Matt Ellwood's satirical, appropriation based art practice employs the various vocabularies of current advertising, building structures, toy merchandising, and outdated men's magazines as abundant resources for sculptures, drawings, and digital image interventions. These are set up as allegorical filters for a playful, but equally perverse subversion of 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 Altes Spital in Switzerland.
Matt Ellwood has continued to live in Auckland where he is now the Associate Head of Fine Arts at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. He is represented in New Zealand by Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland.
SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2009
Mmm....such soft, curly, fragrant hair
Matt Ellwood: Negotiations and Love Songs
11 March - 7 April 2009
This new show from Matt Ellwood presents two sculptures and one large drawing. The sculptures, based on children’s toys or graphic images that have been enlarged and had anatomical details or colour fiddled with, sit on beautiful, horizontally projecting, plywood plinths. The stands are vaguely Judd-like, really enter the centre of the gallery space, and upstage the Smurf and Lego Ferrari driver they are supporting. You may be tempted to sit on them and chat to your new-found little buddies.
Because I’m not a Dad (and tend to only put up with other people’s progeny through clenched teeth) I can’t get too enthusiastic over such kiddiewinks shenanigans. I have an emotional resistance to matters Smurf or Lego - even with an added risqué component that is accentuated by the ’woody’ plinths.
Ellwood’s big paper drawing near the office, on the other hand, is much more intriguing. It is the main offering of the show. Two horizontal sections tucked in a corner show off his abilities with a dark-leaded pencil: he has sought out a decade of seventies Playboy gatefolds and using the same scale, rendered from those he could acquire the hairstyles only. Nothing else whatsoever. Not even the women’s faces.
These hairstyles, decontextualised and placed in isolation within a grid, look utterly bizarre. Like dead animals perhaps. Surprisingly they don’t look like wigs, because they are represented at odd angles due to the original photographs, not frontally. With heads, ears, faces and collars removed and the subsequent negative spaces on the paper left, the tumbling, flowing tresses seem particularly abstracted, mere wavy textures.
Could these be the work of a hair fetishist, someone (like say Salvador Dali) more sexually excited by flowing curls than female genitals? Well Ellwood is working with representations here, not hair itself. And the grid dominates the page, dividing up isolated sections of drawn hair. It is not visually an immersive ‘hair’ experience – it doesn’t beckon as if alive. However the traces of wiped pencil lead left on the pages below the drawings – a method of ensuring sharp pencil tips – do add a peculiar (very humorous) dimension to their interpretation.
Of all Ellwood’s pencil drawings exhibited in Michael Lett’s gallery so far, this one is the most intriguing. In some of its images it is hard to guess where the women’s faces are located, and those ambiguous absences – as spaces to be filled or mentally penetrated – become strange sexual surrogates for the desires induced by the original publication. Because he has not all the gatefolds for the decade, and there are thus gaps in the grid, adjacent images that are oversized extend into those spaces bringing an irregular rhythm to the composition, an unexpected musicality with this most unusual of subject-matters.
POSTED BY JOHN HURRELL