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based art practice employs the various vocabularies of current advertising, building structures, toy merchandising, and outdated men's magazines as abundant resources for sculptures, drawings, and digital image interventions.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.
Start Walking is all about the collision between contemporary ideologies and post-structuralist psychology when filtered through toy merchandising and cigarette advertising. It also uses personal childhood imagery with a little soft pornography of a similar date and age to allegorically subvert the master discourse of desire and consumption. Perverse ideological contradictions make today's toy merchandising an abundant resource for appropriative art making. Take Lego for example. It's basic fundamental slogan 'just imagine' was recently superseded by a new streamlined contemporary 'play on' version. It's website explains this change of direction in advertising as being driven by a focus towards learning through play, together with the development of motor-skills, coordination etc. However, the suspicion remains that it also has a lot to do with the fact that the imagination factor in Lego has settled for second best against the profits merging with cultural phenomenon like Star Wars and Harry Potter can deliver. The cigarette colours of the scaled up Lego Star Wars speeders and the cigarette text of the childhood photographs allude to the seductive nature of prohibition. Being told what we can't have stems back to parental relationships and is vital in structuring ongoing desire. The cigarette advertising of the 70's also was roughly the beginning of government health warnings and the advent of the low tar cigarette, thus becoming twice appropriate vis a vis their 'how to adapt fast in order to sell something you and everybody now knows is bad for you' methodology. 'It's a whole new world' relates to the Camel brands approach to this phenomena, highlighting the gap between its 'the original cigarette' approach and the demands of the new. This slippage between stated intention and actual reality has a certain symmetry with the psychological status of the individual. The relationship between ideal ego and the ego ideal is basically about the difference between identifying with the image of what we would like to be, and identification with the place from where we are being observed, looking at ourselves so that we appear to ourselves likeable. This is to say, our perception of ourselves is not only likely to be different to what others see in us, but also that whatever our desire to be is, it stems from an unconscious assimilation of what others have shaped for us as our ideal standard. Furthermore, we all possess defence mechanisms in order to maintain consistency in self-perception. 'Little Hans' is the embodiment of this struggle, his space suit is both a symbol of childhood fantasy and a psychological armour against 'desublimation' or the truth. Little Hans also relates to Freud's partial formulation of the castration complex through a case study of the same name. The 'Winston Series' takes this a step or two further, stemming from cigarette brands penchant for buying significant rights to the page after the centrefolds in Playboy and Penthouse during much of the 70's. The effect on the presumably masculine viewer was akin to a kind of have your cake and eat it too mentality. Substituting the feminine imagery with naked men from Penthouse's failed Viva magazine subverts the ease of viewing pleasure, creating diptyches that look a lot like exactly the same hirsute guys swinging in the breeze on one side and talking shit on the other.
Source: Michael Lett Gallery 2004