From Botticelli to Banksy, artists have often used alternate names as a way to identify their creative mark on the world.
For Matt Wells, his distinctive moniker came from a seven-foot-tall, green, scaly-skinned reptilian humanoid cryptid said to inhabit the swamplands of South Carolina: Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp.
“When I was a teenager, I had a T-shirt I wore way too often with some crude artwork of the Lizard Man,” Matt says. “He lives in a swamp, rips up cars, attacks people at night. It’s probably bullshit, but I really like that one. ‘Lizardman’ started as a nickname, then a tag, a username, and at some point, I just signed all my work with it.”
Whether “Lizard Man” is mythical or not, this Lizardman has always let his mind run wild. “I’ve been fascinated with science fiction forever, machines, intricate stuff, scary stories, world history, satire,” the 35-year-old artist says. “With paintings, I’ve learned to embrace abstraction in the process, and just run with things that I personally think are funny.”
Screaming skulls. A steampunk Steamboat Willie atop weapons of destruction. Post-apocalyptic astronauts traversing through tentacles, blimps, and swirling colors. It’s “dense, frantic, clunky, but funky,” he explains.
And that’s true, whether it’s his solo work or pieces of art made by the small collective Matt co-founded in 2009, Rogue Citizen. While working as a museum security guard at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Matt and some fellow guards felt frustrated and stagnant as visual artists. Banding together, the gang made stickers, collaborative paintings, murals, and put on live art shows and gallery exhibitions, including a provocative installation centered on capital punishment. The group has grown to undertake commissions and work with labor unions and justice campaigns.
“[Rogue Citizen] has absolutely changed how I function as an artist. Expanded horizons and all that,” says Matt of the now-sextet collective of artists Dalsen, Blaster, McGorry, Ugaso, Goat Henke, and himself. “And I think that’s true of everyone in the crew—a lot of opportunities we would never have had otherwise.”
And fantastic opportunities abound. As a singular artist and as a member of Rogue Citizen, Matt has worked on art for Sean Anonymous, Soul Asylum, and Doomtree, visual campaigns for Minnesotans for a Fair Economy and Service Employees International Union, murals at the Kitty Cat Klub, Iron Door Pub, Cabooze, and LynLake Brewery, and some beer logo designs, wall art, and packaging for Modist Brewing.
“I’m fortunate to pursue the thing I’m compelled to do,” Matt says of his life as a full-time artist. “It’s the best job I’ve had so far […] and I’ve done plenty of other jobs, but I knew I’d be miserable if this thing didn’t play out somehow.”
Whether through Rogue Citizen or his Lizardman moniker, Matt’s work displays a discordant fusion of biological and technological. The pieces look like something you’d see out of “The Matrix” or “The Terminator.” “I try to stay informed about technology,” he reveals. “And I read too much news—real news. I should maybe read more of the fake stuff, it might fuel some different creative ideas. Hillary sold uranium to Obama’s reptilian overlords, stuff like that.”
Just like his artworks, the world we live in is also dense, frantic, clunky, and funky. And with layers of mixed-media images, graffiti culture, spray paint stencils, social commentary, and otherworldly representations, Matt is opening visual windows to this reality and beyond.
Name: Matt Wells
Hometown: Cedar Grove, WI
Currently Resides: Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Ink, acrylic, spray paint, digital