You know, brainless stuff. I like to watch The Office or Extras. 
KN: [Laughing] That's great! You have such a strong musical presence in your work, but you watch TV while you draw. That's unexpected but great. On your website you seem to be putting some of your process online for people to view, for example pen and ink run through a computer. 
MB: I'm thinking of what I really want at that time and I'm drawing it and I always start with a blank sheet of copy paper and pencils and I do lots of charcoals for the heads of the characters. I'm trying to find out what a character is like and how they'll be mixed together. Then I scan it and go on PhotoShop most of the time. 
KN: I haven't seen a picture of you, but judging from the characters you draw with beards, I'm guessing that's what you look like as well. 
MB: Yeah, kind of. [laughs] 
KN: So you put yourself in there. All of your characters seem to have animalistic features, so I was wondering if they're humans in animal form if they're just humans with animal characteristics. 
MB: I guess some of the animal feeling that comes out of the characters comes out of so many hairs. And maybe the nose and pointy teeth. I also have pointy teeth and lots of hairs. And a black nose is easier to draw. I guess it it's more animal and you don't draw pupils you get something more interesting from your character. That's how they did it in cartoons from the early '20s. You often get characters that are more human like Mickey The Mouse. I guess I'm trying to represent myself in my illustration, so maybe I'm egocentric and maybe I think I'm a werewolf or something, I don't know. [laughs] 
KN: So your characters are more human than animal. 
MB: Yeah, because I can sum up my desires really easy. I love basic stuff like food -- my girlfriend is here so I can't tell you about the other things. I guess maybe that's how I see myself. An animal. Dangerous. <makes animal growling noises> [laughs] 
KN: You're interested in drawing a lot of detailed, cluttered rooms. Is it important to you that you document the lifestyle of your characters? 
MB: That's what I find interesting about doing illustration: having recurrent characters or themes. It always changes a bit, but not much. A bit like life in general. When I do illustration I like to draw something and put a bit more details on that character. I've been doing this illustration where I want to do a portrait of every character in the illustration. I think I'm going to draw really photo-realistic portraits of those characters, but more stylish. 
KN: You mostly do black and white illustrations, though we've also seen some in colour. Why? 
It's so much work to do colour. It's crazy. I knew I wanted to start in B&W and when I felt I was really comfortable with that I'd move on. Right now MB: I'm really having fun with shapes and trying to have characters that stand out from the B&W background. For the movie that I'm doing right now, my friend and I can experiment a lot. Even the 3-D itself, the shadows are painted and it's really quick and you can try a lot of stuff in B&W that would take a lot of time in colour. 
KN: You seem to be doing more animation these days. 
MB: Yeah, I've always been working in animation. Illustrations have been a way of getting ideas down quicker. 
KN: You've also dabbled in comic-strips, specifically the piece about your first guitar. 
MB: That was a good experience, actually. I did that for Rotopol. I think it's 5 or 6 pages long. I'm not really into comics that much which you can see because I didn't do lines between the frames and what not. I didn't really know how to do that, but it was really fun to try and tell a story in 5 pages. I think I'm going to do it again when I have time. 
KN: You've done advertising work as well as personal illustrations. How do you view selling your artwork in a gallery versus to a company? 
MB: I don't like to sell my illustrations, actually. That's not the point for me. It's like if you're a guitarist and all you're thinking about is selling your music. You're doing it to have a good time. If you're selling it, it's alright, but not if you're doing music that's just shit. That might just be me and maybe I'm too extreme, but that's the way I see it. Sometimes I'll do an illustration for something where I think it has nice exposure and I have enough freedom to do something I can look back at and say "that looks cool."  
KN: Do you sell many prints through the website? I've also noticed you've got a few shirts with a few different companies.  
MB: It's messy the way I work. A lot of people ask if I'm up for doing something, and if they seem cool I say yes. I never know where the actual thing to sell is, I'm really messy with that. There's a French company called Coontak [that sells a shirt of mine] and I have a project with Threadless which I'm really excited about. It features the main character of my new movie. I have a few prints on my website and they're done by Rotopol. I like to work with friends more than anyone else. But for me you can't make a living. Maybe that's why I enjoy it so much. I don't have to stress about doing illustration to live. If I had to do that, I'd just play video games and not get work done. That's how it works. 
KN: I think you're right. Whatever you want to do for a job you don't want to do on your off-time. It takes some of the magic out of it, to do something strictly for a living. 
MB: Yeah, exactly. And you need to clear off the pressure from your art. I don't know if what I do is art, but... 
KN: It's an implied judgment to call something fine art or art. 
MB: Yeah, that's so subjective. You cam see how much happier an amateur footballer looks than a pro. A pro looks so serious on the field. 
KN: Well, that's the job. 
MB: Exactly.
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Kevin Nelson

Kevin Nelson is a writer in Vancouver, BC.
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