How artist Matthew Quick makes it matter
How do you give it mouth?
What I do is completely selfish. I paint entirely about what interests me. Hopefully, it interests someone else too.
There are some major themes relevant to social impact that preoccupy me, though. For instance transition and change, the fall of empires. With the Monumental Nobodies series I was thinking a lot about Shelley’s poem Ozymandias for instance.
But you know, if I’ve triggered a thought or opened someone’s eyes to something new, then I’ve done my job.
History is Written by the Victors – Matthew Quick
Oh, that was pretty cool.
But success is always incremental, so you have to take awards and accolades with a grain of salt. This whole enterprise of trying to put your work out there, it’s bold initially. Then you get a show in small venue, and you hope it leads to the next, maybe a bigger venue, maybe a commercial gallery. And you hope someone shows up, and you hope someone buys something. And it gradually builds. The thing is though, the goalpost keeps moving just beyond the horizon.
Although it’s awesome to be recognised, the reality is that the next day you go back into the studio and it’s you alone in the room with a canvas.
Speaking of shows you’ve got a big one coming up at Metro Gallery in Melbourne. How do you keep up the stamina required to produce a show like this one?
Haha. A deadline helps to keep you motivated.
I’ve been running later on this show than I have on any other show ever. I learnt something valuable from this that you can’t do a year’s worth of work in seven months. That’s my big life’s lesson from this.
I stand all day and it’s really physically tiring. It’s something I never expected when I transitioned into painting. I wish I could be one of those people who sits while they paint, but I can never figure out where to put my legs.
So, anyway, I stop and do yoga to stretch my back. That helps a bit.
It’s something you don’t consider isn’t it? I remember reading sculptor Anne Truitt’s account of how she couldn’t fit into her dresses anymore because her shoulders had bulked up so much from making sculptures.
Yeah the physical toll is massive.
It seems you move pretty fluidly between the written word and the visual. Do you prefer one over the other?
I definitely feel more comfortable in the visual.
I don’t think I am a natural writer. It takes me ages to find my voice. When I was writing my second book I was working three days a week as a designer and three days writing. It was only into the second day that I would find my voice. Maybe if I’d been full time or more natural I would have found my voice more quickly. But really I only had one or one and a half productive days.
Object of Beauty – Matthew Quick.
But you did get shortlisted for a Vogel, right? So tell me about your two books.
The first is a collection of short stories, and that was a finalist in the Vogel award.
The second book is a novel and it was never published. I spent three years on it and by the end I was broke and done. I really needed to spend another year on it but honestly I needed to make some money.
What about your collaboration with composer, Katy Abbott. What was the process of turning your work into an orchestral piece.
This is an orchestral piece that uses a full orchestra and plastic bags. Katy and I have adjacent studios, and she had been coming past and saw the series I was making called Introduced Species. There were a couple of pictures that were triggers for her, so she went away and wrote this piece of music.
You borrow quite a bit from the iconography of popular culture in your work. Why and how is popular culture important?
Popular icons are transitory but in the moment they have a potency. Or maybe they don’t. They kind of instead become invisible. So it’s good to look at the commonness of them and see them for what they are. My series Monumental Nobodies tries to do that.
Popular images can permeate the way we think though can’t they? For instance the Facebook thumbs up icon is really now a symbol for “I approve; I like that.”
It’s amazing how they linger. Like the Playboy bunny ears. Or even symbols that are more benign. For instance, I wanted to paint a pair of floaties and I had an image in my mind of bright, orangey-yellow floaties with no patterns on them. But you know you can’t get those anymore? They all have these ugly images on them. So I had to make up the image from my memory.
So these things we think of as permanent are actually impermanent but they stay in our memories.
The Last Lap – Matthew Quick.
Makes me think of Baudrillard’s similacra … the image is more real than the original thing. The image actually replaces the real.
There’s something really perverse about that that I really enjoy.
I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Smart’s paintings. And it’s funny, you see a scene and you say “that looks like a Jeffrey Smart.”
He’s creating reality…
Powerful isn’t it? You seem in your career to have mostly been inclined to running your own creative studios. What are your three best tips for someone starting a creative business?
The corny one is be true to yourself. We can skip that one if you like.
The practical one is you need resilience and a thick skin. I gave myself ten years. And thought if I can’t do anything in ten years I’ll try something else. For me it was very poignant because I had a cancer diagnosis and they told me I have five years, if that.
Financially, it’s complicated and difficult and you need to be a really good manager of money. I mean, you may have a show and there’ll be this spike in income, and then you don’t see anything for a year. Try explaining that to the tax department. So just being able to manage your money for long droughts is important.
And the other thing to manage is the long gap between feedback. You have to be self-funded financially, but emotionally as well. It can incredibly difficult to keep motivation up over long periods.
You know you may be able to step back and say I’m working towards this bigger thing, but come 10am on a Thursday morning and you’re in the studio again, it’s hard.
You say in your bio you once crashed a paraglider in a forest. How is being an artist like paragliding (and maybe crashing into a forest)
Well. hopefully there’s not much crashing going on…
Hmmm that’s an interesting parallel … with nothing beneath your feet, just floating. That’s quite an apt metaphor.
You know when you’re paragliding, going from one cliff to the next you’re always hoping for an updraft. And you’re just scooting back and forth along the cliff thinking come on give me some air to keep me going. When I crashed into the forest that time, I remember gliding and there was like no air, and I was surrounded by forest everywhere. I could see a field in the distance and I was thinking, “I can make it I can make it” and then I just went down into the forest.
And that’s a lot like being an artist … you think, “I can make it I think I can make it … ”
See more of Matthew’s work here.