Creative Cutting | What Are You Wearing? | Chicago Reader

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Creative Cutting

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Matthew Churney, 47, has been cutting elaborate patterns into his T-shirts for the past 20 years. He's also occasionally made pieces for other people--including Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain.

Liz Armstrong: What do you call what you do?

Matthew Churney: Razor-cut work. People, if they want to get fancy, would call me a fabric artist. It's nothing more than drawing, but with a razor blade. I'll do letters, figures, an eagle, the shape of a snake that was detailed enough to see scales and the tongue and teeth. There's no limit except for the imagination or what the basic structure of something will allow.

LA: What inspires you?

MC: A lot of the T-shirts I work with already have some artwork on it. I just look at the basic shape or if there's any kind of action going on, any particular direction. Like I had a Triumph shirt that had outspread wings, so I did lines across going straight up like a bow.

LA: Do you do this to all your T-shirts?

MC: No, not all. Most of them though.

LA: Why?

MC: I was on the punk scene and people were doing different stuff, expressing themselves, and I wanted something to kind of express myself. If it's a shirt I want to wear a lot, I do it not just for the look but also for the comfort. It allows the air to get to my skin a lot better. I started doing these bandanas because basically when it gets so hot and humid you don't want a doubled-over bandana that's going to keep all the heat inside.

LA: Do you have a day job?

MC: I wound up on disability because I'd gone through some pretty major changes and I wound up being diagnosed as bipolar. And I had a knee injury, so I think a combination of the physical and what I'd gone through mentally made that happen. I'm really not technically allowed to work a regular job.

LA: What does this do for you? Is it soothing?

MC: Yeah, on some levels it is. I think any time you enter into a creative mode, even when I play hacky sack, you're on a different level. When you're focused on that all your cares and worries fade away.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephen J. Serio.

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