FEATURE: How skateboarding inspires art for Matthew McDole

Isaac Barnett


McDole grew up in the small town of Bedford, Kentucky where there was no art scene and was introduced to the music and art of the 1990s’ through interviews and videos of his skateboarding heroes. At his home studio, he explained how his art and skateboarding influence each other.

Let’s get some basic stuff out of the way – what’s your name, age, and occupation?
“Matthew McDole. 34. And I’m just an artist, I don’t know. I paint, do graphic design stuff, do sign painting, screen printing, whatever anybody needs,” McDole said.

How did you end up in Louisville?
“I mean, I’ve been down here to skate and stuff before I lived here. And there were a couple of cool little art things happening before I lived here that made me think the city was really cool. There was this, like, old zine? Book? I don’t know. That came out quarterly called Bejeezus. I got one from the skate shop and I thought it was really cool and made it seem like there was a lot of cool art stuff happening here,” McDole stated.

What got you into art?
“I think I always drew stuff. My whole life, you know, but didn’t take anything seriously. I mainly skated all the time, and then I would always be hurt from skating. So it’s like, oh, if you roll your ankle, you can’t skate for a couple months. I think I started doing more art stuff in that time,” McDole explained.

You have a really distinct style to all your art. Where do you think that comes from?
“I don’t know. I don’t think about doing something that’s my style, or whatever. I think, oh, I want to draw this thing, or I want to do this thing, right? It happens to be my style. It’s the same as skating, you know? Like, oh, I want to do this trick. It’s gonna be my style because I’m drawn to certain types of tricks and stuff like that. So maybe I want to draw certain types of things and those kind of all feed into what has become my ‘style’ but it’s not like a well orchestrated thing. It just happens,” McDole said.

How do you think your skating influences your art and vice versa? How do those two things work together?

“Well, I don’t think that I would be making art without skating, especially from where I grew up. This is before the internet, I mean, the internet existed, but that’s not what it was today. There were, you know, a few skateboarding websites and things like that, but it was mostly magazines and videos. So being in a small town with nobody who skated I was able to see a whole other world that nobody in my town was exposed to. In the back of Transworld, it would have like top fives, like, top five favorite bands. So say you’re like, ‘Oh, well, I love Heath Kirchart. Oh, he’s listening to The Smiths and New Order and Joy Division. I’ll listen to those things, too.’ From that I got into all kinds of different music and one thing leads to another,” he said.

“Ed Templeton, obviously, is a big gateway into that art world. I saw a documentary with him and all these other artists that I found through searching skateboarding on Hulu called Beautiful Losers. So I watched it, and I was like, wow, all these people make things that are similar to what I make. It was an assurance, like, oh, you can actually do this and someone might care. After that I decided, well, maybe I’ll try to like, put this out a little bit more,” McDole stated.

How do you go about getting commercial work, who reaches out to who?

“Everybody reaches out on Instagram, like sometimes somebody will email you but it’s usually like, ‘Hey, would you be able to do this?’ For the most part, I wouldn’t go up to a random restaurant and offer to do something for them. I’d rather them ask me and that way I know that they like what I do. Art and graphic design and things like that are so different. Like you could say, ‘I’m a painter,’ and the person might think that you paint like Bob Ross or they might think that you paint like Picasso, or who knows what? But really, I can’t do those things. I can only do my thing,” McDole said.

What did you do for work before you started doing art full time?
”I’ve always done both forever. I worked for Please & Thank You for like 10 years and then I worked for a graphic design place for like a year and a half, until COVID came and then that kind of ended. So I was like, okay, I guess I’ll do this and make art. I’m always terrified, I’m like, this can’t last forever. I’m so scared because I’m so spoiled, and don’t want to go back to work regular jobs. I’ve worked at a pizza place, and done manual labor type stuff, and the thought of going back to doing that is so depressing.

I am a little bit jealous of people who work 40 hours a week in a job they don’t care about because then they leave and don’t think about it. I think about art stuff, 24/7, right. I know that I’m always working and it’s very mentally taxing. And it’s all on me. So if I’m poor, I can’t be mad at a job for not paying me enough,” McDole stated.

What are your plans for the future?
“I’ve never had any plan of anything I wanted to do. I guess I have little things like, ‘I would like to do this, or, it would be cool to do that,’ but I don’t really have any. I like having art shows but I’m also nervous to approach a gallery because I didn’t go to art school. I don’t know. I’m really bad at that side of it. That’s kind of what they teach you in art school is how to talk to people about your art and I don’t know how to do any of that. So I’ll let the galleries ask me or things like that. I mean, it’d be cool to have shows in other places and travel. I would like to do more art for skateboard companies, especially like, some new and cool brands that I really like or a brand like Baker that I loved as a kid,” McDole declared.

This is probably a hard one to answer, but do you have a favorite project or favorite piece of art that you’ve made?
“No. I mean, lately, I’ve been liking the things I make. So I think a lot of times my favorite thing I’ve made is the last thing I’ve made. So if I don’t feel that way I get really depressed if I make something and I don’t like it. I mean, I’m going to relate a lot of this stuff back to skating. It’s kind of like you can skate for days and have great days, and maybe do something new every time or like, just have a good time, right? And then on the fifth day, you have a bad time. You don’t have anything and the day after that you’re not gonna remember the four previous days. You’re gonna remember the crappy day you just had. I don’t know, the last couple things I’ve been working on for the show on Friday I’ve really liked,” McDole said.

Where did you come up with the idea for the show? 

“Ryan Tassi was going to have a show and I think he wanted to have someone– or the gallery owner wanted to have someone– to split it with. So he asked me if I wanted to do it with him. He came up with the name and the idea of it. So, I’m making last minute things for it and I’m feeling good about it. Sometimes, I’ll be really busy making stuff and not feel good about it. But I’ve been feeling productive and liking the stuff I make. And sometimes you kind of like, surprise yourself with how much you can get done in a day, or what you can get done in a one-or-tw0-week period, and not being productive but making a lot of things that you really like. Same with skating, if you’re planning to skate all week, and then now it’s Saturday and you go out, it’s different than if you’re, friend is like, ‘Hey, you wanna skate right now?’ Or if you’re like, ‘oh, I have an hour, I’m gonna roll around this parking lot.’ Like sometimes that’s the best,” McDole said.

On March 11, Matthew McDole and Ryan Tassi’s collaborative photography and art show, Shining in the Wind, opened at Quappi Gallery on Market Street. The show will be up until April 16, Thursdays and Fridays 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or anytime by appointment.