Matt Ellwood's satirical, appropriation based art practice employs the various languages and systems of advertising, merchandising, and interior design as abundant resources for sculptures, drawings, and digital image interventions. These paradigms are utilized in a playful, but equally perverse way to subvert the ideological master discourses underpinning the relationship between profit and desire. His recent sculptures are often constructed out of industrial materials such as plywood, high density foam, fiberglass and resin. These all have a high degree of craftsmanship, and are unique pieces that challenge their ubiquitous and mass produced origins. His drawings are equally crafted in their high degree of finish, and are predominantly large charcoal pieces that replicate and conflate advertising campaign imagery. Both utilize their materiality as a seductive visual entry into the work that is then often counterpointed with deliberately less celebratory content.
Born in Wellington, 1973, Matt Ellwood gained his BFA from the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 1996, and went on to graduate with a PgDip in Teaching in 1997. After four years of running a high school senior art department he went back to post graduate study at Elam and graduated in 2003 with a Master of Fine Arts (1st class honors). During his time as a Masters student, he was awarded the Vice Chancellor's Scholarship for Outstanding Achievement and was included in Break - the Govett Brewster Gallery's biennial review of contemporary NZ art. He has exhibited widely in New Zealand and Australia as well as internationally and is included in publications such as Warwick Brown's 'Seen This Century' a collector's guide book, 2009. He is also included in The Drawing Center NYC's online viewing program. He has been the recipient of the Wallace Trust Development Award (2004) including a 3 month studio residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York and the Wallace Trust Kaipara Foundation Award (2011) including a 3 month studio residency at the Altes Spital cultural center in Solothurn, Switzerland.
Matt Ellwood has continued to live in Auckland where he is now the Head of Fine Arts at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. He is represented in New Zealand by Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland.
Innuendo amid childhood images
5:00AM Wednesday Mar 30, 2005
By Adam Gifford
In the 1970s, when cigarette advertising was banned from television, some of Madison Ave's best and most well-paid brains turned their attention to print ads. They brought in the focus groups and shaped images of desire and consumption.
These ads, placed in the pages of "lifestyle" magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Playboy and Viva, a short-lived Penthouse spin-off designed as soft-porn for women, are the starting point for the large charcoal drawings and photoshopped images Matt Ellwood has on display at Michael Lett Gallery from today.
"They would have a naked woman next to a smoking ad or a car ad. It was always about consumption - have the woman, have the right cigarette, have the right alcohol," Ellwood says. "They had lines like, 'She's tried a lot of long size cigarettes', 'She covers the fastest men on wheels', 'Winston wasn't my first cigarette'. It was all sexual innuendo."
Appropriating images from advertising and popular culture and putting them into an art gallery is a well-worn track, but Ellwood believes he has something to contribute. By using images from the 1970s, he is mining his childhood - "the developmental years". He is not afraid to bring personal content into his work - some of the images are based on 70s era snapshots of himself as a child, or other family members.
He acknowledges the influence of Richard Prince, who made lush photographs evoking advertising icons, such as the Marlboro cowboy. "I like the challenge of taking an overly banal concept and making it smarter than it appears. So the deeper you go, the more informed a basis you come from and, hopefully, the work will let you in."
"If you are looking for aesthetic sensation, you can appreciate it at that level as well. I am trying to be a crowd-pleaser," he says with a laugh. The "aesthetic sensation" comes from the facility Ellwood brings to his work, whether drawing, sculptural or photographic. "Most people who respond to the work on a purely process level engage in its skill and I don't mind that, but that does not drive the work, that it is about the drawing or about the making and the ideas come secondary," he says.
Ideas are important to him. His primary role is as an educator, teaching at Elam, where he obtained his bachelor and master's degrees, and Whitecliffe art schools. Theory is a tool. "It is nice to come from an informed position, so I can make something quite banal, like a large toy or a reproduced drawing, and be able to spout forth something intellectual about it."
Ellwood is fascinated by toys, particularly the book or movie spin-offs, which he describes as being about "making profit by structuring desire, rather than about a child's need to have something to cherish". In his childhood, Lego carried the slogan "Just imagine". Now it comes in Star Wars or Harry Potter designs and the slogan is "Play on". In September, Ellwood will take up his Wallace Award prize, a residency in New York at the International Studio Curatorial Programme, working with 20 international artists. "It's quite nice to be 31 and still an emerging artist," he says.
What: Pleasure/Satisfaction, by Matt Ellwood/n
Where and when: Michael Lett Gallery, 478 Karangahape Rd, to Apr 23
Source: The New Zealand Herald 2005