The Woe of No Woe, 2016 – Brass, copper, cork, paper on board – 92 x 122 cm // All works by Matt Bromhead
After a month-long residency in the remote former gold-mining town of Hill End and a sojourn on Southern NSW’s Brush Island, Sydney artist Matt Bromhead returned to his Birmingham Street studio and did not re-emerge for a decade.
Just kidding. He left that very evening to get some dinner. But he came back the very next morning, and each day after, until his most recent body of work, Lapis Leisurely, was complete.
Matt first exhibited Lapis Leisurely, a series of cork-based collages and mixed media sculptures, late last year at the Bathurst Regional Gallery. “The exhibition’s name is a play on the rare semi-precious stone Lapis Lazuli, and the notion that leisure is also a rarity”, Matt says. Before he sets off for another two-month residency in France, he is opening his studio this Friday to exhibit the works in the very place they were forged.
“I came back to the studio to sharpen my ideas after my residencies. The show was first conceptualised in Hill End, where I spent a month surrounded by it’s wonky undulations—these distant, rolling jibba-jabba mountains.” Making a rolling gesture with his hands, he continues, “Seriously, it looks like that. It’s like jibbajabbajibbajabba. And then after a month of that you literally wake up and you’re just going, ‘jibbajabbajibbajabba’”. Seven months after his Hill End residency, Matt jibba-jabba-ed his way to the south coast of NSW, where he found himself surrounded by a different kind of wonk. “The way that the waves were lapping in to the island mimicked the exact same wonk of the mountains, but it was happening the entire way around the island, so it kind of became this 360-degree outline that mimics both the stone based inland idea of the lapis, and then the leisurely aspect of the water lapping up against the island. So it kind of became a fusion of these two places, of mountain and sea but all the while keeping that idea of the ‘leisurely’—taking my time to put these works together.”
Lapis Leisurely, 2016 – Brass, copper, cork, paper, rubber on board – 92 x 122 cm
Chippy, 2016 – Acrylic, brass, copper, cork on board – 95 x 125 cm
Whilst location obviously influences Matt’s work, he is weary of attempting to replicate his inspirations. “If you stop what you’re doing for a period of time, that moment just kind of gives you the right conditions to start making freely and to start coming up with these archetypal shapes. Then, yes, experience would tell me that the place you’re in definitely leaves an imprint on what comes out, without me trying to consciously replicate or emulate where I am. It’s conducive to concentration, and when you’re concentrating, I guess a place speaks through you a little bit.”
While the place might speak through him, Matt recalls few locals in Hill End spoke directly to him. “After two weeks locked in the studio on my residency, I decided I had to go out and talk to another human, so I walked into this tiny little pub full of pretty rough farmers. I thought everybody would stand up when I walked in and be like ‘Oh! He’s the artist guy’, but nobody even turned around. I ordered a beer at the bar, but that was the only interaction I had. Behind the bar they have dollar bills from all over the world pinned up, and suddenly I remembered I had a single dollar from Malaysia from a recent trip overseas, so at the top of my voice I yelled, ‘I’ve got a dollar from Malaysia!’ and everyone just looked at me in silence. Then the bartender just really slowly peeled it out of my hand and then walked away.”
A Few Paths, 2016 – Brass, clay, marble, timber – 42 x 20 x 42 cm
Matt’s movements resulted in a series of fresh, vibrant, playful collages made from cork, paper, copper and brass, and a spate of sculptures made with similar materials. “The cork was purely by chance. There was a hundred-year-old cork board at the studio in Hill End, and I was pinning all my drawings up on it and one day it fell off the wall onto the ground and I looked down at it and thought, “My god! Cork! I can use this!”
He then sourced big rolls of sheets of cork from Portugal, and lined his studio walls with them. “Then, with a scalpel, I draw into the cork and then peel the cork out from the wall so it’s a cut out. In terms of the drawing, a lot of that is done with heated and bent copper and brass, which I have also been using in my sculptural work for a while. Once they are bent how I want, I lift them up and pin them into the cork. It’s very much that idea of leisurely, playful work, and the leisurely fun of rearranging and bouncing things around.”
Though he may wince at my observation, Matt’s works are what I would call spirited. They present like floor plans to an adult playground, sketched with an intuitive understanding of why one line should curve and another should not. But Matt’s biggest triumph in Lapis Leisurely may well be that he has perfected the art of making something strenuous look undemanding. “While I had some time to put this show together, it’s a very taxing thing to make. But I guess that’s what it’s about—the illusion of making it look as if it was an easy, leisurely experience.”