Woodstock, N.Y. artist Matthew Lineham talks with GPB about his love for the B-52's

Georgia band The B-52's and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe are part of Lineham's collection of posters and ornaments at his Dragon Co

Georgia band The B-52's and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe are part of Lineham's collection of posters and ornaments at his Dragon Con exhibition. (Matthew Lineham)

Atlanta's Dragon Con attracts gamers, comic book aficionados, movie buffs and anime fans from around the globe. The annual convention was founded in 1987 and runs from tonight through Monday in five downtown hotels featuring exhibitor booths, celebrity photo ops, cosplay and more.  

Matthew Lineham, 34, is a Dragon Con exhibitor and New York-based artist who creates images of new wave musicians. His work is inspired by stained-glass church windows and the colorful clothing and personalities of bands from the MTV era, including Athens, Ga. groups R.E.M. and the B-52's.

Kristi York Wooten: Are you a fan of Dragon Con? There are so many elements to Dragon Con—the cosplay, the costumes, the meet ups and the energy. What attracted you to Dragon Con as an exhibitor?

Matthew Lineham: We do conventions all over the country and I have many friends who have been doing Dragon Con for years, and they claim it's in their top two favorite shows that they do. So honestly, I wanted to get on a better show. And my parents live in Atlanta. So it's like a perfect kind of show.

Kristi York Wooten: Tell me about your interest in new wave and alternative music. Your artwork and Christmas ornaments feature everyone from Tears for Fears and Billy Idol to Kate Bush and Georgia artists the B-52’s and R.E.M. Is the music something you liked as a child? How did you become interested in the genre? 

Matthew Lineham: It's something [I’ve loved] from a little kid growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s … I really was obsessed with watching music videos for all these bands. I mean, my dad would take me to concerts from a young age. I saw Gary Numan as, like, a preschooler. So I would go to these shows and watch VHS tapes of all the music videos and … Live Aid and things like that. So it was a weird surprise when it was like mid-nineties before I realized that [new wave music] wasn't actually [part of] my generation, and everybody that I was friends with liked different things.

Kristi York Wooten: Tell us about music videos being an influence. And the 1980s were a colorful time. I mean, do you think that's why that grabbed you? 

Matthew Lineham: Visually, they're almost perfect, like little bite sized things for a little kid’s mind. Because I don’t really have to pay attention as a kid, I can just go from video to video. The tunes obviously are great and the melodies of the songs. But also one of the reasons I enjoy drawing those bands is I think of them as like characters, almost like a superhero types. They each have their own persona — from Adam Ant and Robert Smith to all kinds of interesting characters. And every band has their own kind of sound, their own kind of look, and just visually, there just still isn't anything else quite like it.

Kristi York Wooten: Tell us about your drawing of the B-52's.

Matthew Lineham: The B-52's I love, and I live where I live because of the B-52's. [B-52’s singer] Kate Pierson had a little motel next to Woodstock, New York, [near Dreamland Studios] where they recorded [four songs from their 1989 hit album] Cosmic Thing. When I started seeing my wife, I really wanted to visit that place. And we visited and stayed at her little motel. And then we liked the area so much that we moved up there. And then, coincidentally … there's a few houses alongside the pond across the street from us. And one of those houses is where Kate Pierson used to live. So we just happened to end up being that close to Kate Pierson and that whole entire area. You can kind of feel it [in the air] when you're there. Not only music from like the festival at Woodstock, but just knowing that Kate Pierson and the B-52's recorded all these amazing tracks there. So it kind of musically drew us to the area. 

Kristi York Wooten:  Why did you decide on the late-1970s “Rock Lobster” era for the B-52’s artwork you made?

Matthew Lineham: Immediately when I thought of the song “Rock Lobster,” I could already think of exactly what it would look like with them at a beach. And it's almost like an old-school psychedelic beach party poster from the 1950s or something. And visually, it just made perfect sense. 

Kristi York Wooten:  What about R.E.M.?

Matthew Lineham: Every year I do a bunch of Christmas ornaments, and one year one of the ornaments was Michael Stipe from R.E.M. … [the ornament] says ‘STAR.E.M.’ because he's holding a giant Christmas star in his hands. And I chose Michael Stipe, just because he's immediately recognizable now as that kind of figure, even though probably in the early nineties, he didn't look exactly like that. But when I think of Michael Stipe, that's what I think of. So that's how I draw.

Kristi York Wooten: Have you noticed any upticks in sales of your art whenever a 1980s artist gets nominated or inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or when somebody like Kate Bush, who is having a massive hit this summer among younger people, returns?

Matthew Lineham:  You would think so, but it doesn't really affect it too much. I've kind of got a weird little fan base, where if you like this kind of stuff, you already love it. But like, for example, with [the TV show] Stranger Things, which featured “Running Up That Hill” from Kate Bush, you would think there’d be a whole new generation of Kate Bush lovers, but it doesn't really appear that way at any of the conventions or anything I've done so far. It seems like the kids really love that song. It's like a new classic to them, but they still aren't familiar with what Kate Bush looks like. In many ways, they just kind of relate to the song as, "That's the song from Stranger Things."

Kristi York Wooten:  Streaming has a way of making everything you hear anonymous … new wave artists were not only very visually appealing, but they also had big personalities. I'm looking at your picture of Bono here, Madonna. I mean, these are all people who are icons because of who they were as people and not just the music.

Matthew Lineham: Yeah, I'd agree. They have songs that are just incredibly timeless and mean the world to me. But visually, it just it's the full package. I mean, you look at like a David Bowie or like a Siouxsie Sioux, their look pushes the music forward in a special kind of way.

Kristi York Wooten: Tell us about your Dragon Con booth.

Matthew Lineham: I like to be the one person at these conventions kind of repping the music scene. It’s a lot of people selling like Lord of the Rings and dragon-type stuff and snow globes. There are people next to us that sell magic cards and swords and things. And then there's just me with, like, music posters and Christmas ornaments. But it sticks out and it works. So I enjoy doing it.

From September 1-5, 2022, Dragon Con will be held in five host hotels, including the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Hilton, Sheraton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel in downtown Atlanta. Additionally, AmericasMart Buildings 2 and 3 house Gaming, Vendors, and Comic and Pop Artist Alley.