Keo Match: Street art with edge

 I wrote a story on my friend and artist Keo Match for the Newcastle Herald. Click this link to read it and see the pictures, or just read below!

My success will always peg on my happiness, says 28-year-old Keo Match. “Art and creative pursuits are my goal.”

Despite being colour-blind and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Keo (his signature) has worked successfully as a muralist, illustrator, creative director and animator, though he prefers the title “creative”. He says in the past trying to select an official title has pigeonholed him.

That being said, illustration is his main form of employment, which, he adds, can be expanded to things such as murals, painting and street art. Keo is from Woy Woy Bay and has lived most of his adult life in Newcastle. His paintings can be found in Melbourne, Wollongong, Canberra, Adelaide, Sydney and other Australian cities.

“Probably 75 per cent of them were [painted] for events or because I was wanting to paint [rather than be paid],” he says of his work.

Nothing is off limits for Keo, from material to places to subject matter. He experiments with different mediums and tools. He uses mops, brooms, the smallest paintbrush, aerosols and extinguishers.

Finding his creative path wasn’t a seamless process. On finishing high school, he had a bit of trouble knowing what he wanted to do and went to university for civil engineering.

“Shortly after enrolling, I discovered I had manic depression,” Keo says. “Midway through that year university wasn’t working. My parents and I made a decision that I was going to take the coming year off.”

He added that this was also when large changes were occurring in his family structure – he learnt he had an entire second family.

“All of a sudden I had relatives in Germany, thus in my year off I saved and moved to Germany for eight months,” Keo says. “At this point in time I wasn’t on any medication, I didn’t have any path, and I was 20.”

He discovered Berlin with his cousin who was an illustrator. She and her boyfriend also ran a department of a major film studio and a creative hub in Berlin’s outskirts, so Keo was exposed to the graffiti scene.

“I hadn’t done anything street-art-based at that time, because quite frankly, growing up where I did you didn’t have any streets. Literally, there was one street,” Keo says of Woy Woy on the Central Coast. As well as being colour-blind, Keo has a turned eye.

He lacked confidence at a younger age because people would ask him things like “why did you colour the sky purple?”

Nevertheless, while in Berlin, his cousin convinced him to look into graphic design. He got in contact with Newcastle TAFE and learnt that colour-blindness was not detrimental to creativity – if anything, it brings a different bent.

“I applied, booked my flight, did my portfolio on the flight, and arrived back and did the TAFE interview, all within in a week,” Keo says.

He was accepted, and his career was launched. He began getting employed before he finished his course. He now has a diploma in graphic design and has been freelancing for over eight years.

He’s also learnt from experience with other street artists. His work can be found throughout the Hunter Street Mall and he’s pretty proud of the progression the pieces show.

“It’s amazing to see them untouched,” Keo says. “People have decided that they’re OK with being what they are. They’ve been there a year and a half or two years, that’s a long time in terms of graffiti.”

Keo’s colour-blindness gives his art an edge, thought he has memorised the codes for RGB and CMYK so he can choose correct colours when working commercially.

He believes art in a public space is the most scrutinised and bravest kind.

He’s most proud of the work he’s doing with Block By Block, an art production in Belmont activating forgotten space within the city. He headed it up and co-ordinated with Ana Benson, owner of Cafe Macquarie.

“Stage One [of painting] has been really successful; Keo knows six or seven amazing guys he got to work on it with him. All his mates he knows through the scene all came up and did it for free. It was a brilliant collaboration, and it was great seeing all the different styles coming together, especially because they painted animals, and none of them usually paint animals,” Benson says.

Keo spoke of Belmont’s graffiti issues and how he and Benson organised with several landlords.

“Particularly in Belmont, they were fighting a losing fight against something they didn’t understand,” Keo explains. “We gave them a facility to use. It was a drop in the ocean in comparison to what they were paying on graffiti removal.”

He says tagging occurs out of boredom and a lack of available facilities for young people, and that the community in Belmont had a positive reaction to the artwork.

“I like graffiti. It’s different for each person who does it and views it. It’s like any rebellious behaviour, some people do it out of nasty intentions, and some people do it out of extremely positive ones,” Keo says.

Keo currently handles his own emotional battles well, using his highs and lows constructively. For a while he took medication for his bipolar but found it numbed him, and he got little enjoyment from creativity.

“[For me] life plateaus,” he says of being on medication. “With bipolar, you want to get rid of the valleys, but you’re addicted to the peaks.”

Keo now knows when a valley is coming, and he can make sure no one, himself included, is negatively affected by it.

In 2015, Keo plans to keep working on private commissions while also continuing to work with Block By Block, which is an ongoing project.

“The idea is to use Block By Block to create anywhere,” Keo says. “It’s literally going from block to block and building something.”

Block to Block has no website, but can be found under the name “thatblockbyblockthing” on Instagram.

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