An Interview with Artist Matt Shapira

© Matt Shapira

Matt Shapira is an artist, film-maker, and the mind behind the Roaming Elephant project. Though he is based in Los Angeles, he spends a great deal of his time travelling the globe, painting his elephant murals across all continents. He uses his art to promote his message, which, as I understand it, is rather easy to agree with. We should prioritise caring for our planet and the animals on it, as well as appreciating how lucky we each are to be here in the first place. Quench interviewed Matt about his latest mural, which he painted outside the Marriott Hotel in Cardiff city centre at the end of November.

What made you pick this particular spot in Cardiff?

Cardiff has always been a place I’ve heard about. It’s a place I’ve often dreamt of coming to visit. I knew when the timing was right, the door would open to visiting the city. The history of Wales has long been a fascination of mine. The people, the unique culture, and the specific location along the coast has been something I really wanted to experience first-hand. Cardiff is the center of modern Wales, and I wanted to see first-hand how life was like there. Introducing my mission here was a dream come true. The Marriott Hotel is at the doorstep to Mills Lane, across from the Train station. The foot traffic, the energy and buzz of the city starts exactly where those streets cross and connect. Having Roaming Elephants there embodies the hope that as a symbol of Family, Love, and Compassion, it can blend into the location as Giovanni and so many have already shown me that the area represents.

Can you explain the Roaming Elephant campaign to us? What is the significance of the elephant for you?

Elephants are in need of our support. They are being killed for their tusks, skin, tails, and feet, in Africa. As well they are being beaten and mistreated in South East Asia for tourism or plane human expansion into regions often native to the large animals.

I want to bring a positive message of color and love using elephant eyes and body movement of these sentient beings so that people can stop, take a moment, look at these images and recognize the soft or rather gentle impression it hopefully will leave on them.  When you look at an elephant, as they walk, or they communicate to their herd, you notice a sense of majestic hope. A feeling of deep understanding of empathy for those they love.

My campaign is to re-inform the passer-by to stop and take a moment. To appreciate the value of love and the need to find the symbol of things as a gentle push and reminder that life is beautiful… And it is our responsibility to look after one another, and above all the area we live.

Like Elephants we have the deep desire to roam, to love, and to feel…  My Elephants are my way of saying – please in a modern age of phones and computers, don’t forget about where we come from, what we need, and what it takes to keep it safe.

What art medium is your favourite to work with?

Pen and ink, with a set of layers of paint, mostly acrylic that is water based, as I like the drip affect, which to me represents the water dripping off the elephant as it leaves the watering hole (a place it goes to play). It also represents being purified and cleaned from the collection of elements it has encountered prior.

Have you encountered any unexpected difficulties while creating outdoor murals?

Broken ladders each step of the way, monsoon rains in Nepal, jungle and forest overgrowth in Thailand, heat waves in California, white walls are hard to paint on because they reflex the sun often burning your retina… To find a color that you can see is the right color through tinted glasses is a learned skill…  The traffic passing by in remote villages, the cold, rainy weather and wind tunnel streets of Shoreditch in London — all part of the joy.

Bricks versus dry rot wood fences… Each mural represents a series of challenges – and the key to painting them is removing the panic that it won’t work… Just go and let go… flow state.

© Matt Shapira

How do people tend to respond to your work?

Often, I ask myself what it would be like to see an artist work and get a feeling. To me those artists were the impressionists. They gave me the passion to pick up a brush, to paint the sky, the trees, and the colors around.

When people stop, ask me questions, take photos, whistle and show me their thumbs up approval. Or when people stop me in the street, or at a café and ask me if I’m roaming elephant and or if I know the guy. They often cry and tell me they feel the emotions in the eyes of my elephants. They thank me for showing them an emotion they often lose to their daily routine.

The vast majority response is gratitude and for me, it makes me feel humble and blessed. To be an artist, like the impressionists whom make others feel an emotion – to feel a deep connection to a series of colors and lines – that is the ultimate fulfilment of an artist. I would not paint or stop painting on behalf of those accolades as I paint for myself. But it sure does help to meet the gratitude of others along the journey.

What do you want people to take from your artwork?

Love – compassion – importance of family. And please – help give an animal a home – feed them, love them, they are our hope for humanity. Elephants are the royal family of all living animals. They are the symbol of greatness – and their greatness is strength – strength in kindness and gentleness. That’s what I hope people take from it.

Where can we expect the next mural to pop up?

All over Africa next… South Africa and Namibia coming soon…

For more information about the Roaming Elephant project, and to see more photographs, visit his website.

By Becca Moody