Who are you, where are you and what do you do?
My name is Matt Lyon, a freelance graphic artist / illustrator based in South London. I work under the moniker C86 and spend most of my time drawing and making images that occasionally end up on billboards, trains, t-shirts, posters, decals, greetings cards and the like. Aside from that, I drink tea and munch on peanut butter sandwiches, play video games from the 90’s and compile mixes of my favourite music.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a big commission for a Saudi client, which is proving fun and keeping me busy. I’ve just finished designing some t-shirt designs for a Spring 2012 launch and am about to start on an exciting project creating an alphabet of letters for wall decals. I’m continuing to design album artwork for Tokyo Dawn Records with two new releases, and every evening I spend time updating my Daily Drawing project, which is generating and evolving my creative progress of ideas.
When did you come out and what was the story?
I came out to my parents in the late 80’s when I was 17 years old. I’d reached a point where I had to be honest to myself and my family, though at the time it was a difficult decision to make. Prior to this, I look back at my teenage years at school with fondness at a time where being gay wasn’t easy. Even though I wasn’t out, I was fortunate enough to have a strong circle of friends with me. My best friend at the time was fantastic. We shared the same taste in music, art, fashion, humour… pretty much everything. It later transpired that he came out as gay around the same time as me, though we were the last to formally tell each other. In hindsight, it was pretty obvious at school that we were gay.
We’d come in some days and discuss the same films that we’d seen at home the night before, and when they were the likes of Another Country and My Beautiful Launderette, it goes without saying why we’d watched them. Sadly though, many of those at school who didn’t know us assumed that we were a couple. As such, we often endured verbal and physical taunts, name-calling, being spat upon, etc. Had I suffered this alone, I don’t think that I would’ve been able to cope, but together my friend and I brought the best out in each other. We knew we were different, so we embraced it. We listened to The Smiths and Siouxsie & The Banshees; we dressed in black and customized our clothes. We chose not to fit in, and some people didn’t like that.
But while all of this was going on, I was struggling with my sexuality. I lived in a white, middle class, suburban town and was part of a Pentecostal church, one of many evangelical churches that dominated the area. At first, I thought that my sexuality was a phase, though as time went on I realized that my feelings weren’t changing. According to what I had been taught, I was destined for hell. The mid-80s were a grim time with the AIDS crisis fueling so much bigotry and hate, and to some this was proof that ‘you reap what you sow’. At church, we were told that being gay was ‘a choice’ and if you prayed hard enough you would be ‘cured’. I studied the Bible, and couldn’t reconcile what I was being taught with what I felt and believed in. After spending a week on summer retreat with my Church’s youth group, I returned home and came out to my parents and the church pastors.
During subsequent weeks, I was prayed over in church meetings, I was told to listen to cassette recordings of the Bible as I slept so that I wouldn’t have any impure thoughts, and I had more and more questions that my pastors couldn’t answer. It dawned on me that the Evangelical church was kind of like a kindergarten Christianity – simplistic, juvenile, and with a lack of depth and understanding of anything both theological and spiritual. In essence it was harming me, so I had to leave. Within a couple of years I moved to London to study at UCL, by which point I was finally ready to be myself.
How does being queer effect your work, if at all?
Being queer doesn’t directly influence my current work. When I was studying art at university, some of my art reflected my acceptance and openness having recently come out. I guess that there are occasional references to my sexuality in the work that I do now, be it a design quoting the likes of John Waters or Quentin Crisp, or reflecting gay icons such as James Dean, but little much else. My sexuality isn’t something that’s of importance to my work interests, and when I see art that’s branded ‘queer’, most of it appears to me either banal, clichéd or hold no interest to me as a gay man.
In your mind, what should gay pride be and how would you celebrate it?
I’ve got mixed opinions on how gay pride is celebrated. Pride marches have significant political origins, and the increasingly open celebrations reflect the ongoing acceptance in the West of homosexuality. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure, but as a gay man I don’t feel a part of it in the least. I went on a couple of Pride marches back in the late 80s / early 90s, and even then I didn’t feel that I was particularly interested. All the usual gay clones and clichés were in full effect, and I felt that I was making up the numbers. Because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I automatically tune into cheesy pop or Hi-NRG, act camp or flamboyant, am clothes conscious or a body fascist, or am part of any number of gay cliques that seem to litter ‘the community’. My life’s far removed from glitter and rainbows, and that’s how I like it. I’m much more interested in where I historically fit in as a gay man. There’s a heritage to being gay, and that’s what’s most important for me to have pride in. Things have come a long way since my own experiences of the 80s and I feel pride in the changes of progress. Even so, the legacy of AIDs doesn’t allow me to be honest about my sexuality if I want to make a blood donation in the UK, and life in London still remains atypical to the experiences of many still facing acceptance for being gay. The journey continues…