Shelley Howse - Artist Interview
Matthew Browne sat in his long, narrow studio poised and ready to chat. The studio, situated on Queen street, was amidst the noise and chaos of central Auckland. It was mid morning and, surprisingly, it was calm and serene inside.
Matthew was born in London but has been living in New Zealand for the past twenty years. His early years were spent in Kent and then, when he was four, his family moved to London where he lived until 1991. He realized at this stage that there were more opportunities to show work within New Zealand and this was one of many factors in his decision to move here.
Brought up in an artistic family, Matthew's childhood was seeped in galleries and studios. Matthew's father, Michael Browne is also a painter and his mother, Jenny Browne is a ceramicist.
As a teen, Matthew recognized that a career as a painter would be difficult. When I asked if there was pressure on him as a child to follow in his fathers footsteps, he emphasized that there was never any pressure. “Dad gave me opportunities to explore, but no pressure”. Nevertheless, with a lot of exposure and an obvious natural pull toward the visual arts, he made his decision to go to art school.
Ferner Galleries provided me with an artist’s profile, which tells us “he was educated at Camberwell College of Arts. He gained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Painting after completing Foundation Studies at the same institution.
Before moving to New Zealand, amongst other things, he held the position of Art Trade Consultant for ‘The Artist’ magazine in the UK and was invited to teach at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
In 1999 he received a Master of Fine Arts (Honours) from Elam School of Fine Art, University of Auckland. At times he found art school challenging, but his determined character made him carry on...”I couldn’t stand giving up on things; painting got under my skin. It’s a blessing and a curse; so it’s weighted. Once started, it became an inevitable path to follow as a practice”.
At twelve, a friend of his fathers came visiting and commented favourably on an oil painting leaning against the sideboard... "That’s Matthew's first oil,” said his father. Matthew went rummaging through his loaded shelves to find the oil painting which sparked a fond memory of praise, and which sat looking at me as I interviewed.
The studio walls were splattered with paint and quotes scrawled in pencil. A new line up of nearly thirty small mixed media studies painted in bright colours with collage and pencil where laid down neatly on the floor. We walked around the studio and took photos of quotes that meant something to Matthew... “The moment you are no longer a child, you are already dead” - Constantin Brancusi and “Painting is an argument between what it looks like and what it means”- Brett Whiteley.
On a day-to-day level, Matthew does all the usual things that I do. But these banal, necessary chores and trying to fit everything in can be a constant frustration to Matthew as he juggles family and artistic life. To achieve a balance, his days are structured in a disciplined way between family, teaching, preparation for teaching and the studio. He emphasized that one shouldn't resent life’s daily chores, as they do in fact provide you with a resource. Without the interaction of family, friends and colleagues, life would be rather insular and self absorbed. If the work reflects who you are then it must in turn reflect life.
He believes that a painter who teaches can't teach painting truly effectively without a personal painting practice. Working in the studio informs him with direct experience and practical pointers. Having been a student in Matthew’s painting class, this rings very true. He encourages students to ‘find your own voice’, to have confidence and to be able to engage effectively with painting on many levels. Teaching alongside his own personal painting practice enables Matthew to achieve a balance of working alone, whilst also hoping to give something back in return.
I noticed how passionate Matthew was becoming. As he spoke, the myth of my own personal perceptions vanished; the myth of painters needing to be in their cave, churning out work in isolation. This was far from the truth. He is enlightening and enthusiastic. He has a great ability to put people at ease and within his personal relationships he also had high expectations and expects the best, not only of himself but of others too. “Painting is quite a selfish thing. You don’t need to have painting to survive, but for me it's essential on a spiritual level. It opens the eyes of those less artistic and can be experienced as a rewarding encounter. It’s not all roses though. There are days when work is going badly and I really loathe coming to the studio. I resent coming here when it conflicts with my family and the need to be in two places at once”.
The most important aspect of painting for Matthew is to understand himself, whilst the most important aspect of teaching is to understand others and help them understand themselves. Through teaching, Matthew introduces others to something he couldn’t live without.
There is a search for a positive experience when viewing Matthew’s work. He has a deep desire that through his own search for himself, his work in turn may gravitate pleasure, visually transporting people to ‘loose them-selves’.
Matthew’s work is intriguing. It bounces over the page, weaves and dances on canvas. The colours are bold, direct and uplifting. Looking at the work in progress at the studio, there was a feeling of exploration.
Artis Gallery, who Matthew has exhibited with quotes; “Browne’s paintings continually display echoes of the work of British modernists that he studied under. Initially concerned with the physical process of painting, Browne increasingly focused on organic, sweeping gestures across a monochromatic ground.” Matthew follows on from this comment, “I have been most interested in the complexities of the human condition and in various levels of cerebral consciousness and sensation that strike such a delicate balance in order for us to exist and co-exist with one another".
I asked Matthew what he meant in terms of ‘spiritual survival’. For him, spiritual is in terms of ‘the unknown’: the essential and the unknown. By essential he means from which intelligent life springs, not in terms of God but through the layering of human existence, impulses and the deep well of resources that amount to the human experience. The Spirit in a person gives the person substance. A rich spirit brings about a more complete being.
I could see the overlapping in Matthew’s life. Although a very passionate teacher and painter, he has also had many life experiences to be the person he is. He believes that “If the life you live feeds the spirit in you and the spirit in you is drawn upon for creative search, then the life you live has to have an impact on the sort of person you are and the kind of work you make; you can’t separate the two”.
Seeing Matthew at work, watching him talk and listening to his passion made it very clear that he is well and truly an artist at work, whose occupation lives and breathes within him. He can’t help that to be true to himself, he has to paint and create to survive.
Sources of Information:
An interview with Matthew Browne in his studio, 323 Queens Street, 1 1/2 hours long
Artists Profile: by Ferner Galleries : Artis Gallery information: Artists
1. Ferner Galleries: Artist’s Profile 2010
2. Brancusi, Constantin: 1876-1956
3. Artis Gallery; Artist’s Profile