As a film geek growing up in the 80s and 90s, posters were considered a form of the highest art. They were the reason to get excited about a movie long after the trailer ended and the perfect centerpiece for any kid’s clubhouse wall. Among these all-stars of the 2 dimensional plane were John Alvin, Saul Bass and (of course) Drew Struzan. Unfortunately, painted and illustrated posters seem to have become somewhat of a lost art, swallowed by a gluttony of glossy Photoshop-ed canvases of cheap lens glares and lazy typesetting.
Luckily, there are still artists like Matt Busch whose work covers the gamut of illustrator, painter, teacher and film maker. One of Matt’s latest projects, Hollywood is Dead seeks to reinvigorate poster art (in its own macabre way), reminding me of the days when there was more to movies than a pair of overpriced 3D glasses. Matt was kind enough to provide us with a look behind his work and how his passion for art first began.
Hey Matt, thanks for joining us here at Blood Sprayer. How does it feel to have progressed from being a student to teaching?
It’s great! They say that when one becomes passionate about something, all they want to do is share it with others. For me to have found my nitch is one thing, but to share the excitement and get others jazzed about drawing and painting has really been rewarding. I couldn’t ask for more.
As a teacher, what’s the most important lesson you can offer an emerging artist?
Probably not to give up. In this business, there’s no overnight success stories, so you have to accept that your career is going to grow with baby steps. You need to have patience and determination. There’s enough work in this business for everyone, but you have to discipline yourself and not get discouraged.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews how Star Wars really influenced you as a kid. In what ways did that film impact your decision to become an artist?
Visually, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It set a new bar for Hollywood. It’s funny, because you watch it now, and it seems dated, but in context of the time it came out, it just blew everyone’s mind. For me, I was so inspired by the movie, but we didn’t have DVD, or the video games, or even the Internet where I could see the trailer over and over. So the only way I could re-live the excitement was to draw what I remembered. For some reason, drawing was a way for me to escape into this other place filled with wonder.
Can you recall one of the first pieces of art you created?
This is really weird, and I don’t remember drawing it, but my mom showed it to me a few years back. Apparently one year when I was really young I drew a birthday card for my mother. On the front was an image I drew of my standing on top of a building saying “Happy Birthday, Mom.” Then, on the inside, the same building was now on fire, forcing me to leap to my death while screaming “I love youuuu!” I can’t fathom why I would do such a silly thing, but creativity sure moves us in strange places.
You’ve certainly covered the gamut of the art world, having worked on everything from comics, film, role-playing games, music and even indie filmmaking. How do you balance such a diverse spectrum of work?
The balance is actually the easy part. Having a wide variety of projects with multiple ways of expressing myself keeps me from getting bored. I sometimes wonder if I had only focused on a single trait, like pointillism, and honed my craft to be the best in the world, would there be a point one day where I’m doing yet another piece, doing all the crazy dots, and I just lose it and go postal? Needless to say, the diversity keeps me outta trouble and excited about what I’m doing.
Your work has been favorably compared to legendary artist/painter Drew Struzan. Do you feel this is an accurate comparison?
It’s definitely a compliment I’ll take. During college, I studied his technique to the bone and then became saught after as the guy who could paint like Drew, but didn’t cost as much. I remeber the first time I met Drew, I felt so squeamish because my career was basically made out of ripping off his technique. But Drew was really cool. He took me under his arm and said “Immitation is the highest form of flattery.”
Who else inspires your work and in what way(s)?
The list is really endless. The number of artists and genres would just keep going and going. Honestly, I get inspiration from everything I see and hear. I soak up everything that happens around me and I try to learn and observe what I can get out of it. So obviously I get inspired by art, movies and music, but I also find wonderment in life itself. The people around me. Special moments in time. I swear, just yesterday I was walking out of a department store at dusk, and I saw this amazing 300 year old tree that was silhouetted against a beautiful sunset. I was blown away. I had to just stand there in the parking lot and marvel at what a gift it was.
It would seem that you’re a bit of a horror fan as well. What was the motivation behind your Hollywood is Dead poster series?
It was kind of a fluke how it all happened. I never set out to do it, I kind of just became the guy who does all the zombie movie posters. That being said, it’s been the most rewarding project I’ve illustrated to date. It all started because Lucasfilm asked me to do something that would infuse Star Wars and zombies. When that became a huge hit, everyone started asking me when they were going to see zombie Indiana Jones, and zombie Harry Potter. I was having so much fun doing it, that it’s just escalated into the whole Hollywood is Dead project. Eventually they’ll all be collected into a book.
Of all the posters in this series, which one is your favorite?
Almost each new piece I do becomes my fave, but a recent one that has stayed with me is the one I did for Romancing the Stone. It just brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. I remember staring at that poster for hours as a kid. I remember being floored at all the detail in the jungle. The composition is just great, and yet not your typical montage that you’d see for an 80’s adventure movie. So working on that one, even through all the crazy detail was just delightful. Did I just use the word delightful?
Do you use computers to create each piece or are they all hand-painted?
They’re all hand-drawn and hand painted from scratch, although most of the logos and fonts are created digitally. It would have been easier just to take the original posters in Photoshop and tweak them here and there to make them zombified, but part of the allure I wanted these to have is that they are actually hand illustrated, just like the originals. Even though it’s satire and I’m slaughtering these images, the project is really a love letter to the age of illustrated posters with the care and attention to detail I’ve been putting into each and every one.
In 2006 you released an independent horror film called Conjure, can you tell us a bit more about that?
It started off as an experiment, but Conjure was my very first feature length movie that I made myself. I play myself in the movie, and I draw all these really creepy tortured souls that come to life and try to kill me and my girlfriend. Eventually we get manifested into this painting of a South American castle. Survival horror ensues, and we need to find a way back. When it found distribution, the movie actually became the highest pre-selling horror movie of all time, according to Horror-Movies.com.
How was it received by the horror community?
It’s so funny, because the reviews are extremely split. I’ve had dozens of 4 and 5 star reviews that were just blown away by the scope of what I was able to do with such a minimal budget. And then I’ve had reviews like, “This movie is so bad, it will make your eyeballs scab over just from watching it.”
Do you have any plans for future films in the horror genre?
Absolutely. I’m wrapping up the last two episodes of You Can Draw Star Wars and then it’s back to writing scripts and making movies, bigger and better. I’ve got several ideas in the works, but not sure which will come to fruition first. I’m going to just wait until the schedule opens and then see where my heart leads.
Once again, thank you so much for sharing a bit of time with us. I look forward to proudly hanging a copy of E.T. The Extra-Terrorestial in my studio very soon!
Thank you! Don’t forget to bookmark MattBusch.com to always find the latest with everything going on in my little corner of the universe.