October 25th, 2017
With all the discourse in politics in the world and especially in the United States right now it’s not uncommon for that to boil over in artwork. Craftsman Matthew Degen came to my attention when he was matching sales for his ANTIFA pin and donating the money to the Victims of Charlottesville.
I checked out his Facebook page (Ten Horns) and loved his craftsmanship with leather goods and the all-round macabre-ness of his work. I’ve been following him ever since and would love to do a shoot with his leather works for sure. The perfect mix of dark, sexy and everyday wear.
Where are you from?
I'm from a south side suburb of Chicago, born and raised here.
How did you get started on your artistic journey?
Well, it was actually a twofold catalyst. For the past ten years I've been working as an animator in the video game industry. When I would get home from work the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer more. Also, unlike traditional art, working digitally all the time the end product is always just bytes on a hard drive. I wanted to have a completed piece I could hold. The second part is that I've been a tradgoth all my life and got tired of not being able to find things that weren't gaudy, cheaply made, mass produced, mall store item.
How would you describe exactly what your work is?
Well, I've always referred to my work in one of two ways: either the dying arts or high-class kink. Since I do all my blacksmithing, woodworking, leathercrafting, taxidermy, and osteology work by hand, I tend to feel like a craftsman of the dying arts. Many of those crafts or skills in those crafts aren't as popular as they once were and are slowly dying out. (Plus I make a lot of coffin and coffin furniture, which plays into that.) I say high class kink because I try to make a simple, elegant, yet intricate style of product. One that could be worn to a formal dining event followed by a night at the fetish club. It's all in how one styles it.
How long does something like the leather leg garter take to make?
The leather garter is one of the easier pieces to make since I don't have to cast custom metal pieces for it and it’s smaller. I can knock one of those out from start to finish in about 2 hours.
What is the worst job you've ever had? And what made it so bad?
Bar none, my first job when I was 16 at KFC; it only lasted about 2 months. The worst was when I started second shift after the morning shift. The previous shift didn't scrape down the sides of the fryers all day (which you were supposed to do after every use). By the time I got in, the residue was extremely built up. So while I was scrapping it off, my scrapper slipped. It was the perfect combination of boiling grease, chicken fat, and human skin to make my knuckles fuse to the side. Had to use the scrapper to get them off. I may have quit that day.
You recently matched donation for every sale of your ANTIFA pin. How did that idea come about to create an ANTIFA pin and then after the events in Charlottesville decide to match sales to donations?
Well, the idea of the ANTIFA pin came about during the time when the safety pin trend was starting here in the US. There's nothing wrong with the safety pin trend at all, and I fully support it. But I just wanted to make something that not only said "I am a safe space" but also I fight back against the people putting you through this. I know people who are ANTIFA or of the ideology, and I mainly designed it because of them. I never made a proceed off the pins from the start, when people have purchased them they have been given the choice of if they want the proceeds to go to Planned Parenthood, or the ACLU. After Charlottesville, I couldn't stand the armchair revolt I was seeing. The people who changed a profile pic and then sat back and watched the dumpster fire feeling like they did their part. So I decided all proceeds would be going to the victims. After I had made that announcement, I was honestly floored by the amount of outpouring and support I received through the pins. I honestly believe I sold more pins in that three day period than I did all year. It made me hold on to shred of hope for humanity that I felt like I could do more. So I not only donated, but matched.
What was the first thing you made? What was the last thing you just finished?
The first thing I ever made was a full size, old fashion, toe pincher coffin, it's currently the coffee table in my house (I didn't choose the goth life, the goth life chose me). I just finished a Beauchene skull out of a reclaimed deer skull.
I think I've seen some of your leather work used in photo shoots. What's it like having your work used in that manner?
It's amazing and I'm honestly still floored by it. The verification I receive even from a single person makes this worth it.
Do you have any kind of formal training for the pieces you do, or are you mostly self taught?
Both actually. They mostly started self-taught, but when this was something I actively wanted to pursue I sought out some masters to learn under. (This is where I have to drop names for the Chicago school of shoemaking and leather arts, as well as Lillstreet Gallery). It was pretty funny because a lot of the things I taught/ figured out myself turned out to be the proper way to go about it.
If you could have a super power what would it be and why? Would you use it for good or evil?
Probably the ability to stop time, or at least slow it down. Because there's not enough hours in the god damn day for all the things I want to learn. Can... can you really use slowing time for good or evil?
I'm sure with the dark motif of your work that you've received some criticism. What's the best you've gotten?
To date I honestly have yet to receive any (other than from my family); I will update you when I do. What a great world we live in.
The dark arts and the macabre seem to be pushing their way into the mainstream. Do you think it's about time or is it just going to be a fad?
Neither actually, if you look at it, it's part of the rolling cycle of trends. It seems to pop up majorly every 60 years or so. Most recently it popped up in the late 19th century when the Fox sisters and the Ouija board brought the revival spiritualism and seances in america, then again became popular in 1966 when LaVey tried to make it more acceptable and public with the Church of Satan. It never has nor will go away, it's more of a matter of generation, environment, and taste.
Who are some artists that inspired you?
Henry Rollins has saved my life more times since high school than I can count. Menton J. Matthews III, Francisco Goya, Peter Steele, Dave Vanian, and of course, Gomez and Morticia Addams.
Do you do commissions or strictly your own ideas?
Oh, I do commissions all the time. I get requests for custom woodworked frames the most.
Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies? Or some other treat?
Ice cream, all the ice cream... and maybe some gummy bears. Just not together, that's a crime against nature.