Artist Interviews 2023 | Matthew O’Connor

/ / Artist Interviews 2023

We Asked Matthew O'Connor 12 Interesting Questions About Himself.

What was the inspiration behind your piece for SWELL Sculpture Festival 2023?

Patricia is an elder of the Kombumerri Tribe from the Nerang and Coomera rivers. At 93, a few years ago, Pat was rapidly going blind and so I decided to make a sculpture of her friend and visitor “Barney” a part dingo dog. It occurred to me that this wild dog or “nugum” would have been the head of his food chain two hundred years ago. Unfortunately European sailors changed his neighbour hood in a devastating way and both he and his masters, the Kombumerri Salt Water people, would be almost exterminated within a few short years. Barney represents all Jarriparilla Nugums or dogs from Narrow Neck Main beach South Port. As he watches the sails go past, he is witness to the beginning of the end of 20,000 years of continuous occupation by the indigenous locals, himself included. Barney died a few weeks ago so now he will live forever in SWELL!

SWELL is all about connecting people, art and place, how does your work help connect people, art and place?

Local indigenous art connects all of us to our land. The Gold Coast is hoast to millions of visitors from all parts of the world and it is my great pleasure to share my family history with anyone who cares to look into our world. The families of Andrew and Jenny Graham survived the dispossession of their land at Southport through negotiation and co-operation with the new pioneers of the Gold Coast in the 1860’s. This sculpture of Jarriparilla Nugum,( Dingo of Narrow Neck) invites the viewer to see the indigenous world from first contact in 1770 with Cook, 1800 with Flinders and the beginning of the end with Oxley in 1820 when the infux of Brittish ships was relentless as the penal colony was established.This sculpture seeks to remind all Australians and visitors that the original inhabitants of the Gold Coast, though diminished in numbers, are still here and still care for this jewell in paradise.

You walk into a bar… what’s the first drink you order?

a beer of course !

What is your favourite meal to cook when trying to impress someone?

Mudcrabs steamed with mangrove leaves served with crisp fresh white bread and real butter with salt,pepper, and lemon. Live oysters in the shell shucked in front of the visitors is always a certain winner. For really special guests try salmon roe and tabasco as garnish.

What advice do you have for emerging artists?

Be prepared to scrap your first, second or even third attempts. Art is an emerging thing and getting an inspiration perfect in the first attempt is rare, and more of an accident or fluke, in my experience. I find it helpful to get opinions from other artists or family. My work is always up for inspection, criticism , or change. What I see as real, someone else might see as conflicted and I always invite critical discussions. To me, art is for others to enjoy, as I truly enjoy the efforts of others. Be bold and be brave and just enjoy your time as you develop your creative persona and skills. The first brush stroke and the last are always the hardest for me. How to start and when enough is enough.

What was your first artwork? How did it inspire you to grow?

When I was ten I made a small machine from parts I found on the local dump. A singer sewing machine wheel, the axel from a bike wheel and a piece of leather.
I made a silkworm thread spinner that took the silkworm thread and put it onto a cotton reel. Unfortunately I had a lot of thread but no way to weave it. That little machine is still in my display cabinet sixty years later. I often look at it and realise that my life has been a series of similar events. I love the thrill of inventing and creating from stuff lying around us. Thank god for junk sheds.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the creation of your artwork?

Working in sheet aluminium and using plasma cutters and mig welders for the first time took me up a lot of dry gullies. Many reruns and google sessions found me getting better and more consistent welds. Working in concrete and gypsum to create the plinth for the dingo was a challenge. My shoulder is being operated on soon and so I must complete the whole sculpture 10 weeks early as I will be in a sling for a few months. Finishing an assignment early has never been my strong point. I work well under pressure but would rather those extra 10 weeks.

If animals could talk, which one would you want to talk to?

I reckon the birds that migrate from countries 13,000 kms away must be multi-lingual and highly skilled negotiators. imagine how many times they had to explain their landings. Do all birds really speak the same language In all countries?

In your opinion, how can artists support each other?

Be honest in your appraisal and generous with beginners who may take things to heart. Show a genuine interest in the methods and unique styles of others. Learn from each other and never be afraid of sharing ideas. Unfortunately the words Art and Competition should never be taken too seriously, as the judges are themselves evolving, and might make different choices from year to year even on the identical art. Winning a competition is no where near as important as being there contributing and growing your talents.

If you were stranded on a desert island, but food, water and shelter weren’t an issue, what are the 3 things you would take with you and why?

( I am assuming I am being dropped off to this island, not leaving it for another one) the question can be taken both ways.

Tools to make a boat. Navigation toys including Plenty of flares and safety equipment. Solar powered communication devices/ radios/etc.

If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?

An inventor. 

Do you have a favourite song you like to play when working on your art?

Anything by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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