Published on February 15, 2013 | by Rowan Curtis-Nevett0
Matthew Stone: Innovative cultural rebellionSome of the greatest artists have flourished and perfected their craft by associating themselves with like-minded, creative people.
Marcel Duchamp challenged conventional thought with the Dada movement and further back in history John Everett Millais changed the face of expression along with his peers in the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, all the while keeping a distinct artistic identity. It is perhaps this quality that makes Matthew Stone such a success in the 21st century art scene.
In 2003, in the back of the Joiners Arms, Stone and his friends formed !WOWOW!, a collective group of artists, writers, fashion designers and musicians. Since then they have taken the art world by storm with innovative art events and exhibitions in numerous cities – a far cry from their beginnings in a Camberwell pub.
The group provided a platform for successful fashion designer Gareth Pugh, video artist Adham Faramawy, performance artist Millie Brown and of course Stone himself – who has showcased his work around the world and gained much praise and recognition. In 2009 his vast collection and use of varied media saw him topping the arts section of The Sunday Times “Power players under 30”.
More recently he directed a music video for band These New Puritans, leading to him being placed at number 14 in NME’s “50 Most Fearless People in Music.” Despite the accolades and praise he has received for his own work, he remains grateful and reflective when talking about !WOWOW!
“I had this idea of living with other dynamic, creative people, an idea of a bohemian lifestyle that very much appealed to me. It is an idea I have had since I was a kid, an idea about how I wanted to live my life. I wanted the freedom to define how I live,” Stone laughs.
“I wanted to be part of a generation and I think that the instinct for creative community and the collaborations they provide.” Matthew Stone
“I feel I was born an adult, but will actually remain a child my entire life. I wanted to be part of a generation and I think that the instinct for creative community and the collaborations they provide is something that has stayed key to the way I work.” he added.
Stone says he feels thankful and privileged for his artistic background where creativity in the family home was actively encouraged. His father studied fine art at Central Saint Martins and four of his mother’s siblings also attended art school. Later Stone himself enrolled at Camberwell College of Arts, where he first studied graphics before moving on to painting, which resulted in his first-class degree.
It was during his time at the college that he decided he did not want to seek a career in the commercial art world.
“By the second year I didn’t want to have to work for a client, and so graphics no longer seemed relevant, so I switched to painting. But because of the collaborative nature of the work that I do, there are now quite often clients – but they are usually my friends.
“For instance I have been making music to accompany Gareth’s [Pugh] fashion shows. Those kind of collaborations mean you are not always working towards some kind of commercial objective.”
“I’ve always been interested in the idea that collectivity reinforces individual identity.” Matthew Stone
Stone’s time at Camberwell had a major impact on his career, and he looks back fondly at the lessons he learned and acquaintances he made during his time at college.
“There was a key point at college where one of my tutors said my work seemed very focused on myself and that they would like to see me make something that stands out without me being a part of it. I thought a lot about what that meant – if I’m not making work about myself then what could I make work about?
“I shifted my gaze from myself to my friends. I discovered that when you collaborate with people it doesn’t cost you anything in terms of identity or finance.
Charging and empowering
“There is a tendency for artists to hide the support that they received in terms of assistance and influence. It can be a taboo to recognise influence from things outside the artistic world, like music and fashion, and it shouldn’t be like that.
“I try to recognise the influence of a network of individuals, it charges and empowers my work and if anything makes my own sense of identity stronger. I’ve always been interested in the idea that collectivity reinforces individual identity.
“Collaboration isn’t about compromise, it’s about fighting it out until you find the best idea, two people discussing an idea and evolving it together. One of the most important things about going to art school is forming a network of people who you respect enough to take on their opinion and then learn from it.”
Stone works across many different platforms, using sculpture, performance art and writing to convey his message. He has even developed an interest in DJing and has regularly played a slot at London nightclub Boombox.
However, while he has gained considerable attention in the last few years with his many other projects, it is perhaps his photographs that capture the naked human body in different forms, which have led him to critical acclaim. This became a gateway to his first solo show at The Hole gallery in New York. The exhibition, Optimism As Cultural Rebellion ran in 2011 and was clearly an important moment in his career.
“I feel like I have reached the point where in the past I used to worry about how I was defined or how people perceive my work in different fields. Now I have gotten to the point where I don’t care about that anymore, I know the things that I want to work on and I feel like I can just get on with them. I spend more time enjoying what I am doing and the context in which I’m doing it.”
Stone’s exhibitions have taken him from Germany and Denmark to the US, but it seems it is his home city where he feels most comfortable and able to channel his creativity. He enthusiastcally talks about the cultural inspiration London offers, as well as the challenges it imposes.
“I spend more time enjoying what I am doing and the context in which I’m doing it.” Matthew Stone
“It is always interesting travelling. I enjoy New York, but I love London. I think London is really tough to survive in. It seems people have to work for a decade for free before they start a proper career.
“It’s different in New York, as there seems to be more creative industries whereas in London there are creative scenes. Comparing the two, I believe there are more exciting things going on here in London. I think there is more of an opportunity to do cool projects here and more money-based projects over there.”
When discussing the paths that young artists can take once they have graduated and are trying to find their feet in London, his affection for both the city and the process of meeting likeminded people is clear. “For any artist starting out in London, I would recommend working together with others while also fearlessly doing their own thing and making sure they are organised.
“It always takes hard work. London has a real appetite for new and interesting ideas. People will always be excited for a new generation of artists and creatives.”