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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

From San Francisco State to anime tees: Alum makes his mark on fashion

Recent SFSU graduate Matthew Cordova is a Bay Area-based designer and artist making anime and rap-inspired clothing
Matthew Ali
Matthew Cordova’s talking about his art and the art scene in the bay area. Oct. 17, 2023. (Matthew Ali/ Golden Gate Xpress.)

Clothing adorned with anime characters and Bay Area rappers lined the Dova Design table at the most recent artists’ flea market on the San Francisco State University campus.

Artist and designer Matthew Cordova, 23, is an SFSU graduate who creates airbrushed clothing with heavy influences in anime, manga and Bay Area art culture. With an Instagram reaching nearly three thousand followers and recognition from several fellow creatives, Cordova is primed to make his mark on the Bay Area scene.

Cordova hasn’t been an artist very long. He started drawing at the age of 19 and began making clothing a year later.

Matthew Cordova’s airbrush setup, where he pencils and paints shirts. Oct. 17, 2023. (Matthew Ali / Golden Gate Xpress.)

“I had the passing of an uncle in 2015, who was closely connected to some of the Bay Area graffiti greats here in Oakland. So by keeping his honor alive, I sought for ways to create,” Cordova said.

Cordova said this tragedy spurred his need to create.

Cordova comes from a creative family, his mother attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and his father grew up with a passion for calligraphy. Both have moved on to other careers, and Cordova feels pursuing an art career is a continuation of his parents’ creative endeavors.

“There’s creative influences on both sides of the family,” Cordova said. “It’s a generationally fulfilling thing so it feels like it’s healing as well, by pursuing what they didn’t get to. It makes it that much more rich.”

Originally, Cordova was drawing in sketchbooks and on stickers. Heavily influenced by Bay Area graffiti, he sought ways to create fashion that incorporated graffiti styles and materials.

An airbrush machine –– given to him by his parents in 2019 –– was the catalyst that sparked his design career. Cordova graduated with a degree in communication from SFSU in the spring of 2022. Since then, he’s focused solely on his art career.

“I just had supportive parents who didn’t want to see me get in trouble. So airbrushing was a way for me to combine my interest in fashion with my interest in spray paint art,” Cordova said.

Cordova began reusing t-shirts for print designs from his favorite anime shows and manga books. He used the airbrush to create strokes that mimicked spray paint and stylized the pieces to mimic bootleg rap designs and album covers.

“There’s just so much sentimentality that these franchises hold because the look is so iconic,” Cordova said while describing his love for anime and manga.

Cordova says he was practicing and paying homage to his favorite artists such as Eiichiro Oda and Akira Toriyama, but slowly it developed into his unique style. He unites the imagery of his favorite Japanese artists with his airbrush style and Bay Area influences to create detailed and graphic imagery.

William Scott, a Bay Area resident, heard about Cordova’s work through the Downtown Oakland art scene. Scott was attracted to Cordova’s ability to create anime designs that looked fashionable.

“Normally anime tees look kinda nerdy but his work is the opposite. His clothes do the original artists’ work justice while combining his own sorta street style,” Scott said.

Cordova had a clear style and subject matter but needed to grow his business strategy. He says his communications degree has helped him in marketing and selling his work.

“It’s interesting because it connects to what I was doing at San Francisco State getting a communications degree,” Cardova said. “That time definitely helps me in running a business.”

Suzanne Patricia Pullen is a lecturer professor in the Communications Department at SFSU. Cordova was their student in the Spring of 2022.

“His projects for the class were always unique, thoughtful, and creatively executed in a way that demonstrated, not only his artistry but his perspective on the world. His final project explored graffiti art as resistance, expression and activism. He’s a deep thinker and has a huge heart,” Pullen said.

Pullen noticed Cordova’s artistic ability and commissioned him to create a flyer for a performance by SFSU Students.

“My Spring 2023, Comm 555 class was presenting the culminating play they collectively wrote called “For Real Tho” about the struggles many of them faced trying to make it through college life. I asked if he would make the flyer. It really captured the vibe of the play and the creativity of the students’ work.”

Pullen was happy to speak about Cordova and his work. She has also commissioned another piece of art for her classroom at SFSU.

“He’s one of those students you could see already had one foot on a future path they created for themselves,” Pullen said. “I think Matthew’s time at SFSU helped grow a dream that was already in motion, one he was already working to bring to fruition before the ink on the diploma was dry.”

Within two weeks of getting the airbrush machine, Cordova went to Lake Merritt and began selling his pieces.

“It’s crazy, thousands of people walking by, thousands of people not looking, but it’ll still be a successful day. It teaches me a lot,” Cordova said while describing a day selling his clothes.

Cordova says even if people aren’t looking or buying his clothes he can learn from that and improve how he’s presenting his work or interacting with customers.

Matthew Cordova airbrushing a piece, commemorating his time at SFSU. Oct. 17, 2023. (Matthew Ali / Golden Gate Xpress.) 

Cordova began relying heavily on his relationships in the Bay Area art scene and forming new ones. Knowing where to vend his clothing and why was a matter of networking.

Dennis Free has known Cordova since elementary school. Free pursued a career in music production and management, hosting a show on Apple Music and co-founding Level Three Media, an artist collective.

Free watched as Cordova pursued his art career and felt like collaboration was natural. Free hosts parties and events in New York, he invites Cordova, whom he calls Dova, to come and sell his clothing to an East Coast clientele.

“At every party, the DJ has always been placed in the middle of the room and has to create that atmosphere around them,” Free said. “With Dova being at those events, it calmed down the vibe and people wanted to look through the clothes and everything.”

Free was thrilled to talk about Cordova’s work but wanted to highlight their longtime friendship, which is equally important to Cordova.

“He’s been able to help me cover what I feel my purpose is as an artist. What I’m doing here is finding my place in the community. I love music. I love the street nightlife scene, that sort of culture,” Cordova said. “It was super supportive to help me continue to find my space in those creative communities.”

As a recent college graduate, Cordova dedicates as much time as possible to his art career. However, he does have to work part-time jobs to live in the Bay Area, such as house sitting and dog sitting.

Cordova expressed a feeling of nervous excitement for how his life and career may change over the next few years.

“It’s a balance between creating what people want versus what I want to say about myself. I’m definitely at a crossroads in finding my identity and who I am as an artist,” Cordova said. “But it’s a wild success because I never would have dreamed that I would have had this much good feedback up to this point and this much interest today.”

Cordova sells his anime and Bay Area-inspired clothing on his Instagram and at several events in the Bay Area and on the East Coast. Cordova released his Halloween-inspired collection on Oct. 30.

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About the Contributors
Jonah Chambliss
Jonah Chambliss, Staff Reporter
Jonah Chambliss (he/him) is a reporter for Golden Gate Xpress. He is majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology. He was born and raised in Oakland, California. He lives in San Francisco, California, while working full-time and attending San Francisco State University. He previously contributed to The Cabrillo Voice, the student newspaper of Cabrillo Community College in Aptos, California. He served as a staff reporter for Golden GateXpress last semester, covering arts and entertainment, and will cover student life and club events this spring. During his free time, Jonah is an avid cyclist, motorcycle rider, and mechanic. Jonah is also a huge fan of Bay Area sports, specifically the Oakland Athletics and Golden State Warriors.
Matthew Ali
Matthew Ali, Staff Reporter
Matthew Ali is a reporter for the Golden Gate Xpress. He is a journalism major and works as a wedding and portrait photographer. He is from Los Angeles. He is also of a particularly nerdy persuasion. He enjoys comics, video games, fantasy novels, and tabletop games. He also aspires to write fiction and eventually comic books for DC and Marvel Comics.

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