An interview between
Ryan Gander & Matthew Smith, 27th July, 2006.
RG: Right. I haven’t really got any questions so I’m just
going to make them up as I go along. How are you?
MS: I’m very well. How are you?
RG: I’m alright. Err, when were you last in the studio?
MS: Last week. Tuesday.
RG: And what did you do?
MS: I sat on the desk looking at the work I’d made in the past few
RG: And how many works are there?
MS: About five.
RG: And, err, what are they?
MS: Records where the cover has been torn off, old NME covers that have
been defaced by colouring them in, and my leather jacket made out of paper.
RG: Culturally what have the things got in common – the NMEs, the
records, and the jacket?
MS: Well, they all belong to a sort of musical category in a way, but
that’s not really what I’m trying to talk about.
RG: So what is it that you’re trying to talk about? Is it something
to do with some kind of critique of the music/fashion industry?
MS: No, definitely not.
RG: It could look like that sometimes. To remake a leather jacket out
of paper is a sort of deterioration of it, as if it goes back to being
MS: Yeah… It’s more to do with the fact that it then resembles
a toile, or a dummy. It kind of resembles an idea. So it’s more
to do with being interested in working out what ideas look like, or whether
you can have an idea in the first place.
RG: Also, when I saw it in your studio I thought that it was a really
interesting because the idea for a leather jacket is like an object, culturally,
but if it didn’t have those cultural references it would just be
a coat made of leather. It wouldn’t signify all those things…
I thought you were playing with that, the way you were sort of reversing
a history and changing the direction of its meaning or changing the direction
that this object went through history. Do you see what I mean?
MS: I think the reason I wanted to make work with it – and I have
done for years now – is that I go to the studio and hang up my coat,
and I often just sit in there really racking my brains trying to think
of what to do. And it’s always struck me that this leather jacket,
that was really old and shabby, and had lots of holes and tears, had it’s
own kind of aesthetic. It kind of looked like a piece of art hanging in
a studio. I tried to think for ages how I could make it into a work…
I made all other sorts of work that were kind of taken from that line
of thinking, but they didn’t ever have the jacket in them. Um…
I think the problem with the jacket was that it just didn’t let
up it’s own kind of subjectivity. It’s a difficult object
to try to separate from all of the associations… so I think I wanted
to do something to undermine that subjectivity and focus on it as an object.
RG: The works with record covers and NME covers, do you hunt them out
or do you just find them by chance?
MS: Erm, the NME covers are hunted for because they have to be people
that I have got in my own music collection. There’s no point to
who it is conceptually, apart from that I have to find that they inspire
me in some way… Which is a bit shallow.
RG: Is it?
MS: Maybe. But I think that one of the interesting things about that work
is that there’s a tendency for artists to make things that show
what they like. So, well, maybe that’s what I’m trying not
to do – if I scribble it out so you can’t really see it, that’s
like getting around the problem.
RG: So is the work about the cultural significance of the band, about
the sound on the record, or about the image and the graphic design on
the cover? If there’s one thing that plays into what you do to it?
MS: Erm, I think when I made those works I was going through a phase of
trying to undermine Conceptual Art by trying to think about the ways that
you don’t ever really have an idea. Like with the jacket, I was
trying to work out if ideas actually exist or if you just end up making
a number of decisions and you come up with work. Sometimes when you listen
to a record, or music in general, you feel like it has made a visual impression
in your imagination. But immediately I think that’s a sort of fallacy,
and I wanted to try and find a way to make work about how that isn’t
the case. So it’s kind of a straightforward step to just make work
that removes one of the primary images associated with music, like the
front of a record…
RG: Would you say that when you make art you think illogically?
MS: Err, it might look that way but I think I follow a very strict sense
of logic… I like to think of a work as a kind of proposition and…
I think the thing about propositions is that whether they’re, you
know, factually right or wrong, because of the nature of language they’re
RG: But it’s only your logic. Or is it a logic that we’d all
MS: I hope it’s a logic everybody would understand. I think logic
is universal… which might imply that making good art is about pointing
out something that is already there, not projecting something ‘inner’.
RG: Yep. You recently made a work that you described in the pub to me
as a cum-towel.
MS: No, you said it was a cum-towel. (Laughs) You said it was a toss-rag.
RG: Do you want to explain how that came to being? I’m just interested
because you sort of talked about it being a mistake, and it’s interesting
when people talk about their mistakes because it says a lot more about
the things they don’t think are mistakes. But was it a mistake in
the end? Like after a few days when you’d chance to look at it again…
MS: I don’t know… and it’s still sitting on the studio
floor, as it would look if it were in a gallery. When I was making it
sometimes I would think that this was the best thing I’d ever made
and sometimes I would think this was the biggest piece of shit in the
world. And I still don’t know which one it is.
RG: When you were going through the periods of thinking that it was the
best thing you had ever made was it because you’d surprised yourself?
MS: (Laughs) No, I don’t think I’d surprised myself. I think
I find that unless you take an object that exists and keep it’s
form to a greater degree and just do something slight to it - unless you
do that it’s really tricky. Because if you’re just manipulating
an object then you can undermine it in quite a subtle way. I don’t
really want to produce things, I would rather deface something, or make
an alternative of something. I don’t know. Can I have a cigarette?
RG: Yeah. Erm, when we were having a drink the other night you said something
about Dawn French. Are you obsessed with her? It’s not an obsession?
MS: It’s a preoccupation… I find myself adopting kind of oblique
subject matter quite a bit. And then I spend a long time trying to understand
how it might turn into work… Dawn French might represent certain
things… a kind of sensibility that I find interesting or mesmerising
that’s found in a range of other subject matter.
RG: Right, just three quick questions because it will take ages to transcribe.
Erm, when did you graduate, and where from?
MS: I graduated from St Martins in 2005.
RG: And, err, what are the other things? What was the last show that you
saw? Well, the last show you remember.
MS: Both, It was Mike Nelson at Matt’s Gallery.
RG: And was it any good?
MS: I really liked it. Somebody last night said that they thought it was
a bit rubbish, and it made me wonder whether my opinions were a bit shallow.
But I thought it was really good.
RG: And, erm, why do you want to do this exhibition?
MS: Because, well loads of reasons I guess… I don’t think
you can make work without having a reason to make it, and it does give
me an opportunity to force a development.
RG: Anything else you want to say?
Matthew Smith was born in Burton-on-Trent in 1976. He gained his MA Fine
Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London, in 2005,
and his BA (Hons) Fine Art from Sheffield Hallam University in 2003. Matthew
will be in the forthcoming New Contemporaries exhibitions in London and