Artist Feature
Matt Small

Matt Small

By  Cassius
22nd February 2016

Small uses found objects sourced from the urban environment as the canvas on which to base portraits of overlooked and underprivileged youngsters. In this way, Small re-invigorates discarded items, and people, once set aside by mainstream society, now reborn in his highly emotionally charged artworks.

Small paints portraits of anonymous figures, but these evocative impasto pieces are all about their subjects; the artist is deeply involved in social schemes intended to support and develop ostracised youth. Previous projects include ‘Hope in Life’ a series of weekly workshops where the socially excluded could express themselves through painting and music. It is these people that Matt Small paints, often gifting the original artworks to the subjects themselves.

Matt Small's Process

Small makes an emotive investment in each image via a supremely expressive handling of oil painting, breaks down traditionally set hierarchies of this age-old medium, and indeed ‘Fine Art’ itself. The artist enjoys working with the unknown, using a mixture of painted media that repel each other, creating stunning effects on the surface of his artworks, as diverse as the lives he depicts.


The artist’s ‘Becky’ edition is a highly ambitious exploration into the use of screenprint to reflect the fantastic layers and textures of Small’s dynamic original pieces. At 23 colours, the edition could only be printed by a single artisan printer in the country. The edition is divided into artworks on paper and sub-edition of artworks printed on reclaimed aluminium sheet to recreate Small’s use of found materials on which to base his portraits. 

Prior to the creation of his ‘Letisha’ etched edition, Small made a series of preparatory sketches of the subject before the image was carefully etched into a metal plate. The surface of the plate was then covered with a wax substance and exposed to acid, eroding away the exposed, fine lined areas of metal to reveal Small’s delicate portrait. The plate was then inked, the surface wiped clean to leave ink in these fine channels only and then passed through a press, thus imprinting the intricate network of lines onto the paper.

" My pieces take time, and I want the blood, sweat and tears that go into each piece to be mine."
Matt Small, big issue interview - 2008