Matthew Bellosi is an up-and-coming artist out of Philapelphia. His recent work can be seen adorning the covers of numerous eccentric and intense releases, mostly of the cassette-tape medium, by artists such as Avon Ladies, Shirtless Thugs, Skrapyard, and a variety of others, cropping up on labels such as Youth Attack and Katorga Works. His illustrations have a defined style, equal parts crude cartoon and vintage punk chaos.
I spoke with Matthew about his artistic background and future...
VICE: How long have you been interested and involved in art?
Matthew Bellosi: I’ve been interested in art ever since I could remember. I always had one of those awful $20 art sets that I would get every year for my birthday or Christmas. I always was really into art class in school. It just kept hanging around until I started doing stuff past being a teenager, I guess?
When did you start doing your own work and how has your style evolved since the inception?
I have always done my own work, it is just a matter of when people started to see it. I drew up some little cartoon ads for this zine I did, just fucking around for fun… my friends saw it and winded up asking me to do art for their bands. I worked harder on that stuff, because I was pretty stoked on doing it.
How did you start finding your own style? Were there any specific artists you feel had direct influence on you?
My ex-girlfriend bought me a book by this guy Ralf Ziervogel… it blew my mind. He draws really crude, detailed images intertwined with name brand logos… really heavy stuff. Sounds silly at the surface, but there is so much more to it.
Also, old punk record covers have had huge effects on what I create. Trevor Brown is a huge one. His early ink drawings are imprinted into my mind. Mad Marc Rude who did the Misfits – Earth A.D. and Batallion of Saints – Second Coming record covers… the list can pretty much go on and on.
I also enjoy Andy Warhol’s blotted line drawings, Austin Osman Spare, early 90s death-metal demos, Dash Snow, Peter Paul Rubens, Les Krims, Tijuana bibles, etc. are all very inspirational as well.
Your work has a very distinct style and a lot of times, you’re working with somewhat familiar imagery—through your own lens—be it the classic cartoon types of the Shirtless Thugs cassette or the Grateful Dead-styled bears of the Avon Ladies' Guns & Gold vinyl. What draws you to these classic images? Did this type of art inspire you early on?
Those were those ads I was talking about. I just did those for fun, I thought it would be cool to draw something as stupid as Mickey smoking weed with bloodshot eyeballs, with a Sharpie. I love how old shitty bootleg shirts look.
I just think I mainly started drawing them because they were fun to draw and within my skill level. I was always just drawing that kind of stuff in school, dirty shit inside of my notes. There is also another level to it. Just like, seeing something familiar get turned into something humans do every day, fucking or smoking pot… drawing characters we know and love doing shitty things that the people we know and love do. It is hard to articulate.
Do you just think it's kinda funny or, possibly even alarming, to spin these types of characters in your own way? There seems to be some definite tongue-in-cheek humor in most of your work.
Yeah, it is pretty funny to me. There is some definite tongue-in-cheek shit going on there. I mean, I am drawing cartoons doing dumb shit. I’m sure if you actually wanted to dig, there could be meanings. I think before I draw things out, but yeah.
Where do you find artistic inspiration in the day-to-day, outside of the context of just your illustrations?
I used to watch a lot of cartoons as a kid. I used to buy those how-to-draw books at the school book fairs of how to draw cartoon and video-game characters and obsessively drew them until I could do it without the book.
Another big thing is record covers, I look at literally hundreds of them, if not thousands, a day. Some of them really make you think—what was going on in the 90s when there was just tons of money being dumped into the record business. Like, have you ever looked at awful 12” rap compilations? They are INSANE. I swear, last week I found one with Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons smoking a cigar.
How did you find yourself working with the artists, musicians, and bands you work with?
They usually ask me, it rules. It feels great not really having to put yourself out there and have someone take notice. All of the bands that have asked me are really sick too, I would be listening to them anyway. They’re my friends, and they do cool stuff. I’m glad to be a part of it.
It seems that music, in general, plays a heavy role in your life... You work in a record store and, of course, the majority of your output, thus far, has revolved around musical releases. How important is music to you?
It is pretty important, I’d say. I can’t escape it. My life seems to revolve around it. My job at the moment, my hobby, etc. My roommates are in a band. I’m in a band. Sometimes it gets frustrating, but I’d rather sit back and enjoy it before I start having kids or something.
Would you like to continue doing more music-related, album-design type work or would you rather branch out into other landscapes? Not that you can't do both, that's very obvious. Basically, I'm just asking, do you think you've found a certain niche with the album artwork you're becoming known for?
Obviously I would like to break out and do some more of my own work, but I don’t really see the mass appeal. I think this stuff is pretty rooted into punk, and most people who see it are confused by it. Even a few dudes at my work who grew up listening to punk are completely perplexed. It would be cool, but I’m not holding my breath anytime soon, waiting for a Nike ad or something.
You've already produced a zine, Found Bound & Upside Down, released via Curtain Fire and distro'd through Youth Attack (now sold out), which was more photocentric. Photography seems to be another outlet, artistically, for you. Is that as important to you as illustration?
I wouldn’t say it is as important, but it plays a kind of big role. I’m always taking pictures on my cell phone whenever I think something is funny. I used to take pictures of faces on TV a lot. I think it is just easier to get my ideas across with something visual rather than another medium. So yeah, being visual is important. If it comes in different types, so be it. I have a pretty nice point-and-shoot film camera that I was trying to figure out, but it is lost around my house somewhere.
Real quick, back to music. You are something of a musician yourself. What do you do in Perfume River?
Yeah, I play bass and guitar in this band Perfume River I do with my friend Mike. I do all of the art/visual stuff for that too.
Do you have anything more photography or collage based in the works?
Maybe, not sure yet. I’ve been working on some collages using some old magazines and newspapers I’ve acquired recently thanks to a few people. It will probably happen later rather than sooner.
What are your upcoming artistic projects?
I’m working on a new zine for these dudes T.K. and Mike for their thing called Workin’ Nights. It is going to be much more focused than my previous works and hopefully just as distributed. After that, I dunno. I’ll just keep doing shit at my own pace.
Are there any other up-and-coming artists that you feel people should be aware or take notice of?
Yeah, my roommate is doing some pretty sick stuff. His name is Matthew Adis, and he is in this band Salvation, which to me is leaps and bounds above most stuff being produced these days. He also does all of the artwork and has been pumping out zines of his intricate drawings for the past few years. We work together, putting out stuff under the name Curtain Fire.
My buddy Dan Rossiter has been doing some insane shit too… He is constantly changing his style and it is really respectable. I hope he starts doing more stuff, because it is all killer.
And what are some particular bands/musicians, young and old really, that you're currently into? Being as involved in and around music as you are, it's interesting to hear a bit of your daily listening habits.
Honestly I have been all over the place recently. I probably play the Merauder demo with Minus on vocals about 3-5 times a day. I have also been bouncing back between NYHC stuff like Breakdown, Side By Side, Leeway, Trip 6, etc. and a bunch of foreign stuff… Wretched, Anti-Cimex, Riistetyt, etc. to name a couple.
Kind of a bullshitty, stock question, but what are some all-time favorite films or books that you feel have had some type of legitimate, intimate effect on you? These things have to take on an influential role in your work.
I read a lot of war books in my down time. My friend Sarah gave me a bunch of WW II-era books that I am going through right now. As for movies, I don’t know. Have you ever seen Bad Boys with Sean Penn? Or Scum? I really like movies about kids being locked up.
Ultimately, what is your main goal with your art? What are you trying to achieve and how seriously do you take the whole thing?
I don’t know what my goals are. I want to eventually get my act together to where I push myself to do more work than what I know what to do with. I always do little shit and hide it away; I might start compiling it more often. I dunno. It would be cool to make more shirts. I need clothes to wear.
And finally, where can people find your work, both artistic and musical? Where can people get in touch with you to ask you do draw dumb shit for them so you can take their money?
I have a blog, and I am out there on the internet. If you are interested, I should be pretty easy to find. Also, this is pretty unprofessional, but here is my personal email: email@example.com. I tried to make a real one with my name in it, but they were all taken for some reason?!
Take some time and go scope Matthew Bellosi's work. He's doing some incredible stuff, with his own style. Also, take some time and delve into the work of Matt Adis and Dan Rossiter. Listen to some music, check out some new artists, ride the vibe.
Bellosi can be reached through that email account up there, and anyone looking to get some really nice work done, should hit him up, because homie's putting in the work.