Interview with an Up Here Muralist: Matti Lehtehla

Photo by Bennett Malcolmson

Photo by Bennett Malcolmson

Matti Lehtehla is based in Sudbury and was a part of the Power Up Project in 2017. He finds inspiration and beauty in the world around him—from ’90s pop culture, to Touko Laaksonen, to the vast cosmos we call home—Matti pulls from these sources to create lush, technicolour, alternate realities. His mural in on the TD Bank on Durham Street.

I got the chance sit down with Matti and was able to chat about his influences, his use of colour, and learn a little more about what he is bringing to his mural. Here are some moments from our time together.

Can we start by having you describe your artistic practice for those who are being introduced to work for the first time?

My day to day practice is at Cambrian College in the marketing department and I’m the graphic designer there.

On the side I am involved in the music scene where I do all the posters for The Townehouse and I did a little bit for Northern Lights, River & Sky, and now Up Here.

At night when I get home I’m usually working on a freelance project.

I notice a lot of high-contrast colour and pop-culture references in your work. How have these elements been incorporated into your mural?

What I’ve been experimenting with recently is that I like taking a normal scene and then adding wild amounts of colour and making it feel unreal, so I’m happy they were cool with me doing some like this. I wanted to do queer art in Sudbury too and in that same style—taking a realistic thing and making it hyper-colourful and outside of what you would normally see.

I don’t know if there’s a method for the madness or a reason for everything, but I think the world is already so grey and brown but I want the world to be more colourful. It’s kind of like my version of the world in my head.

You mentioned bringing queer art to Sudbury, how have you incorporated that goal into your mural?

This is inspired by Tom of Finland, he was a Finnish artist who depicted a lot of guys in muscle shirts and overtly sexual men. It was and still is subversive. I wanted to bring a piece of that here. If you look at it, his pants are open and his shirt is coming off and the guy is wearing leather. It’s sexual but not in your face sexual.

It’s important. There’re advertisements that you will see on a bus with girls in bikinis and that’s a normal thing. But people are shocked by a guy in a tank top and its important to have that visibility. It starts a conversation. I wanted to add positivity.

I would like to add the counter argument, one of the things that was brought to my attention about your piece was that it displays male nipples in a way that would be more aggressively shamed if it were a woman. How do you feel about this argument?

That’s the other thing. It’s this man with a chest that is almost like boobs. They’re round and voluptuous. They’re almost like tits. The fact that that is acceptable but you can’t have a woman with her tits out is fucked up. I hope that is part of the conversation too, for people to ask if what if it was a girl?

Yeah, the world is full of contradictions. Now, your work is often in a public space, but this feels public in a very different way. How has it felt approaching a piece of public art?

It’s scary for me. I like being in the background. People have told me that they’ve seen my posters everywhere but not known it was me and I kind of liked that. Now they’re putting a face to the posters. I like the anonymity. This is taking a lot out of me to be so public and people come up to me and talk to me about it. It’s a challenge but a good thing. You can’t be too comfortable in life. It’s always good to push yourself to the next level.

Have there been other challenges in approaching this piece?

Some challenges have been the scale. I have been kind of free handing the whole things and I’ve been noticing that there are some proportion issues here and there. I was going to use a projector to get it exactly but it felt inauthentic to do it that way. I want it to look like it’s been done all by hand. It has been rewarding and when it’s done it’s going to feel really, really cool.

Photo by Bennett Malcolmson

Photo by Bennett Malcolmson

Bennett Malcolmson