When he was fifteen, Matt Cliff was looking for a job. Combining his love for drawing and music, he approached Denton’s Polka-fusion icons, Brave Combo about show posters and they took him under their collective wings. Nearly a decade later, he spoke warmly of their influence on his career, “You never know how people will react when you’re a kid, it was a truly great opportunity.”
I met Cliff one afternoon last summer and learned he’s a thoughtful young man. His work is more human code than product or artifice. And as he mentioned quickly, he is consistently driven to be the best possible version of himself. He speaks with clarity reflective of the precision in his lines.
“I’m still super green, but I’ve learned how ruthless folks can be. All I’m concerned with is figuring out how to be truly happy.” It was his album art for The Black Angels record Indigo Meadow, which pushed his profile as an artist to the next level.
You know how it is, walking around a record store, looking for a record. Then a cover with its own gravity, you are drawn to something you may have never heard of before, but you think, “If these guys were cool enough to put this on their cover, there must be some other cool stuff in there.” Those are the records that find you, and the exhilaration is driven by artists like Matt Cliff.
Set towards his craft as an adult he looked for artists that suited his style, “You want to work with bands you like, so I’ve always sought them out. When you start, you might work for free, but all that time eventually translates to bigger projects.”
Working in pen and ink by hand for significant blocks of time, Cliff has developed a style reminiscent of the Godfather of Rock and Roll Art, Wes Wilson, who drew a piece for the Angels’ last album, Phosphene Dream.
“Art is a physical thing for me. I do a lot of line work; I think when you work on anything you should be exhausted. You should feel like you’ve done something.”
“It wasn’t until I sat down with Christian (Bland) that I knew it was a big deal.” As the two discussed the scope of the project, an adoring fan interrupted their meeting. When the fan asked who Cliff was, the Psych Fest impresario introduced him as, “our new artist.” If you listen closely, you’ll hear a wow in the corner of your mind, remarkable to hear someone feel a literal payoff for their work ethic.
December of 2012 into the New Year, Cliff created a half-dozen drawings for the liner notes. Back in Fort Worth, he sought inspiration with the album on repeat. Just over a week into the process, he received a call from Bland telling him the band wanted him to do the cover as well. Another wow.
Inspired by covers from the mid-60s – Disraeli Gears, Rubber Soul etc. – he rendered photographs out of flowers, based on the record’s title Indigo Meadow. Consulting the band throughout the process, photographer Courtney Chavanelle shot the images Cliff drew into the existing artwork.
Losing his father as a young boy, Matt Cliff his family remains central in his life. If one looks close, hidden references to the other Cliffs may be seen. Beyond buried treasure, The Black Angels encouraged the artist to enrich the visual play with structural palindromes and other illusory tricks which mess with the perceptions
“I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to translate what is in my head to a piece of paper. Many people never find a way to express themselves.” His voice is crestfallen rather than condescending or self-righteous, Matt Cliff has certainly found working hard at what one loves is key to happiness. He continues on his path, committing his talents to many fine artists like Spoon, Wilco and Tame Impala.