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An Interview with Matthew James-Wilson

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

FORGE. Art Magazine is one of my favorite independent publications. Printing quarterly, FORGE. strives to give exposure to lesser-known artists and offer perspectives on building a career in a creative field, encouraging submissions as well as publishing interviews with artists, photographers, etc (an aim that's very close to my heart). With issues upwards of 200 pages, flipping through FORGE. feels almost excessive (but in a positive sense of the word), an embarrassment of riches-- the artistic equivalent of that feeling of fullness you have after a Thanksgiving meal. It's never been more important to give a platform to artists, and it's refreshing to see their work presented in such a beautiful and substantive way.

The man behind it all is Matthew James-Wilson. Although FORGE. started as a group effort when Matthew was in high school, he eventually managed the publication entirely on his own, maintaining its voice and purpose while simultaneously working on his own freelance projects. Below he discusses the origins of FORGE., his recent move from Brooklyn to LA, and his goals for the magazine.

What inspired you to start FORGE?

I started FORGE six years ago with a couple of friends in high school. We were going to a public art high school in upstate New York, so we were encouraged to value art and keep up an art practice as a part of our curriculum. But since it was a public school our programs went through tons of budget cuts, certain majors lacked a lot of resources, and ultimately most of the faculty dissuaded students from seriously pursuing any kind of art because of how difficult it would be to make a living doing it. I was a really stubborn teenager so I was pretty adamant to continue making art after school and figure out how to make a living doing it. My friends and I were regularly making our own work outside of school and sharing it on the internet, so we were aware that there were several communities of artists online doing that. So starting a magazine seemed like a really great excuse to ask artists we admired how they got to where they were and also create opportunities for artists who were just starting out like us.

It’s hard to remember everything that influenced it early on, but I remember being really into the documentary Beautiful Losers, indie comics, Rookie Mag, and Tepsic Mag, and I remember Tumblr was beginning to reach its peak, so all of those things really influenced FORGE. Towards the end of high school I started taking the magazine more and more seriously, and once I moved to New York City to go to college I started doing everything for it by myself. Once I was doing everything by myself the magazine started becoming a lot more personal and took the shape of what it is today.

What has been your favorite theme that FORGE. has had?

I’m not sure if any one theme in particular stands out as my favorite. I usually try to pick themes that seem relevant to whatever I’m grappling with in my life during the months that I’m working on it, but I like that everyone submitting can intemperate the themes in their own way. I remember really liking how everything in the Duality issue came out. I feel like the interviews subconsciously had as much to do with the theme as the submissions, so it was exciting to see some through lines across the whole issue.

Can you explain the logo for FORGE?

The original logo was designed by one of the people I started the magazine with, and I can’t really remember if there was that much conceptual thought put into it. But after I started doing the magazine entirely on my own I wanted to have logo that was more representative of what the magazine became and the artists who’ve played a bit role in it. I asked Michael DeForge if he wanted to design the new logo because he’s an artist whose work I’ve consistently identified with and he has an impeccable talent for design. I interviewed Michael in 2014 just before going to college and it came out in the first issue I did almost entirely on my own, Issue 5. Michael’s work was a crucial gateway into so much of the work I love and cherish now, and he gave one of the most thoughtful interviews I had done at that point, so he really left a big impression on me. He’s one of the few artists who’s made work that I feel like I can really see myself within, and his refreshing perspective has represented a sea change in art and comics that I hope the magazine is also a part of. Michael initially sent me less than a dozen sketches for the logo, and I think that one just really stood out to me. I love that is has a balance that’s similar to the yin and yang symbol, but the hand seems to be struggling to hold all of the letters in place. But I’ve never actually asked Michael how he came up with the idea or what it might mean.

What makes the Brooklyn DIY art/music community distinct?

I think inevitably any era or location that cultivates its own art/music community is shaped by the outside forces that surround it. I think, like most things in New York, the DIY scene in Brooklyn is heavily impacted by the social and economic changes happening rapidly in New York. In New York space and time are hard to come by because of how expensive it is to be there, so I think at lot of the art ends up being made very quickly and in a way where it doesn’t have to take up too much physical space all of the time. That ends up forcing people to be really resourceful and flexible with what they’re making, and a lot of really interesting work and scenes have come out of that. There’s also such a rich history of disparate art communities all around New York, so it’s a really easy place to directly interact with the people and work that inspired you to do what you’re doing. People from around the world are also always coming to New York, so you don’t always have to make the effort to leave to be enriched by things from outside of New York.

But unfortunately, I think because of the cost of living and the competitive nature of New York, there are lots of downsides to making work there. It’s hard to have the space to make big (or loud) work. There is so much pressure to make money from the work you make that a lot of artist end up making decisions around their consumers' or clients' desires. A lot of the art spaces and venues can feel very transient because of the quick turnaround, and unfortunately often the neighborhoods and communities surrounding spaces can be the victim of changes that those spaces bring with them. But despite the many pitfalls, there’s still so much great work coming out of Brooklyn and the rest of New York, and it’s still one of the easiest places to have your work seen by people around the world.

How do you think being in LA will change the content of the magazine (if at all)?

I’m not quite sure how it’ll change the content of the magazine yet. I think after moving anywhere new it’s important to shut up and observe for a while before trying to insert your opinion or perspective in an existing community. I want to be respectful and learn from the things people have been making here for years before I try to make any waves. I think so far living in LA has improved the time and energy I have to dedicate to FORGE and the projects I have under it. I’m also really excited to work with new printers and art spaces here now that I don’t have any of the ones I use to work with in New York at my disposal anymore. I’m also hoping that living on the West Coast now will make it easier to connect with more artists who are around this part of the country.

What other projects are you working on besides FORGE?

I do a lot of different stuff on top of FORGE since I make almost none of my income from the magazine and publishing zines. I regularly do freelance writing for some record labels and editorial sites. I take lots of press photos for musicians, as well as a few writers and artists. I shot a few album covers and made a few music videos for bands last year, and I definitely want to do more of that in the future. I’ve also worked full time jobs as the label manager at Bayonet Records and Danger Collective Records in the past year.

I also made a very conscious effort to dedicate more time for my own art practice now that I have a little more flexibility in LA. I’ve been making music for my whole life under various projects, but most recently I started a new recording project called Castle Pasture. I don’t think I have it in me to ever pursue music professionally, but it’s been very liberating to have an art project that doesn’t have to lead anywhere past self exploration. So far it’s been a really great outlet for writing and executing ideas, and the fact that it is so low stakes has given me so much freedom to make it whatever I want it to be at any moment. I’m excited about trying to discretely put out as much stuff as I can with that project on Bandcamp in the future.

What do you hope people feel as they page through FORGE?

I hope people reading the magazine feel a sense of understanding and compassion towards artists in the magazine, even if it’s the first time they’re seeing their work. I hope that people see how simple it is to support and encourage the artists around them, and I hope people are inspired to do the same in their own communities. I hope people feel more comfortable talking about the social and economic aspects of pursuing art and trying to maintain an art practice in this day an age. But to put it in the simplest terms, I ultimately just hope people feel less alone by reading my magazine.

Images used in collage via @forgeartmag


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