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based art practice employs the various vocabularies of current advertising, building structures, toy merchandising, and outdated men's magazines as abundant resources for sculptures, drawings, and digital image interventions.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.
by John Hurrell 13 Jul 2006
Matt Ellwood's installation [his third with Michael Lett] features largely two sorts of exhibit. One kind consists of rows of what seem to be genuine seventies Kool Filter King cigarette posters stuck on the wall so the landscape contours link up in continuous lines - a method popularised by Christian Marclay with his LP cover series.
The other focuses on ads soliciting subscribers for Playboy, taken from the same issues of that publication from over thirty years ago where the Kool ads were to be originally found. These "What sort of Man Reads Playboy?" advertisements are lovingly rendered in graphite much as Michael Stevenson might do, but with inane, deconstructing, speech bubble captions added Situationist style.
Though cigarette smoking and recreational sex as consumer vices might be an amusing theme, these works instead zero in on the language of advertising, and how it tries to - in these cases - appeal to male vanity. Libidinal bodily gratification is not really the subject matter here. It is more the manipulative tricks of marketing, and the desires and social aspirations of a certain prosperous, heterosexual, target audience. Men who are intelligent, literate and 'successful.' And if they smoke Kools, they are athletic and 'outdoorsy' as well.
Ellwood uses a number of devices to undermine the language, sometimes replacing the 'Playboy' man with added mothers and children in reshot photographs, or using much older men with thinning hair.
Yet this project is not a finger-wagging neo-feminist, s.n.a.g., anti-tobacco or anti-consumerist diatribe. It is more sophisticated than that, though it certainly is a critique. Rather it examines the curiosities of recent history, not only for the social assumptions behind the captions but also for the visual details -men's [and women's] garments, haircuts, body language, in particular. While these images do provide easy smirks [as did Hugh Hefner's recent Prime interview with Paul Homes] they also encourage us to second guess the future. Strangely they shed light on today's social climate and how that might be perceived in thirty years' time.