It can be difficult to find the right words to describe Matt Crump’s photography. Neon is close, but it feels too harsh — Crump’s editing give his photos a warmth that neon lacks. Pastel, on the other hand, feels too soft a word for the Austin artist’s work, which is charged with a subtle electricity. Even the color palette rings familiar: cotton candy blues, Pepto Bismol pinks, avocado greens and Laffy Taffy yellows, but their combinations somehow come across as novel.
Like the splatterings of Rothko or the dots of Kusama, Crump’s work has such a simple confidence that, upon looking at it, you might even find yourself thinking, sullenly, “Well, I could’ve done that if I’d just thought of it.” That accessibility is not a fault, though; it’s the calling card of a breakthrough. When a work feels familiar, especially in an almost atavistic way, it means the artist has achieved something rare. Indeed, Crump’s color pattern seems so obvious — now that he’s brought it to life, of course — that it can be tempting to think of his work as simple. In reality, the opposite couldn’t be more true.
Even before he quit his job as an art director pursue his work full time in 2014, Crump had long nurtured his calling as a photographer. After being inspired by a college friend of his, Molly Grubbs, now a creative strategist at Tumblr, Crump began began traveling the country, taking photos of his surroundings and playing around with editing apps — mostly a combination of TouchReTouch, VSCO and PicTapGo. In particular, he toyed with the photo compositions of his stills and began gravitating toward a palette that exuded a soft sweetness. He generally shoots landscapes, such as palm trees jutting into the sky, the facades of oddly architectured buildings or the occasional home interior. While the objects of his attention are chosen for their eye appeal, it’s Crump’s color scheme that has skyrocketed him to fame within recent years.
His aesthetic has a name: candy minimalism, and Crump’s Instagram has become its Mecca. The University of Texas alumnus, who graduated with a degree in creative advertising, has watched as his style has spread throughout Instagram and across the internet. In response to its ballooning popularity, Crump created a second Instagram, @candyminimal, where he features the work of other artists making candy minimalist work. His side page now has 134,000 followers, while his primary Instagram boasts over 240,000. Through the combined effort of his pages, as well as his Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, Crump has created a completely unique brand from the ground up.
Crump also works with a partner, Lisa Bizzle, a Canadian academic with a doctorate degree in psychology who worked in developmental research and pharmaceutical research for depression for nearly 10 years. Crump’s work, with its blissful color tone, has had positive effects on viewers’ mental health, leading many commenters to remark that just looking at his images has improved their moods. While the praise is nothing more than anecdotal at the moment, Crump and Bizzle have listened to the feedback and are heartened by it. “It seems to strike a happy chord with followers,” Crump told TIME. “They tell me how good it makes them feel, that my daily posts brighten their day, that they’re inspired. That’s my motivation.”
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Crump about his artwork and burgeoning popularity. We talked about what it means to be an artist in the age of Instagram, as well as what he has planned for candy minimalism and his art career going forward.
Monica Petrucci: Before you started your work with candy minimalism, you used to be an art director. When did your relationship with art begin?
Matt Crump: I’ve loved art ever since I can remember. My grandma was the queen of arts and crafts. Her craft supply room had rows of shelves packed with stuff, almost like a mini Michaels store. Some of my earliest memories are me rummaging through the towering shelves to make something fun.
MP: What inspired you to start taking photos?
MC: When my college friend Molly Grubbs started posting minimalist shots on Instagram, I was instantly inspired. I began experimenting with composition and color, taking my own minimalist shots. Soon I was obsessed with taking photos, and I haven’t stopped since.
MP: What do you see as the most stark difference between your job as art director and what you do now?
MC: As an art director, I always had other people telling me what to make, and it served a strictly commercial purpose. Sure, I loved location scouting, casting, picking out wardrobe color palettes and guiding the production design, but my name wasn’t attached to it in any real way. Now, I still get to do all that, but I’m sought out because brands want my own vision. Simply, I get to be more of an artist than an art director.
MP: Are you taking photos/creating merchandise full-time now?
MC: Yes! I quit my job five years ago to focus on photography and growing my personal brand as an artist. Now I have a quarter of a million followers, a print shop and a new line of Matt Crump-branded notebooks and office supplies.
MP: What initially drew you to this psychedelic perspective you call “candy minimalism”?
MC: When I’m editing a picture, my goal is to make it look like the way the scene felt in my head at the time I shot it. I see the world through candy-colored glasses, and photography allows me to showcase that. I’ve always loved bright colors and surrealism — M.C. Escher, Dr. Seuss, Warhol and Van Gogh were my favorite artists growing up — so maybe they helped shape my artistic point of view.
MP: Do you usually go to places with photo ideas in mind, or do you try to find inspiration for your aesthetic wherever you are?
MC: When I’m traveling, I have a list of “must-see” places that I try to hit, but most of my time is spent driving or walking around a new place, looking for things that inspire me. I think that’s the best way to experience a place: just walk around it. Yes, go to the iconic spots and get your shots, but it’s also important to explore and discover stuff that you haven’t seen on the internet yet.
MP: Have you ever imagined you’d have such a impactful social media following? How has it changed your life?
MC: It wasn’t a goal, I just got lucky — if you can call being Instafamous lucky. My life is completely different than it would have been had I stayed in advertising. Most noticeably, I no longer feel shackled to crazy corporate world expectations, like having to be in the office early and then staying for eight hours (even if there’s nothing to do). I’m the boss of my schedule now. It’s also easier to focus on eating healthy and staying in shape because I don’t have work stressors looming over my life. Financially, my life is also very different. I earn more as an artist/influencer than I ever could have in advertising.
MP: Do you have any other hobbies, art-related or not?
MC: Most of my hobbies circle back to photography one way or another. I love interior design so I can take photos of rooms, traveling so I can take pics of new places, making stuff so I can take pictures of it … you get the idea. I also enjoy mindlessly swiping on Tinder dudes while half-watching cartoons on Netflix.
MP: I saw the blog section of your website and really enjoyed the sense of humor you use. Do you plan to expand your blog more?
MC: One of my 2018 goals is to launch the blog before the New Year. I was a copywriter for part of my advertising career, so words are just as important to me as pictures. The blog will paint a clearer picture of the life of Matt Crump, including special guest posts by my interns, Darrell the Seagull and my neighbor Doreen.
MP: What is your proudest accomplishment?
MC: My proudest accomplishment is leaving corporate life and making a living on my own. I wasn’t made to sit in front of a computer in a cubicle all day.
MP: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers who dream of having a platform like yours?
MC: Find your vision, the platform will follow. It will take a lot of work, but if you’re in love with photography, you’ll develop your eye no matter how long it takes. I’m always experimenting with new angles, editing techniques and subjects, not only to continue evolving my style but to figure out what people like. I incorporate that feedback into my work so I can appeal to an even broader audience. If you do the same, slowly but surely your platform will grow.