• Jo Armstrong

Mat Knox - When Music & Art Collide

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

When launching this website, I also wanted to feature local residents who may not be 'creators', but have creative stories to tell and a passion in the arts scene. This week features Sheffield-born and now Leigh-on-Sea based Mat Knox. You may be aware of the pop-up art gallery he launched in Southend last year, 'Punk Roxi'. Read on to find out what led to that and the influences that first stirred his love of art and music.

Music was Mat’s first passion although he’s always had an interest in art. His background is in the bar industry and after taking ownership of a bar in Mayfair, a series of events led to art turning into a passion also. When opening ‘Walkers of St James’ in 2009, he was given a painting by Sheffield artist Pete Mckee as a welcoming present. Pete’s use of pop-art style colour and passion for subcultures, music and nostalgia appealed to Mat and he hung it proudly in his bar. This led to an invite to an exhibition Pete held in London and introductions to other artists.

One such introduction was Horace Panter – a founding member of 'The Specials'. Not only is this Mat’s favourite band, but he also discovered Horace is an artist. His work is informed by pop culture and he is known for giant cassette and Sony Walkman paintings, indicative of their iconic place in music history. Mat went on to buy a Sony Walkman painting – his first art purchase which was to become the first of an impressive personal pop-art collection.

After introductions to more artists influenced by pop-art, punk and music, Mat bought more pieces and displayed them in his bar. They proved a success due to their vibrancy and power and sparked conversations from people of all ages – including younger generations who knew the music from their parents. “I put them in the bar and it became an impromptu gallery of punk rock pop-art aswell", Mat states. “It evolved into an underground dive bar dedicated to punk rock and Sheffield in the middle of Mayfair”.

After selling the bar, Mat still had the desire to exhibit art. When he moved to Leigh-on-Sea some years later, that dream came to fruition when he launched the Punk Roxi pop-up. Intending the space to be dedicated to pop-art, punk and the music scene, Southend seemed a perfect place - “I knew there had been a great music scene in Southend in the ‘70s and ‘80s around punk, with a lot of my generation living round there and connected to it”.

Full of colour, vibrancy and music, it was a great success. Horace Panter paintings were exhibited alongside pieces including giant pin badges by Tape Deck Art, neon light pieces, giant cassettes by Chris Barton and laser-cut vinyl records. The first work sold was a one-off vinyl piece created especially for him by artist Keith Haynes. Laser-cut into an outline of the British Isles was the Sex Pistols’ album ‘Anarchy in the UK’, with a map of Southend in the background.

Its success was also due to its friendly atmosphere, which Mat is most proud of. Knowing how galleries can often be daunting to enter, Mat wanted an inviting space that provided a great experience. “I wanted somewhere for people to come in, hear music playing, have no pressure to buy, feel relaxed, have a coffee and feel free to chat about the art”, he advises. Naming the gallery in honour of his beloved Schnauzer Roxi – “Roxi was the star of it”– people were also excited to see a puppy in the gallery.

Although the pop-up has closed, Mat’s dream is to once again display the art he loves and bring as much enjoyment from it to others as it brings him. He states, “for me the art is fun, I’m happy when I look at it on the walls due to its vibrant colours and nostalgia. I’m really in to nostalgia, I’m an '80s kid at heart and it takes me back to a time that was great”.

The tattoo art covering Mat’s arms also reflects this. His first music-related tattoo was in 1990 – an image from Depeche Mode’s ‘Violator’ album cover. Since then, there have been many more, reflecting musical heroes, icons and the many different musical styles he feels lucky to have grown up alongside. This began with Punk Rock, followed by New Wave, Ska, New Romantics and Rap. “I had such a great time in the late 70s / early 80s growing up in Sheffield”, he states. “Music was a big part of it so that when I look at each tattoo, I remember the dates, the songs, what I was doing and where I was hanging out. Each one I’m a year older. They’ve all got something”.

Mat is not ruling out any future gallery space being in Leigh-on-Sea. He is used to city living in England, Los Angeles and New York. However, after getting to know the town through visiting a friend in the area and enjoying numerous beach walks, he decided to make it home! Mat says, “I was really surprised and blown away by all the things going on – including the cafes, bars, galleries, little side streets full of activity, the Leigh Art Trail and the Christmas lights. There is also a real personal connection that you don’t get in big cities. I would really like to get more involved in it all somehow”. Roxi the Schnauzer approves of pooch-friendly Leigh too and can often be found hanging out on the Leigh café scene :-)

Go to Punk Roxi's Instagram page here to see images of the exciting space Mat created.

Instagram links for artists exhibited - Horace Panter Keith Haynes Chris Barton

Tape Deck Art