Back to Writing / 1-22-2008

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The disturbing, creative vision of Wisconsin artist Matt Lombard seems to touch a direct nerve to our darkest dreams. The work is powerful, surreal, terrifying, seductive, haunting and memorable, all signs of highly effective and beautiful art. We spoke with Lombard about his creative concepts, music, and the Midwest.

Sez G: You were a musician in metal bands for a decade before you started shooting photos. What similarities do you find in the creative process of music and visual arts?

Matt Lombard: In both art forms you find a focal point and build around it. Digital manipulation is especially similar to writing music in the process of building layers to enhance the center piece. The hard part is finding the perfect melody or eye candy to work around.

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Sez G: Do you have a general vision of your work before you create, or is the process a more organic adventure that leads you to a completely unexpected place?

Matt Lombard: I do have some works that evolve, but most are the result of a concept that is in place before I start.

Every once in a while, though, this evolution does happen, which was the case with the image The Lovers (Murder/Suicide). This was a piece that just came out of nowhere. It was the kind of work I had wanted to do for a long time, but it never seemed to find its voice.

There's a different story behind each image I create, some are depictions of an event whereas others figuratively parallel strange worlds and the tortured souls that inhabit such a place.

For example, the piece The Other Heaven asks the question, "What if there is no heaven?" The headless female longs for an afterlife but finds her path ends with her final breath. The rotting wings and loss of limbs are telltale signs that her dream died with her body.

Sez G: What are your nightmares like? Would you consider yourself a dark person?

Matt Lombard: In my most horrific and memorable dreams the victims are of Asian decent. I am not sure if this comes from my fascination with Asian culture or that my father was in the Vietnam War. Without going into detail about each dream, the scenario always involves some heinous method of torture or the aftermath of some brutal act.

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I have always been attracted to extremes in all forms. I believe this inevitably leaks out into my imagery. When creating, I draw from experiences and anything else I've absorbed over the years through film, books, art, and music. Growing up, I was a true crime-buff, reading anything I could get my hands on about Bundy, Gein, Dahmer, Ramirez, Gacy, etc.

I did a project with convicted serial killer Danny Rolling (the Gemini killer aka the Gainesville ripper) in 1999. I sent the images to his death row cell in Florida and wrote these disturbing short writes (as he called them) for each piece. He was executed in 2006 for murdering eight people though he was suspected of killing many more.

My life long curiosity with serial killers may seem strange to some but my belief in capital punishment for such individuals I'm sure is much more common.

Sez G: Tell me about your latest series The Trephining.

Matt Lombard: The Trephining series is based on the ancient practice of drilling holes into the human skull. Whether to release evil spirits or reach a higher consciousness, for thousands of years people have been drilling holes in their heads for a variety of reasons. It is perhaps the oldest surgical procedure for which there is evidence. Prehistoric skulls have been found in France dating back as far back as 6500 BC with trepanation holes.

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This ten image series is a journey into madness, mutation, and ultimately death. One man believes he is about to receive a taste of heaven only to find death at the end of a drill bit.

Sez G: You title your website as "In the Vein of God." What does this mean?

Matt Lombard: The title was inspired by a book my wife was reading at the time and a lyric from a Sister Machine Gun song. I was really searching for a dark spiritual voice to speak for my images which I believe it still does.

Sez G: You do a fair amount of cover art for bands. Do you create images specifically for the album based on how it sounds? What's the process for creating something like this?

Matt Lombard: Each CD project is different depending on the style of the band and the direction of the artwork. Normally the band is still recording when you are working up the images for the project so you don't get to hear the actual music for which you are creating art to package the CD in.

The band will present me with a basic concept and then I take it to the next level. They are relying on your creative vision and design skills to create images that satiate their sense of the original concept (as they see in their head) and yet still be attractive on a commercial level.

Sez G: You've said you listen to the same song over and over while creating one of your images. Is it always death metal, or do the genres vary?

Matt Lombard: I listen to a lot of different genres of music depending on mood. Back in my teen years you wouldn't have found anything lighter than Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" in my collection. I was very absorbed by the whole death/thrash scene in the 80's listening to bands such as Celtic Frost, Venom, and Kreator.

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Of course I still enjoy listening to metal bands but these days I'm a bit more diverse listening to artists such as Peter Gabriel, Die Form, Travis, Porcupine Tree, Cubanate, and David Bowie. Now I find myself much more a fan of the 80's new wave movement (The Motels, The Fixx, Berlin, etc.) than what was going on in the metal scene back then.

Sez G: You live in Wisconsin, where you were born and raised. Will you ever leave? What do you love about it?

Matt Lombard: Who knows what the future brings but for the moment I am very content living here near friends and family. I love traveling and visiting big cities but really can't see myself living in that chaotic world day to day.

Sez G: What inspires you?

Matt Lombard: Music is probably the number one influence on my work since I am truly a musician at heart. Some songs are so powerful they seem to put me under some sort of spell. This is a feeling for which I really have no words to describe. Since I am no longer a musician, maybe this is a longing to embrace my lost love for performing and writing music. Photography and digital art seem to provide an outlet to vent these emotions and feel productive as an artist.

Sez G: What's next for you?

Matt Lombard: Currently I am working on my first book entitled Atonement. It's a project I've been working on since last year that seems to have no end. After three different layouts, endless delays, and technical problems, I have decided to work with another company. It will contain my best images from the first ten years including photography, digital imagery, and commercial works. It will be self published and should be available in the next month.
To learn more about Matt Lombard visit

Matt Lombard - by Sez G.