HE’S PAINTED SINCE HIS TEENS BUT HE DEDICATED HIMSELF TO OTHER CAREERS (UNIVERSITY LECTURER, PHOTOGRAPHER, SALESMAN, ART DIRECTOR, COPYWRITER & INTERIOR DESIGNER) UNTIL RETURNING FULL TIME TO PAINTING, HE WAS THE FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF HIS OWN ADVERTISING AGENCY, Q&A.MATTHEW HAS BEEN NAMED IN BUSINESS REVIEW WEEKLY AS ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S TOP 50 ARTISTS. DISCOVER MORE READING OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!
Describe your art in 3 words.
Contemporary. Conceptual. Realism.
What is the message that you want to convey?
As an artist working with idea-based imagery, my aim is to create works that tell stories: Stories that prompt the viewer to look at the world around us and ask questions. Because in a society nothing is just random. Everything that exists was a deliberate decision by somebody. And often the decisions are ill-informed, delusional or just plain crazy. This are the stories that interest and inspire me.
What do you think of vandalism? Is there a specific event that triggered the birth of Monumental Nobodies?
I don’t endorse vandalism. But the psychology motivations intrigue me.
Somewhere right now exists an ISIS commander who is proud of having bombed the 2000 year old Roman ruins in Palmyra, Syria. Why? There is a thread running from the people who build beauty in the first place to those who destroy it. The universal connection is about leaving a mark. Some say it with beauty. Other with destroying it. But the motivations are the same. They are all trying to say: Here I am. I have existed.
When the US seized Baghdad, the soldiers celebrated by destroying art. Removing contemporary politics, this destruction illustrates how little has changed psychologically in the 1500 years since the barbarian sack of Rome. With one notable difference: Rome was destroyed by uneducated warriors. In Baghdad, it was stage-managed for TV.
This was the inspiration for my series Monumental Nobodies.
Sure, Saddam Hussein was a terrible human. But so were most of the people honoured with statues. His statue was still art. And as the designated enemy of the moment, its destruction was for ideological reasons.
As remnants of long forgotten Imperial overtures, religious values, colonial indulgences, aristocratic aspirations and ideals of beauty, monuments map the rise and fall of empires.
Somehow more poignant when the event for which they were created has dissolved into history, the statues exists in contemporary society like fossils in rocks, belonging to another time and value system. And yet nonetheless loaded with meaning. With their conscious symbolism, they provide the foundation for a revisionist take on the notions of beauty, pride, and nationalism.
The aura of emperors and gods are eliminated by adding ordinary objects to replace their crowns and thrones, turning them into powerless nobodies. I reference individual freedom, social control, surveillance and the deceitful behaviour of rulers who intentionally fail to act as they speak. In ridiculing them I play with their initial grand goals and to provide a refreshing look at the original motivations.
This series is also very ironic, are you a funny guy?
I use humour and irony in my work because it reflects my personality. And I think it makes the work interesting to the viewer. Especially if the story is big and depressing. Some of the pictures are done simply because I find them funny.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I always painted but managed to distract myself with a few alternative careers – I’ve worked variously as a designer, university lecturer, copywriter, art-director, photographer & writer. My first novel was short-listed for the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. A cancer diagnosis in my mid 30’s prompted a return to painting.
What is your gratest source of inspiration?
I am interesting in pretty much everything. I’m fascinated about how the world works and how the events of today are not isolated but exist on a context of the things that have come before. Coupling this interest with mostly forgotten stories that are weird or funny is the starting point of my work.
Of the series of works you’ve done, which one is the one that best represents you?
Monumental Nobodies is the best work I’ve made. These are pictures that trigger something for the viewer.
Which is your motto?
Artists these days are unfashionable. Governments seem to hate them. Society mocks them. And yet looking at older civilisations it is the works of artists that is celebrated as a mark of civilisation. What we do is important.