MAT MAITLAND: A SURREAL EYE FOR DESIGN

A shocking colour palette, a love of surrealism and a taste for ‘90s style. Illustrator and visual artist Mat Maitland harbours an aesthetic that is completely distinctive and wholly memorable. We don’t often use such exaggerated descriptions but Maitland is 100% deserved of the hype. It was his move to Big Active Design agency and working with some of the most exciting names in music that brought him to the attention of the design world. Mark Ronson, Goldfrapp and Basement Jaxx have all featured as clients, not forgetting the king of pop, Michael Jackson himself.  After the success of album covers – one earning him a position in Art Vinyl Top 20 Albums of the Year – he was roped in by the newly appointed creative directors of Kenzo, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, to design the advertisements and viral video for the brand.  Maitland stuck fast to his surreal slant to create what we think it maybe the most exciting piece of work he’s done to date.

We spoke to Maitland about his most exciting jobs and whether he prefers working in music or fashion.

How did you first become interested in design?

As a kid I was obsessed with music and would save up for weeks to be able to buy records. I grew up in St Albans which was a little bit isolated from the cultural influences of London and record sleeves quickly became my first connection with design. In my 10 year old mind it offered endless interesting possibilities. It’s through record sleeves that I discovered a world of aesthetics, fashion, fantasy and dreams.

How were you discovered?

I was extremely young when I realized that I would follow a creative path. My spare time was spent avidly researching my passions as much as I could. Unsurprisingly, art was my favourite subject at school and my ambition from then on was to study design. After college, I got a job in the art department at Warner Music. It was my first experience of the business and it was an exciting place to develop my abilities. After 6 years, I left to join Big Active after becoming friends with its founder Gerard Saint. I suppose that in some ways this marked a turning point in my professional career. It was the perfect progression. Big Active attracts a wider range of opportunities combining various segments like music, fashion, advertising, illustration and film. I’m now Creative Director of the design company.

Where did you train?

I left school at 16 to study at St Albans Art College. I then did an HND at Croydon College for two years.

Do you have any trade tips for young designers?

I can’t really pinpoint one thing in particular. I’d say that being enthusiastic about culture in general is important. You need to be aware of every aspect of the art, fashion, music, illustration and film scenes (past and present). Each can easily nest within the next and you never know when you might be required to dip into that segment. It may sound odd, but these worlds are all closely interconnected and frequently play a part in how you approach and solve a creative brief.

What has been some of your most exciting jobs to work on?

Doing the Goldfrapp campaigns is always great. I love their music! Alison is intensely in tune with art, fashion and photography and has a clear understanding of what she likes. She’s not scared of experimentation and is an inspiring person to work with. I’ve worked on all of their albums (apart from Felt Mountain) and each one offers a sonically different universe which in turns requires a fresh approach. Beck has a similar response to the design process. The work we did on “The Information” was a highlight. Both artists don’t go for the formulaic which means that stylistically I was left with more interpretative room.

How can someone get involved in art direction?

I think the only way to become involved in art direction is to just start working. If you work by yourself or within a small company, art direction will become a natural part of your role, there’s no way of avoiding it as often you will need to harness a broader set of skills.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hopefully doing more fashion jobs! I have developed a career as an image maker and have focused on fashion I love doing illustrations in that field. It can be pure magic.

Music or fashion – which is most fun?

It’s hard to choose, they are different. In my role as an art director for music jobs I am often art directing other image makers and illustrators, although sometimes I do everything – art direct, design and imagery. When it comes to fashion, my work is based on my illustrative style so it is very focused stylistically. I’d probably have to choose fashion, it’s my new love!

Watch the booming and blooming video Mat Maitland created for Kenzo below…