Interview: ‘Another Department’ designer Bo Matteini on art and music

Generally known to the world simply as Bo, or Bo@AnotherDepartment, Bo Matteini is a painter, graphic designer and creator of Another Department, based in East London. 

At the time of this interview Bo was 300+ days into a 365 design project, where each day he would post a new design on Instagram and via his Another Department website. Since then he successfully completed the project and should currently be in the middle of a well-earned holiday. 

Bo discusses art, growing up in London, social media and Another Department. 

How would you describe Another Department? 

It’s pretty much just a project that was born out of me wanting to have a reason to make things digitally. I wrote something on my website about how my process has changed a bit, but it was originally taking from newspaper clippings, and ephemera and like old media, and spinning that with irony, or some sort of like wordplay or something like that. But my skills and style have evolved, I think.

A lot of people do this 365 posting thing that I’m doing. I was inspired by other accounts. I made a print store, because other people were doing print stores.

When did you actually start Another Department?

The 365 started on April 1. So April Fool’s. I wish it was an April Fool’s joke [laughs]. I had the account for maybe a month or so before. I was just posting like a freelance graphic designer would. Because I have a background working for a streetwear company, I got to the point where I wanted a graphics portfolio. 

I was doing illustration and painting. I wanted a place for my graphics to go. So I did that. When I started with 365, I just wiped the whole thing and decided, okay now this will begin, pretty much.

I really didn’t know if I could do this. Because as excited as you can get about something like this, a year, as I’ve learned, is a long time.

Before I started Another Department, I practiced for a month. I decided if I can do one everyday for a month, then I think I can do it. What that allowed was for me to have basically 30 days off within a year, which has been a blessing, honestly. Because I have a full time job as well with SCRT.

It’s a small, British streetwear company, a very organic sort of thing. I know Chris, who’s the director. I lived with him for 10 years. I’m doing that five days a week, and I wake up to make posters every day.

That’s a very good tactic having 30 of them in the bank, in case you have days where for whatever reason, you can’t do it.

Definitely. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. I see more and more of this 365 trend now. It’s a very marketable and interesting challenge for someone to do. It’s easy to follow someone and recognize they’re doing this thing every day. You’re interested to see what they come up with. You’re also rooting for them. 

But I’ve seen quite often that people will just have this inevitable post. There’s these red flags. They’ll have a post that goes something along the lines of: my brain is empty, no ideas today. 

And I’ve written that down as an idea. But every time I’ve gone to reach for it, I’m like, no, no, I’ve still got ideas. I don’t need to go for that one.

It gets to that, and then they’ll have a post saying: your rest is important, or something. That’s when they’ve missed seven days or something. 

Some people will do the 365 without posting every day, they’ll just post 365 times, but I was keen to do it every day. There’ll be someone who goes: guys, it wasn’t for me, it’s been too much work. I don’t want to put pressure on my creativity. 

I’m not putting these people down, because everyone has different situations. That would have been me if I didn’t have the big safety net that I made beforehand.

Have you thought about what’s going to happen to the branding concept of Another Department once you get to the end?

It’s pretty daunting. I was tempted to do the crazy thing of doing 366/365. And be like “I’m not stopping, I’m going I’m going.” But I can’t, I can’t. 

As traumatic and difficult as this kind of is, it’s been an amazing tool to just learn and progress at something. I’m not even trained as a graphic designer or anything like that. I’m familiar with  the software, and had some ideas. Doing it every day, my education—or whatever you want to call it—has grown so quickly.

I read that you started out interested in art at quite a young age, and then you sort of fell out of love with it and got into music. How far did you get with that?

I was interested in art growing up because I was the one kid in class who was known as the arty, or the creative one. My parents were always pushing me to draw stuff. My mum wanted me to be an architect. Always pushing me to be creative and telling me that I was good at what I was doing. But art at school didn’t really give me a meaningful urge to make it when I was older. 

I finished school, did the typical bumming around, working shitty retail jobs. Music wise, I was playing and writing terrible, hardcore, metalcore songs with my mate when we were 16 in his bedroom. I was trying to do that. I thought I was gonna do music, I was keen, playing guitar and stuff. 

It got to the point where my friends had just started graduating from university, the band had broken up, as you can imagine, of course it did. I was going to my girlfriend’s final exhibition and I was thinking “fuck, maybe I’ve missed out on something here.” It brought me back to when I was doing these things, and there was potential and it was exciting. 

I think she convinced me university was still an option. I applied and got through on clearing, which is the super last minute way to get to uni. 

You mentioned metalcore. Who were the bands that you were striving to emulate at that time?

We were so bad at writing music that it was honestly not even trying to emulate because we just didn’t know what the fuck we were doing, but [I was] big into Underoath, A Day To Remember, a lot of Rise Records, [metal]core bands from the 2010s — the sort of trash metalcore that everyone hated at a time, but now it’s become kind of cool. 

So when you went to university what were your artistic inspirations? 

Picasso was a huge inspiration and influence for me. There’s a lot of those early 20th century abstract, or expressionist painters that I just love. 

It’s funny, because obviously I knew who Picasso was, but growing up I didn’t really even go to museums. Maybe I did, but I was never really struck by a painting or anything like that. 

But there’s just something about his work that fills me with whatever that special, magical feeling that you get from seeing a piece of art is. I just get that with everything that Picasso does honestly.

Do you feel that you’ve become more appreciative of avant garde things? Or did you always have that more kind of unusual appreciation of art?

I can get down with some pretty conceptual art. There are some things that are super modern and super obnoxious that I’m not into, but I think so. 

I’ve sort of gotten better with even looking at older paintings, like something from the 1700s, where it’s just like a portrait of some old guy. Before I went to art school I would just see that as a boring photo of a boring person — because I had such a naive understanding of what artwork is — now I think I see it in a different way. I see the marks of the human who made it. I think I’ve got deeper appreciation.

When you were at art school, did you have to do quite a lot of theoretical work as well?

We didn’t specifically have to learn theory; we had a pretty open course. They didn’t really want to push us in any directions. We would have lecturers come in and talk to us about different ways of working and thinking about things — just very broad ways to just engage yourself with the components of the world and stuff like that. 

[One of the lecturers] showed us a documentary called Ways of Seeing, based on a book by John Berger. [For] anyone who’s interested in visual arts, graphic design, or anything like that, I would highly recommend it — or even just watch the thing on YouTube.

It’s not gonna screw your mind up and it’s nothing too theoretical, it’s just an interesting way to consider how images are shown to us in our everyday lives. It’s even got more of an interesting twist, because this was filmed in the 70s, maybe the early 80s, and there’s so many connections to social media, and digitization of the images and all that stuff.

What’s your feeling on social media? How has it been for you in terms of your life, and for promoting what you do?

I suppose [he pauses] it’s good.

That pause tells me you have mixed feelings.

Yeah, I think we should have mixed feelings really, because we’re clearly addicted to it, but we clearly benefit from it. So it’s a very nuanced situation. I’m appreciative of that: just being able to connect with people and obviously, you publicize your work — although with the human connection part, you just have to just try and interact with people just to make the whole thing a bit more pleasant.

So I saw something where you talked about following informal rules in your art. I wonder what you mean by that?

That was more to do with my illustration when I was doing it. That was something I sort of picked up on when I was at uni, ways to draw things, to boil it down to its simplest form. 

We would have exercises where it’s like: draw this thing, with just straight lines whatever the subject was, wow draw it with your pen not leaving the page. Then it was like: look at it for a minute and then draw it without looking. Stuff like that. 

You’d be enforcing these limitations on yourself. I’ve always found that really helpful, because most of the time, with my ideas and with my approaches, you just get lost in the infinity of your potential choices. By enforcing some rules — as much as people think rules and enforcement are going to confine your creativity — I found that it’s almost the opposite with certain things. 

When you work or do art do you listen to music?

Yeah, for sure. When I was painting I would need music. They had subjects, but my paintings were more about just me exploring the marks and stuff like that. So having a good flow state was important. 

Sometimes I would just put on an older album that would almost remove me from the current state of mind. My go to one was Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance. That’s like my purest album. It’s been with me since I was 13 and it’s a piece of music that I feel has actually aged very well and isn’t terrible from when I was growing up… cos I listened to a lot of terrible music! 

Do you need to have music, like if you’re out in the park or whatever?

I can probably do it in complete silence. Maybe I can have a new rule to do it in silence or something. I’d prefer not to [laughs].

How was COVID for you and how did you adjust to that—both from a personal point of view and from a work point of view? 

I honestly enjoyed the lockdown [at first]. When it got to month eight then yeah it did get a bit rough. But I was living in a house with my friends. I wasn’t isolated from doing things and having fun. 

In terms of creative work, the one thing I did actually is I taught myself how to screen print, like DIY, during lockdown, which was an interesting process — mainly because it takes a lot of specifics. You can’t wing it by being creative. You need to know exactly what’s going on and you need to be far more regimented with your planning [than with painting]. 

Does the 365 project and the freelance commission work feel very separate from the job that you have? Or does it all feel like work to some degree?

It’s pretty good. I enjoy doing it. Maybe this is different for other designers. I think most of the time people get recognition from doing commissioned work. They get known for a certain style, but I kind of got to do what I want and I have a different range of approaches.

Sometimes I’ll just do text based things, or really heavy image based things or more simplistic things, or more textural things. I feel like I have a large pool of approaches. If someone wants me to replicate something, I’ll do it, but most of the time they’ll set an end goal and I’ll just create towards it.

Are there any particular commissions that you’ve had, that you’re especially proud of, or pleased about?

This most recent one I did for an electronic artist called Deathpact. It’s not really my scene, but they’ve got a lot of anonymity and a really culty fan base that has a bunch of sub Reddits and is following breadcrumb clues for the lore of the artist, which I thought was really interesting. I did some tour posters for them and ones for individual cities. It was professional but I could still have fun with the imagery. I felt the tone fit my style as well.

Have you ever had anybody want to commission you for something and you turn them down? 

Yeah, I have that a lot. I have maybe a higher commission fee than the normal person, but it’s just because I’m so busy that I’ll just have to say a big number, because I don’t have any time and that scares most people off, I think.

It’s kind of worked out, because it cuts out this sort of weird, murky area where you’re willing to work for 100 quid and they overwork you, and they don’t pay. 

Now that you’ve kind of pushed yourself to do this big conceptual project, what have you got your sights set on next?

My first thought: I need to make work to keep my engagement going on Instagram. That’s the depressing world we live in. Because that’s the only place that my work exists in mostly. 

I kind of feel like my identity is wrapped around this 365 thing and to be honest as efficient and fast as I’ve become, doing something in a two hour window every day has its benefits, but if I allow myself more time, I’m sure I’ll create something far more interesting. 

I was thinking if this was all in a book that would be interesting, but logistically that’s just a pain in the arse, having to make enough copies and if people want them. 

A totally separate book may be cool. Sometimes I make designs, and I feel like that it’s an interesting start of what could be a series of ideas, but I’m always on to the next one. Something physical would be nice, because the whole thing exists only on screens.

Artwork courtesy of Bo Matteini 

Visit Bo at Another Department for commissions and updates on forthcoming projects. 

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