We met with Cassius Matthias, founder of YES & NO Magazine and graduate of both London College of Communication, and Central Saint Martins. Cassius talks about his varied career in film and print, where he finds his inspiration and the way life can take you in unexpected directions…
YES & NO is a quarterly magazine that represents a defiant movement against the certainties that increasingly divide us. It’s for people who believe in a more fluid, creative approach to life. Arts, Culture, Science, Technology, & Progress for our times.
Tell us about your experiences at London College of Communication and Central Saint Martins, and how they have helped you in your career so far…
I attended LCC when it was originally called the London College of Printing. It was recommended to me by a friend, and so in 1984 I enrolled onto the Foundation Course in Printing which was based in the abandoned Daily Mirror printing works on Back Hill, Clerkenwell. It was a great part of town, it still is, close to Leather Lane Market and Hatton Garden. I used to love exploring the area that had such a rich and chequered history; I would walk pass dressmaker Jean Muir’s studio every day. It was a time when Clerkenwell was a vibrant hub with a kind of gritty glamour that’s distinctive to London. In a short space of time at LCP (as it was commonly known as), I was taught the basic principles of most printing processes alongside graphic design, calligraphy, book-binding and photography. I even learnt how to touch type. These skills would come in handy in later life.
In the late 1980s I came across a fork in the road, as it were, and enrolled onto the Fine Art Painting Course at Saint Martins School of Art (as it was still called back then). After the first year we joined forces with Central School and became Central Saint Martins. I am still very close with the friends I made at the time. My year was made up of individuals such as Merlin Carpenter, Godfried Donker, Georgie Hopton, Nils Norman, Simon Periton, Josephine Pryde, Nicola Tyson, to name a few. We all worked side by side and supported each other’s projects. My film work at the time, including my graduation project, The Clear 2-Way Drive, features many of my contemporaries.
After a circuitous four years, I graduated and got into the film business. My film-making life drew me back to LCC. As a researcher and script writer I would spend many a blissful hour immersed in the Stanley Kubrick Archive pouring over Kubrick’s annotated scripts and other film ephemera. This lead to an invitation to give a presentation on how Kubrick wrote the script for A Clockwork Orange at the BFI Southbank in 2009.
When I met Domenic Lippa in 2016 at Pentagram, London, to discuss the design and art direction of YES & NO, it came as no surprise when I learnt that he had also trained at LCP — though he was based at the main (and current LCC) site in Elephant & Castle.
What made you want to go into film-making? And tell us more about your greatest achievements/biggest lessons learned…
I got into film making by accident. Literally, I had a road accident; I was run over by a double-decker bus which meant I had to take a year out of college. During that period of convalescence I made the decision to switch courses and join the film and video department which at the time was based on Long Acre. The painting tutors encouraged idea especially because I had already made a number of short experimental animations which had gone down quite well. So, after being re-interviewed by the film tutors, I made the change from painting to film & video.
My greatest achievement at that period was making my graduation piece. The odds really were against me because it was an ambitious project. I was naive enough about the whole film-making process to believe I could pull it off. There were others around me who were not so confident and, looking back, I think they were probably justified. I wrote a very detailed script and wanted to make everything from scratch — the sets, the costumes, the props, everything. The only things that weren’t made for the film were the costume accessories which I convinced Gucci to supply. And so, I made the film, and when I graduated it got me into the film business — working closely with the veteran writer/producer of Brideshead Revisited, Derek Granger. Derek is 95 now, and we are great friends.
You are about to launch the 2nd issue of YES & NO Magazine — can you tell us more about the concept, and how it was conceived?
YES & NO was another accident — an idea that came out of nowhere. In 2015 I was unexpectedly presented with the opportunity to sign up to a mentoring programme called the New Enterprise Allowance. This was a government-backed scheme whereby, if you had an idea, you could receive support to develop a business plan with a view to getting it off the ground. I’d decided I wanted to create a magazine that appealed to me. I thought that if I could achieve that goal, then it was likely there’d be others who’d want to read it as well. And that’s how YES & NO was born.
You are collaborating with other UAL alumni — have you found the alumni network useful?
Yes, without question, but in indirect and unexpected ways. Domenic Lippa designed the first issue of YES & NO. From the start, he’s been a fantastic collaborator and supporter of the project. It was a great and inspirational experience working with him and his lead designer, Jeremy Kunze. Apart from Domenic, I’ve come across many UAL Alumni who are doing fantastic work not just on my magazine but in publishing generally. People such as Jeremy Leslie, for instance, who’s a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to magazine design and publishing; and he’s the man behind MagCulture.
There’s a real renaissance in independent magazine publishing right now. There’s a whole sub-culture going on — and it’s worldwide. I think independent magazine publishing is the new vinyl. I stumbled on it by chance, but with my past experiences it makes sense to be working on a magazine now; and it feels good to be a small part of this movement. It means also I get to collaborate with a wide spectrum of fantastic minds from all over the world.
What are your future plans for the magazine? What do you hope to achieve in the next couple of years?
The first issue had a modest launch in the UK & Ireland. We then expanded into Germany, then the US (through Barnes & Noble and independent magazine sellers). Then we expanded further still into specialist magazine outlets with a focus in London, but also in other parts of Britain. Now, with the second issue, YES & NO will also go on sale in Sweden, Finland, Thailand, and Brazil. Hopefully, with each subsequent issue you’ll see the magazine increasing its reach and becoming available in more places. It’s still early days, though, and it’s finding its way — audiences are still discovering it. The YES & NO App will be launched soon, it’s being developed, but there’s nothing quite like the real thing, the printed magazine with its paper quality, and its artist’s centrefold and everything! It’s a real experience.
My hope is that we can continue to create a quality magazine that reflects and informs the contemporary culture of people’s real lives. I’m not interested in presenting a themed magazine, or a fantasy-based magazine; so many titles do these things really well.
I’m only interested in creating a dialogue with readers about how, through a cultural lens, we navigate the real world — which, let’s face it, is pretty crazy and at times seemingly un-navigable. That doesn’t mean things have to be dreary and depressing. On the contrary, more than ever we need to think positive thoughts, to be at once optimistically hopeful and realistic.
In the next couple of years I hope to be able to support upcoming creatives and thinkers by giving them a platform to show the world what they can do, what they think. So I’m interested in listening to new and non-mainstream voices, or voices that aren’t so new but can’t find an outlet. I am open to working with students and professionals alike and everyone in between. Because of my own personal history, I find I can collaborate with a wide range of people coming from different backgrounds. It’s something I enjoy, and I think the underlying concept of YES & NO is robust enough to carry many diverse voices.
What inspires you?
Inspiration can, and often does, spring from the most unexpected places. But to answer your question, I guess, first and foremost, I’m inspired by people. I also love reading — history, generally anything written before World War II. I can read a page — or even a sentence — from a book and feel inspired by it. I’m also inspired by YES & NO, of course — the culture of like-mindedness that seems to be evolving naturally, through word of mouth. But that’s only because I know what its remit is — namely, to bring like-minded people together while trying to make sense of the here and now.