We all get the blues sometimes. My symptoms are as follows: I’m sitting cross-legged on the couch, dozing off in front of the TV, with multiple devices resting on my thighs. Law & Order SVU is on in the background, and I’m refreshing Facebook mindlessly, as if anything fresh was ever going to pop off on my feed. I’m almost certainly eating rice crackers without dip. These days come and go like a caricature of themselves, but when they do, it’s like you’re the only person on earth who feels this way.
Then my phone beeps, as if my lonely heart had sent a signal all the way to Melbourne. It’s Matt O’Brien: “Morning Pup! Hope Sunday’s treating you awesome!” A simple, heartfelt love note from down under, one that doesn’t expect a response in any sort of needy way. Between over-sharing with strangers and commenting on photos of people we don’t really care about, not a lot of people take the time to actually check in. But I can count on Matto’s text once a week. Everybody should be a little more like Matto. I caught up with the Australian artist and skateboarder to talk about the inspiration behind his latest work.
“Memento mori” is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “Remember that you have to die.” Matto offers his own interpretation with “Remembered Death : Forgotten Youth,” a collection of fifteen pen illustrations on recycled paper, unveiled last month at Enough Space in Melbourne.
Although it explores a somber subject matter close to his heart, the body of work is anything but morbid. By juxtaposing popular cartoons with eerie iconography, the artist successfully achieves his goal: he puts a smile on your face while stirring up deep layers of memories and emotions that ultimately… make you think. Think about life and grief, childhood memories and broken dreams. His work counters the inevitability of death with a winking, grinning celebration of youth. When you think about it, what freedom really means is the ability to make peace with the memories that we make and with those that we lose.
LF: It’s been a rough year. For someone who knows you, it’s clear that the body of work you are unveiling is directly inspired by recent events that changed you as a human being. What message do you wish to convey to an outsider?
MO: I’ve found recently that, in our society, death is definitely something that’s a taboo subject. People tend to skirt around the subject or misdirect the situation to make it easier to deal with.
What I’ve tried to do with this show is to open up a conversation and put people together in a room where they are challenged to talk about death, sorrow, happiness and youth. I want to try and get people to start being aware of death more, accept it as a part of life and not something to be ignored, nor feared.
“If I can make just a small group leave the show thinking a little more open-mindedly about death, loss and what comes with it, then I’ll be happy.”
LF: Would you say it’s true that tragedy generates the best art?
MO: I wouldn’t say that tragedy generates the best art, but I will say that it has a dramatic way of jarring you out of any comfort zone you were settled into.
So I think in doing this is rips down any processes or thought patterns you’ve been used to and sets you along a new path of thought.
In my case, I definitely lost myself down a very dark rabbit hole for a good three months there and through tragedy and time I’ve come out with a new set of eyes that have definitely made me create a new collection that is nothing like I would have in the past.
LF: Do you see darkness in your art?
MO: There is darkness in my art but also alongside it is happiness and hope.
Through dealing with tragedy I’ve learnt that sorrow doesn’t go away, the feeling of loss never lessens, you just become used to those feeling and accept them to be a part of you now.
I wanted to try show the darkness and happiness next to each other to create a conflicting set of ideas and create awareness that they can be one in the same some times.
LF: Can you talk a little bit about the concept of Remembered Death : Forgotten Youth. The shift of focus and perspective as we get older. How it applies in particular to people who grew up skateboarding.
MO: The main concept is an exploration into the idea of death and the symbolism of youth. I’ve tried to place these memories or icons of childhood and symbols of death together to shift the ideas of both and force an awareness of the imminence of death, but also the happiness of life.
To try create a new an acceptance of death and in doing so there becomes a sense of freedom, a way to relieve the weight of worry associated with death.
One thing that I’ve found that shifts in focus as you get older is that change in how you daydream. I remember growing up and daydreaming about things that haven’t happened yet, skateboarding with friends, going on new adventures, meeting new friends, a hope of my life to come.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I tend to daydream more about times that have past, remembering good times that I’ve already experienced, replaying first meetings of friends, smiling to myself about things I’ve done that my teenage self would be proud of you know?
Skateboarders, I’ve found, in particular, have found the ability to kind of combine both of these things and maintain a solid link between our youth and our adulthood. Some people would see this as being immature or as a way of avoiding life or a fear of growing old but I feel it’s almost the fountain of youth itself. There’s a part of every skateboarder that remains that little kid filled with stoke that never leaves them. I can see it in my friends that are pushing 50 and I can see it in my friends that are still grommets, that same glint in their eyes, the spark of youth.
LF: What does “being creative” mean to you?
MO: Being creative, to me, means to act upon that little voice in your head that questions ‘what if?’.
Everyone has the ability to be creative in some way or another. That’s a trait that every single person has in some aspect or another it’s just how much the decide to act out the thought of if they let it slide by.
I’m not talking specifically about artists, musicians, skateboarders… I mean creativity in everything, how someone dresses, how they walk, how they talk.
Self expression in any shape and form.
LF: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past five years?
MO: To tell your friends you love them.
If you think your friend is amazing, tell them, tell them you’re proud of them, thank them for giving you the honour of being their friend.
If there’s one thing we’re all guilty of is that we don’t even consider the fact that we might not get the chance to grow old with our best friends. In the last five years I have become very aware of the fragility of life and along with it the importance of enjoying and loving every single moment of it.
“I try go out my door everyday and say to myself, today’s going to be the best day I’ve ever had and I’m going to try make everyone’s day better too. There’s just no time to have a different mind frame than that.”
LF: What’s on the horizon for you?
MO: When I pulled myself out of the dark place I found myself in I promised that I was going to take three months and create solely for myself, reset my path. I put it out there in the universe and was responded by the gallery spot for this show getting offered to me very last minute. That took two months.
November was very rad to say the least! This show ran for two weeks and then I’ve had a lot of friends visiting from overseas, which is always an adventure in itself.
More trips are planned, keep creating, keep giving high fives and making sure this life of ours is a celebration.