I don’t know art, but I know what I like: everything Matthew Griffin does.
Matthew is a renowned Australian artist, meme-lord, prankster, and, above all, one of our old friends. Matt is currently showing some new work in Hyper-Linked, a group show organized by The Art Gallery of New South Wales that deals with social media, the internet, life, death, bricks, bricklaying, all that arty shit. I contacted Matt via the internet to discuss his work, Taylor Swift’s ‘incredible’ new album, and whether he’s an artist or really just a bit of a bloody scallywag.
First question: Are you making art or just having a laugh? Because I know you, and as far as I can tell, you’re been having a laugh since you graduated from VCA in 1999.
You are wrong on two counts. Firstly, I graduated art school in 1988. Secondly, although you might know me as a bodybuilding comedian, I am actually a highly regarded serious Artist. Sure, I’ve dabbled in singing, modelling and construction work, but who hasn’t? It’s 2020, wake up. Tap-tap. Is this thing on? I’m gonna go do some pushups until you send the next question… Now I’m doing star jumps. I’m working up a physical lather and I was hoping for a mental one. Are you typing with your feet?
What’s this latest series of works you’re showing? It’s a group show put together by the Super Friends Art People Club of NSW or something?
Hyper-Linked. It’s an online group show put on by The Art Gallery of New South Wales. They describe it like this: ‘Hyper-linked is an exhibition for the digital realm, presenting new projects by seven contemporary Australian artists. Each is alert to the almost paradoxical fact that we are experiencing mass disconnect in an age of hyper-connectivity. They examine the role the internet plays in shaping our lives and the ways in which we communicate, bearing witness and paying tribute to our networked selves.’ I don’t know if your readers will find it that interesting to talk about the show. They should just head on over there and check it out. It’s free and you can do it without leaving the house. That’s pretty good. You should tell the readers about your art history. Didn’t you apply for Art school, Crom?
I applied to do fine art at VCA, right out of high school.
And at the interview, you showed your folio and the head of Painting said, ‘We have nothing to teach you… Would you like a job?’ And you turned it down because you had made all that money from copywriting the word ‘Barista’.
I made a pretty penny from that silly, made-up word. Let’s talk about your work in this show.
I think your readers would prefer a bit of our famous back-and-forth.
I’m not sure about that. You should explain the thinking that went into the video ‘DARTS’
The Darts thing is all part of the whole work, which is pretty sprawling, and maybe hard to sum up in a couple of catchy sentences.
For the Darts part specifically, I was thinking about indoor games, I guess because of this whole isolation thing and I had been playing a bunch of Call Of Duty. My aggressive teenage teammates kept yelling at me for not being able to aim straight. I thought about aiming, and the link between eye and hand and target, and performing under pressure. There’s a retired Darts player named Andy Fordham who is pretty overweight and drank a slab of beer before every competition. I like the play between his exterior and this incredible delicate skill and grace. At the time, I’d been forced to go work a construction job and was having difficulty adapting my skillset to lugging bricks. I wondered what Andy Fordham might be doing with himself.
Ah, so in a way you’re the reverse of Andy Fordham, a brute doing delicate work. You’re a delicate artist doing the brute work of the brickie. Interesting.
I hadn’t thought of it like that, but yeah, I guess. I was thinking more about how you end up defining yourself by a few skills you have and then when placed in a new situation you’re forced to try and adapt the skillset—and then you’re able to see that for what it is. None of the bricklayers were interested in my knowledge of Cubism. The Reverse Andy Fordham does have a good ring to it, though! That’s what you should call this interview; it’s evocative. The videos you’ve been making of your ‘tradie’ self stalking around that computer game and pointing out structural problems etc. Is that art or are you just being silly?
Of course it’s art—I’m an artist. What do you think it is? Let me put this in terms that you will understand. You’re a huge fan of scatting, so I will use that as an example. Does scatting sound a little like someone making ‘silly’ noises? Yes. Is someone making silly noises scatting? No.
I don’t like scat.
You’re daffy for mouth jazz. You have that t-shirt with the two thumbs that point back and it says ‘This Guy Likes To Scat’ on the front, and then on the back it has ‘Zib-itty-do-bop-zee-wah-wah…’ And the font gets smaller and smaller like a fade-out…
The rise of social media has seen your art become this ephemeral and—dare I say—unsaleable thing. You did have that solo show a while back that was just an iPhone loaded with your memes. Some kooky gallery bought it right?
It wasn’t ‘just’ an iPhone loaded with memes. The artwork was the exchange between the person with the phone and the viewer. The Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland bought it for their collection. It was meant to be getting shown in a month but I don’t think they’ll be able to because of this COVID situation.
Not really. Great artists reflect their times. Now I’m not saying I’m a great artist, but… Let me ask you a question: would you say that not being able to show a phone due to hygiene concerns reflect out times?
You are a great artist in these times.
I didn’t say that, and I hate labels. But if you labelling me as a great artist there is not much I can do about it.
Right on, Ian McKay. How is anyone supposed to buy your art when it’s not keepable?
Who cares? 99% of the Artworks people buy are a couple of house moves away from being hard rubbish. 15 years ago I sold a work which was a Pollywaffle floating in a bucket of water. I stopped worrying about selling stuff then. It’s the most boring part of the Art stuff.
Do you buy Art, Crombie?
I steal art. I’ve never paid for anything. What do you think of Taylor Swift’s stupid new record?
Taylor Swift’s new record is incredible. I have been playing it non stop. I feel like there’s a fifteen-year-old girl trapped inside me and Taylor Swift is speaking to that part of me. She rules. The only one I don’t like is the duet with that Bon Iver dude. Remember when he went to a cabin and recorded that annoying song that everyone was forced to listen to for the next two years? That made me dislike cabins. There were a couple of times where friends asked me to come visit a cabin and I said, ‘Will there be an acoustic guitar there by chance?’ And when they said, ‘Yes,’ which they always did, I would make up an excuse why I couldn’t go.
Thank you for your time, Matthew.
Can I finish up by saying everyone should go check out the show? There are seven artists involved who have all made specific online content. The curator, Isobel Parker Philip, has done a great job and it is well worth the effort to go check out. Also, I was only joking about buying art being boring. Your readers should totally consider giving me some cash. I also need a job that is not brick-related. So, if anyone knows of anything where I won’t be required to wear hi-vis please let me know, as I’m looking to say, ‘Bye-vis.’
Perfect. I’ll include everything you just said, plus this bit where I say I’m gonna include everything you just said.
Ok, what about this? Will you include this?