Interview with Matt MAWSON

the ephemera interviews

In this series of interviews artists directly involved in ARIs and artist-run culture 1980- 2000 speak about the social context for their art making and provide insights into the ephemera they produced or collaborated on during this period. Artist ephemera includes artworks, photocopies, photographs, videos, films, audio, mail art, posters, exhibition invites, flyers, buttons and badges, exhibition catalogues, didactics, room sheets, artist publications, analogue to digital resources and artist files.

Joh Busters, Matt Mawson

BIO

Born in 1950 in Melbourne. Arrived Brisbane 1975.

 

In the 1970s Matt had been submitting illustrations and cartoons to various national alternative and counter-cultural magazines and was being published in Living Daylights (founded by Richard Neville, post-Oz), Tracks and Nation Review, alongside Patrick Cook and Michael Leunig.

 

Soon after 4ZZ-FM (later 4ZZZ-FM) started, Matt began submitting cartoons to the station’s subscriber magazine, Radio Times. As announcer Bill Riner put it … “Matt was like the phantom! The legend goes that he would show up, deliver a cover for Radio Times, no one would even see him, but this thing would be sitting on the desk. I was there for two years before I even knew what Matt Mawson looked like!” (Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden, Andrew Stafford, 2004).

 

As a result of his work in Radio Times, Matt was invited by John Jiggens and John Reid to contribute to the first edition of satirical magazine, The Cane Toad Times, published in May 1977. Matt illustrated the first three covers, and several more later. The magazine grew out of a frustration with the Bjelke-Petersen government of the time. A retrospective of the magazine at the State Library of Queensland in 2011/2012 described Matt as the “… most capped player for Cane Toad Times, credited in 19 of the total of 22 issues”.

 

(http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/cane-toad-times/storytellers).

In 1979 Matt was invited by Bruce Dickson to work on Semper, the magazine published by the student union at the University of Queensland. Matt contributed prolifically to Semper, The Cane Toad Times and Radio Times simultaneously, as well as magazines like Social Alternatives. Matt spent several years at Semper as layout artist, illustrator, cartoonist and occasionally photographer. Bruce Dickson went on to administer the Community Arts Centre (Metro Arts) in Edward Street. Bruce was instrumental in persuading UQ Press to publish a collection of Matt’s cartoons (The Gentle Art of Cat Surfing, 1981) and helped launch the book at an event at the Community Arts Centre.

 

Matt’s association with illustrator and designer Terry Murphy on The Cane Toad Times, Radio Times and Semper led to introductions to John Willsteed and Irena Luckus (both playing in art-punk band Xero) and Tim Gruchy.

 

The five formed the Zip Collective and collaborated on collections of recorded music on cassette and vinyl, and art in the form of postcards, booklets and, later, a perfect-bound book.

 

As a group, Zip played live at One Flat in South Brisbane (date unknown, circa 1982). (One Flat was a joint strategy by Russell Lake, Gary Warner and Jeanelle Hurst.)

 

In 1986 Zip received a grant from the Australia Council to produced ZipEyeEar, a four-track 7-inch EP and a 56-page book of art. Matt put together an experimental video, Cryptomnesia, in conjunction with the ZipEyeEar project.

 

In 1986, the five Zip members were involved in the Young Contemporariesexhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane curated by Robert Linguard followed later that year by the Know Your Product anti-music exhibition, also at IMA, Curated by Ross Harley.

 

Matt continues to draw, utilizing freehand and computer-based techniques. He currently has over 700 images – vector drawings, freehand drawings, photo shopped images and photographs – in his gallery here: http://www.redbubble.com/people/mmawson/portfolio


 

PA: 

Matt, 1980’s Brisbane Social History, by way of a snapshot, tell me about what sort of world was this Queensland for you?

 


 

MM:

Despite the oppressive nature of the conservative regime (or perhaps because of it), Brisbane at the time was an exciting place for me. The art and music sub-cultures were propelled by anti-Joh sentiment. There seemed to be a strong us-against-them camaraderie. It drew a lot of creative people together.


 

PA: 

Yes, the Bjelke-Peterson Regime, “The Police State” political backdrop how did it directly or indirectly impact upon you?

 


 

MM:

The magazines I was involved with published a lot of articles critical of the government, and I drew many caricatures of Joh. The most well-known at the time was my Joh-Busters t-shirt design, which was a parody of the Ghostbusters movie poster in 1984.

 

Joh-Busters was included in the publication Brought to Light II: Contemporary Australian Art 1966-2006 from the Queensland Art Gallery Collection, published by the Queensland Art Gallery in 2007 (page 114). In 1979 I created a “right to march” poster called Keep In Step which was displayed in the Signs of the Times exhibition of political posters curated by Clare Williamson for the Queensland Art Gallery in 1991.


 

PA: 

How did this political climate directly impact on your friends and peers?

 


 

MM:

All of the people I was involved with at the time were active to various degrees in the anti-Joh protest movement.

Matt Mawson
Wipe It Out, Matt Mawson

 

PA: 

And the type of art work you were making during the 1980’s, media used, subjects and themes?

 


 

MM:

Most of what I drew was intended for publishing. This was a time of cut-and-paste, before personal computers changed the nature of design and printing, so I learnt techniques of colour separation using the massive arts camera in the Semper magazine darkroom, where I also developed and printed B&W film.

 

Through Terry Murphy I also learnt a bit about screen-printing, as some of my work ended up on posters and t-shirts.


 

PA: 

Tell me about the artist collaborations you directly participated in?

 


 

MM:

Zip (with Terry Murphy, John Willsteed, Irena Luckus and Tim Gruchy) is the main collaboration of note. Over a few years we produced 4 packages of art and music. I collaborated specifically with Tim and Terry on a couple of tracks. I also contributed a postcard and a recording to Queensland in Quarantine, a cassette package of “diseased music” compiled by Linda Wallace.

Zip Eye Ear, Matt Mawson

 

PA: 

Some detail about your family’s biography and immigration story?

 


 

MM:

I’m the eldest of ten. My parents each travelled thousands of kilometers from their homes (my father came east from Perth and my mother travelled west from Christchurch) and met in Melbourne. Dad was in the army and the next couple of decades saw the family transferred every few years, so we grew up in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Townsville, Port Moresby and Lae.

I was a failure at art at school. I drew a lot at home, but the school lessons were not stimulating. In high school I started drawing caricatures of teachers. When they found out, I was invited to do cartoons for the school yearbook. That was encouraging.
Matt Mawson

 

PA: 

Is there one particularly vivid memory or event from your childhood when you knew you wanted to become a professional artist?

 


 

MM:

There is no specific episode. However, I was a very shortsighted child and much of my comic-reading, before being tested for glasses, necessarily involved holding the pages close to my face. I think that might have influenced my love of line work.


 

PA: 

Tell me about your schooling and early Art classes/education in both primary and secondary schools and about what significant impact it made on you?

 


 

MM:

I was a failure at art at school. I drew a lot at home, but the school lessons were not stimulating. In high school I started drawing caricatures of teachers. When they found out, I was invited to do cartoons for the school yearbook. That was encouraging.


 

PA: 

And your experience of self-directed learning in your early career?

 


 

MM:

When I was invited to draw for Semper, the magazine was being designed and laid out by people with little experience or inclination for the task. I took to it immediately and did a lot of learning on the run. I taught myself colour separations, typesetting, how to use an arts camera, how to use Lettraset and Letratone.


 

PA: 

Tell me about your own experiences of QLD sense of place and your sense of belonging – or indeed not belonging – at the time living and working as an artist in Brisbane/ Queensland during this decade?

 


 

MM:

I was keenly aware that Brisbane was looked down upon culturally by Sydney and Melbourne. It was regarded as a backwater. But to me, in my circles at the time, it was full of interesting and creative people.


 

PA: 

Where did you hang out? Where did you eat? What did you eat? Where did you dance? Sounds, smells, tastes?

 


 

MM:

I attended one or two 4ZZZ Joint Efforts, saw Xero support The Cure at Festival Hall, had a few dinners with the Cane Toad Times crew at John Stanwell’s restaurant above Centenary Pool in Spring Hill.


 

PA: 

Tell me a little about two or three of your intimate and most influential artist colleagues and peers at the time? And pop culture influences?

 


 

MM:

Terry Murphy and Damien Ledwich encouraged my drawing. John Willsteed encouraged my musical experiments. Bruce Dickson, although not an artist himself, was an enthusiastic supporter and facilitator of my cartooning and drawing and of community arts.

 

I’d come back from Paris with a stack of Metal Hurlant magazines. I couldn’t read french but the artwork was diverse, original, and often amazing. I was in awe of Jean Giraud (Mobius). I also liked a lot of the underground cartoonists, like Crumb, and the art comics like Raw. Musically there was a lot happening at the time that I enjoyed … pretty much most of what I heard on 4ZZZ , where I did a weekly late-night shift for a while.


 

PA: 

Tell me about your most vivid and early artist-run exhibition or performance experiences?

 


 

MM:

I think “performing” with Zip at One Flat Gallery in George Street was my most memorable experience. It was completely unrehearsed and chaotic. It had been publicised on 4ZZZ and the place was packed. I was self-conscious and uncomfortable, but managed to last the night. The following days’ feedback was to me, surprisingly positive.


 

PA: 

Tell me in detail about the types of ephemera you made or designed?

 


 

MM:

Ephemera, yes, the Zip people were all interested in postcard art and photocopy art, booklets, posters. Sound!


 

PA: 

Pre internet the question many are asking now is how, where and why did you network?

 


 

MM:

Sending ephemera? We somehow managed to track down addresses of other people interstate and overseas who had similar interests. I think we must have found contact details in fanzines. We would send art and music out and get responses from Melbourne, the UK, Sweden, the US. We would be reviewed in overseas fanzines, and the editors were more than happy to send us copies.


 

PA: 

On reflection, why do you feel there was such a significant proliferation of ARI activity during the 1980-1990 period?

 


 

MM:

The almost siege mentality under the Bjelke-Petersen government fostered a sense of community. From my perspective 4ZZZ did a lot to rally everyone together.


 

PA: 

And the notion of archiving and photo documentation during this period, was this important for you at the time?

 


 

MM:

I regret not taking archiving more seriously. I had a feeling that a lot of what we did was for the moment and ultimately disposable. In retrospect I was probably wrong.


 

PA: 

And that Zip media quote you love?

 


 

MM:

“Not content with only defying musical categories, ZIP also seek to smear the line separating musical art from graphic art … a sort of sinister ‘80’s extension of the psychedelic headspace of the ‘60s.” – Richard Conrad, Sunday Mail, 7 December 1986.