Nestled within every Melbourne tourism brochure, advertisement or city walk, lays an inherent affinity with our street and independent arts culture. This unavoidable concoction of colour, design and bin soaked laneways, has helped assist this cities thriving creative scene. But between the galleries and the hundreds of artists who paint its walls, our state capital provides a very limited amount of exhibiting space to artists who extensively work within its streets.
Opening at the height of Melbourne’s globally recognized street art boom, Backwoods Gallery has earned its position as one of the key transitional points for some of the cities most recognized street and visual artists – providing a contemporary space for those seeking the alternative route toward their art-making abilities. Assisting in the burgeon careers for the likes of Meggs, Rone and TwoOne, Backwoods has also exhibited the work of internationally established artists, including: Mark Bode, Petro and Shohei Otomo – to name just a few.
Exhibiting their shows with very little boundaries and adhering to a skill before stature ethos to their growing artist network in the process. Having curated over 80 shows since 2010, the team has recently extended its branches to a new selection of locally sourced talent, with Fresh Blood encompassing this compiled thought of new perspectives, while doubling as the theme for their latest group exhibition. Selected with bright and exciting sights set in mind, this unique mixture of street, graphic and contemporary artists have been chosen specifically to breathe new life into the galleries well-worn walls.
Adelaide based street and contemporary artist, Matthew Fortrose, is one of the 9 new artists entering the Backwoods fold, one which exemplifies the notion of a fresh perspective. Displaying his work with bold colour, calculated concepts and execution, Fortrose is one of this Australia’s most exciting street painters, with his gallery work being equally as engaging. We recently had a chance to talk to Fortrose about the process and thinking toward his work and how he brings fresh ideas from the weathered accumulation surrounding some of his work.
Your work compliments the raw and accident structure of industrial landscapes, where do you think your initial interest in combining these two worlds came from?
I’ve been interested in the structure and design of buildings and objects from a young age. I was curious as to how things worked, but more importantly, I was much more interested in why things looked the way they do. Time spent in industrial areas and car yards fuelled my curiosity, a lot of the time, it would be tagging along with my dad. So there was a sort of forced observation of looking at things and reimagining them, to pass the time.
Is it still something you seek out for reference or more of an influence carried from your day-to-day wanderings?
I’d say I’m obsessed with making these observations, after a while you almost train yourself into taking an interest in everything you pass by in the car, walking or public transport. It becomes sort of a mapping tool, to remember places, objects or particular landmarks.
Is there a correlation between architectural design and your upbringing in graffiti throughout your work today?
They’re both ways of changing or altering the space in a landscape or interior. Doing graffiti, you subconsciously build your own relationship with an urban environment, so it helps to navigate a city and you start to develop your own personal connection to the area. I think now the difference is I’m appreciating space as it is – rather than adding to it in some instances.
Even with all of its natural exterior elements, your work juxtaposes with elements of artificial colour and composition, how do you balance these visual contrasts?
As with graffiti, there’s a desire to modify space to your own benefit, in some cases I’ll edit a photo I’ve taken in the most bold and artificial way possible to create my own interpretation of what the space should look like.
Where does a piece of work usually begin and end for you?
Everything is always in the middle. I’m interested in leaving visual clues in previous works that will indicate the direction of the next. One of my favourite things about Instagram is that you can control your output, I made a decision a few years ago I’d chronologically post work that leads into the next. Having that discipline to stick within parameters has no doubt been a way to control ideas, keeping everything looking structured and considered.
I feel as though the display and placement (whether it be in a photo on Instagram or the gallery setting) of your work compliments the execution itself. Is there much thought in the post-presentation of your pieces, whether inside or outside?
I’m aware of the look I want to achieve before the works made or finished, which becomes problematic. I’m endlessly chasing materials or methods that don’t exist, but I’ve learnt it’s the alternatives or substitution to the original idea that works out the best.
Transitioning between interiors and exteriors seems to be visually seamless for your work, do you approach these areas the same way or are they completely different experiences to work with?
I think I’ve that learned the hard way sometimes – that some things won’t fit in a particular setting. Having to look at old work on the street really reminds you that you really need think about the surroundings of the area before you slap any new painting up. It’s sometimes ignorant to think that everything should be painted, when in some cases, buildings and rooms should really be left the way they are.
More recently you have been presenting sculptural pieces within your shows. Is this an extension of your current work or something you would like to display as its own? How far would you like to explore this new format?
I’ve always seen my paintings as displaying 2d sculptures; painting observations and taking out unwanted details; drawing focus on bold lines and formations. I’m also careful not to say a lot in the paintings, which is why it’s been nice to finally move into larger sculptural forms. I’m finding scale and the way the work is put together creates its own narrative or subtle statement. I’m interested in exploring more of the conceptual side of sculpture, one that I’ve found difficult in painting, so there are some solid visual leads I’m hinting at for future works.
What are some of the differences in working with physical materials for these sculptures? As I imagine finding the right colour palette being a challenge in of itself. Do you alter them in any way or are there rules revolving around presenting them the way they were manufactured?
Keeping that uniform palette is definitely important in some pieces, as a way of almost taking ownership of the work or branding it. But then it’s also important for some objects to exist the way they’re manufactured, some things are too nice to be altered and there’s a risk of taking away the character of the object and losing its contextual value. Melted plastic and clay has a mind of its own, buts it’s often the mistakes I’ll end up enjoying the most, mainly because it helps relieve the anxiety of not getting things perfectly correct. The accidents are a great reminder that you don’t have total control over everything you make.
There seems to be a fusion of photographic, traditional, technical and graphic design throughout your artistic career -is there an overarching intention in presenting these elements collectively? The Fortrose Cement Bags are a perfectly executed example of this, as it displays the colour, energy and intention of your other works.
Those works were extremely important. I definitely agree. They exist as a great middle ground to the look and message I was trying to achieve at that time. Working mainly in the street around that time was a way to make that connection to built forms. Printing them on Tyvek was important to create the feel and texture of the object itself, while the colours and branding were a subtle nod to Warhol’s Brillo Boxes – as they were similarly in his immediate environment when he was younger. Around then, I was obsessed with trying to paint more raw concrete walls, so the bags were almost a way I could turn the obsession into a bit of a joke. I think the way to keep showcasing all those elements is to continue to move between mediums fluidly, whether they intersect with each other directly or not. I’m happy creating a visual language that allows me the freedoms to transfer knowledge from one area to the other.
Fresh Blood features new work from all 9 of the new members of the Backwoods Gallery family and will be on display from tonight (August 10) until Sunday August 19. Preview Matthew’s work and what else will be on show in the gallery up above.