Make and do. Three.

writing about art and culture by Andrew Harper

Matt Warren

We might look at great works of art when we travel, and we might be lucky and encounter the work of a significant artist at a touring exhibition. We may see works of art that touch something ineffable within our minds, and we might be moved to tears by a work of great art. 

I didn’t “get” Rothko until I saw one of his works of art at the Tate Modern in London. I was surprised, slipping into a reverie of thoughts and sensations. 

But I do not know him, and never could have. 
There is another great experience one may have with art, and that is the local one, where you happen on an artist whose work you enjoy, or are engaged by, or something, early in their career. This artist is part of your immediate sphere in some way, and so you get to watch their progress.

You go to exhibition after exhibition, and you see their trajectory. You see them discover how to make their own art, and then, if all goes well, it does not become a shtick, where they develop a series of tricks and repeat those. Instead, their work describes a vernacular: they make, if you will, a visual language. You begin to understand the character of their work, and there is something rich in this that will only come when you engage over a longer period of time. Of course, you can do this with any artist, but there is something particular about art that is of your world, your environment, your immediacy.

You start to see how they got to where they are and how the seeds of their work were always there, being cajoled and stroked, fertilised, shaped, left to lie fallow, burnt to the ground, raised again to blossom again, and suddenly they have a rich garden. 

It’s a real privilege to watch this happen, and it is one of the most engrossing ways to appreciate art and artists. Yes, I love the great artists of the world, and they do kick my head. But I also love my local scene, and it feeds my heart. 

I got really lucky, I suppose, with the work of Matt Warren. He has a strong vernacular derived from a life-long fascination with film, which naturally expands out into an obsession with light and sound as mediums.
His artistic output is slippery – he makes installation-based work, but also makes short abstract projections, sound works, experimental films, and plays a kind of Spartan, driving hard rock. He has made documentaries, collaborated and made myriad solo works. 
He is decades into his artistic career, and still undergoing a process of evolution, but he long ago arrived at distinct voice in his work. I have paid attention, intrigued and engaged, and now I can recognise his work quickly: he has a way of working I understand, and have come to see as intensely personal. 

Matt deals with complex emotional states, and unusual ideas, often interweaving the personal materials with an investigation of something else. Matt has an ongoing interest in the weird: odd subject matters, creepy sounds and haunted imagery. He likes horror films and heavy metal, but he also finds solace in the transition from night to day and comfort in memories of childhood. His work is filled with a kind of creepy comfort – here is a thing that thrilled you as a child, and it’s still scary now, and there is comfort to be found in that familiarity. It’s an odd state to describe, but this is what Matt does so well: he treads the walls between night and day with a foot in each and an appreciation of how one needs the other to exist at all. His world is one of twilights and dawns, lights in the dark and transitions from one state to another.

I can best sum this up in something Matt said to me once: “sometimes, you feel an absence so strongly it becomes like a presence”. I’m likely paraphrasing, but that’s the guts of it. Contradiction that explains emotion, that exists within its own logic. 

Very recently, Matt made a work and shared some of it on Instagram, along with a link to Vimeo, where you could see the full video. It was made in Burnie, on Tasmania’s North West coast, where Matt had gone to attend his father’s funeral. I understand he had to do this largely by himself, given restrictions placed on funerals due to the pandemic. Heavy. 

But still, we have to do these things and we do them, and they are done, and we process them as best we are able, if we are able. Matt is an artist, and he made an artwork around this moment. It is a simple and direct work, composed of images the artist himself encountered. A dark sea at night, a hand rail, glowing with magenta light, a cacophonous but distant flock of birds above a tree, and the sea again, dark and rough, but daytime now. 

Matt is not saying anything hard to comprehend, and he is frank about where the work comes from, why it exists. It is derived from the raw moment of mourning and the hard task that a son must perform for his father, but it is also sweet and beautiful, etched with powerful symbolism of that suggests a life cycle, and the sheer wonder of that. This is where I found something more in the work: it suggests there might be a way through the darkness.

I don’t believe Matt is specifically talking about anything like a global environmental crisis, but this art work has emerged during that moment and it is as tinged with that vast reality as it is with the idea that Matt stood alone in the dark and stared at the sea, thinking about the next day. There is a diary-like nature to the work: Matt finds details at the edge of a profound personal event, and he seizes them, not so much looking for significance as using his strong and fluid artistic vernacular to make and recognise the significance this moment required. The moment in time is taken: the images that surround an intense human events become a subtext for that event.

Life is hard and fraught with challenge, but it is wonderful as well, and everything is woven with everything else. There is something poignant in the manner which tragedy forces us to slow down, to feel and see what is always there, in a moment our too-busy lives force us to gloss over.  Perhaps this one way we cope. Because we do have to get up tomorrow,  until we do not any more.

You can see Matt’s video work here.

The housekeeping.
Make and do is a missive where I look at art of all kinds. It comes from Tasmania but is not exclusively devoted to Tasmanian arts.

If you enjoyed this, check out more of Matt’s work, forward this to a friend, send me a comment, shout me a coffee, and when galleries open, go to them.

Next issue will probably be a bunch of links but really, it could be anything. I’m open to suggestion.