Dalston-born artist Nice Threads, Mate has been a painter and decorator for 17 years, but in his spare time has taken up embroidery. An unlikely pastime, perhaps, but not completely unfounded. He studied at Chelsea and for a drawing degree at Camberwell, yet “the only thing it taught me was I didn’t want to do that,” he jokes. After that he painted film sets, which he says “sounds more creative than it is. It’s the same as painting people’s houses, but it’s just harder to get paid”.
Yet it was the arrival of his godson Arthur that spurred his return to creative practice. “I wanted to cement the day he was born in some way, so I woke up with the sparrows on the day he was due and travelled round London taking hundreds of photos and writing down conversations I overheard, to show him what was happening in the world when he arrived. For some reason I also wanted to show him the food that was around too, and my mum – who was a weaver – had some threads lying around, so I embroidered a chicken tikka lasagne, which I thought was funny. It took off from there really.”
He’s since embroidered the packaging for “crap food” like doner kebab pizza, curry and chips, beefburger and beans, wanting to document the things he feels would otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated. From there he moved on to tabloids, embroidering in intricate detail the sensationalist front pages, to “cement” their otherwise throwaway nature.
“The English really inspire me. I think we should document more stuff the man on the street can relate to. Anyone who’s done art for everyone, like William Morris, unfortunately always ends up going down the elitist route. These aren’t my take on anything; anyone’s opinion is valid as mine.”
His latest project focuses on the Hatton Garden robbers, and are far simpler in subject than his previous works, taking the form of pure portraits. It’s hard to express the epic detail – you just have to see them for yourself. One took 400 hours to embroider, with the artist working 13 hours a day. The face features 176 different coloured threads, with 50 basic colours, 50 part-time colours and nearly 80 one-off colours.
“The colours range so much,” he explains. “I think that comes from painting and decorating, my view on colour. But it’s not really like painting at all. And that’s through choice. I’d sooner never pick up a paintbrush again in my life.”
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