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Translaze Spotlight: Matthew Burrows

Matthew Burrows (born 1971) is an artist who lives and works in the United Kingdom. His paintings are reflective and slow to reveal a complex structural space of marks, shapes and pigments.

Burrows created on Instagram: #ArtistSupportPledge, an idea launched just before the lockdown caused by Covid19 in the UK. It is now a global phenomenon. With the #ArtistSupportPledge hashtag, artists and creators post works for sale on social networks, which must be worth £200 or less, with the promise that, once they have sold £1,000, they will buy work from someone else, creating a form of subsistence culture.

Translaze: When did you decide that you want to become an artist? Why?

Matthew Burrows: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Of course when growing up there were moments when I doubted this, not because I didn’t want it, but because our systems constantly enforce the idea that art is not a career. This is wrong on so many levels, but right in that it isn’t a career, it’s bigger than that, it’s a life, and lived well it is one that is complete. A mere career does not do it justice.

T: As you know, we do offer language services. How do you think people from different cultures are able to connect and exchange topics through art?

MB: I think art creates an imaginative landscape for the mind, giving opportunity for a deeper exploration of self, community and environment. This helps develop a richer field of images, shapes and forms. I like to think of language and image in a dance, a movement of possibilities as meaning and concepts collaborate and find purpose. 

T: Is there any special place or culture that helped you the most in order to become an artist and to get inspired? Why? Which one is your favourite? 

MB: There’s two places that have formed my imagination. The great museums of London; the National Gallery, Tate, British Museum etc and the countryside around my home and studio in East Sussex. I find solace in the relationship between these two experiences. More broadly a trip to Italy when I was 19 to see Giotto, Piero della Francesca and the other great Renaissance painters, and a travel scholarship to India in 2000 had a profound effect on how I felt about the relationship of culture to community. Not sure I have a favourite, it’s their codependence that matters. 

T: You said in an interview “I try not to think in words when I’m making paintings, because words give you definitions”. How would you define your paintings or if you need to sell it to someone that can´t see your paintings how would you explain your art to them and what you are doing?

MB: I do think in words once the work is done, making art is a form of thinking which works best outside the limitations of concept and definition, to introduce them into the mix can manifest a creative stasis. I am careful not to talk too much about painting whilst I’m making it. Having said that I do enjoy the point at which I can reflect on what I have done and how it evolved. 

T: Your idea is based on trust and generosity, it is estimated that it has generated over £60 million in sales. Clearly, we are in a completely new era of visual art - do you see it as an advantage or disadvantage for artists? Why?

MB: The current global context of the Covid-19 pandemic demanded an urgent and creative response to the challenges it presented. 

When confronting any challenge I try to ‘see’ what ‘is’ and approach it with creativity and the values of trust and generosity. Trust that I and we together can make meaningful change for the good, and a generous spirit to give a little more than is usual or expected. I could have just created a selling platform for artists, but founding it on these values compels participants to take an extra step, to support their peers, and think of success as the many and not the few. I think what has surprised everyone - including myself - is how successful it has been, allowing artists to not just survive but thrive. 

ASP gives artists access to a dynamic and immediate economy. They don’t have to wait for an exhibition or art fair to make money, but can post work on Instagram, with near zero costs, and be connected directly to buyers. I don’t expect it to replace the mainstream market, as larger more ambitious works need a more sophisticated mechanism to buy and sell. ASP has made many artists all over the world financially liquid for the first time. This can only be good for the broader market as they can invest in materials, studio rent and time making work. It gives artists agency and autonomy and that is creatively and culturally powerful.

T: There are different researches about consumers who prefer to make purchases in their native language. When we wrote you in order to support you with your idea and to translate your website, you chose the following languages: Spanish, Italian, French and German. It is the same for art? If yes: How do you think this could help artist? How was the response from artist that speak these languages?

MB: My ambition, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Of course, when growing up there were moments when I doubted this, not because I didn’t want it, but because our systems constantly enforce the idea that art is not a career. This is wrong on so many levels, but right in that it isn’t a career, it’s bigger than that, it’s a life, and lived well it is one that is complete. A mere career does not do it justice.

My dream would be that we could include indigenous cultures threatened by extinction. Of course there are complex ethical questions in this. It is all too easy to bulldoze cultures without respect for what is specific to their value systems and beliefs. I would welcome further opportunity to expand on what this might mean and how it might work.   

T: How big will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on the UK art market?  - and for young UK artists? How will you motivate them in order to create any kind of art or to “consume” art?

MB: It is very hard to say what will be the mid or long term impact of the pandemic, I suspect we won’t see anything like the old ‘normal’ returning soon. I’m heartened by some of the conversations I have had with galleries over the last few months exceptional examples have been Vigo Gallery, London, Von Horn Gallery Dusseldorf and Charlie Smith Gallery, London, who are all thinking creatively and responsibly about the cultural and economic ecology of the arts. The reality is, there is no such thing as ‘Normal’ it is an illusion. It is those that are agile, creative and imaginative that will be the most resilient. 

For younger artists I think this is an opportunity to make meaningful change. To take control of how work is seen and how artists survive financially. Perhaps I can go even further than that and suggest that it puts artists squarely at the centre of ’New realities’. Without imagination, creativity and the ability to take risks - something artists are well practiced at - we can’t develop an appropriate vision to a fairer more equitable society and economy for all. 

T: The prime minister Boris Johnson wrote you a letter. What came to your mind when you read it? For example: The beginning of your career or something else?

MB: Of course It has been an honour to be recognised publicly, but that honour is dwarfed by the response I have had from peers, colleagues and friends across the world. To have made a real difference to peoples lives and to receive their heartfelt gratitude is the greatest honour I could ever have. 

Doing ASP wasn’t planned, but looking back was something I was well prepared for. I had the right knowledge, skills and networks to make it work. If I didn’t know what to do, I knew someone who did. 

For me, making art is always about finding a sense of wholeness, being complete in all things. So much of our culture divides and judges, subconsciously discriminating even when it is trying to do what is right. ASP has been a completing of my artistic values, it is my belief that a culture of trust and generosity is the most fertile ground for the creative spirit, and maybe for a fairer society and economy. 

T: To conclude, are there other kinds of projects (non-profit or profit) that you would like to create/ be part of? For example: A book about your paintings.

MB: Yes many, ideas are always filtering. I dream of designing and building a centre that is committed to establishing a healthier relationship to ourselves, community and environment. This is a set of problems that are intrinsically connected by our values and practices. ASP may be the start of this as a tangible real world reality. I think living, eating, human and interspecies relationships and our environment must be the foundations of our arts and commerce. 

I would like to see artists, makers, dancers, musicians and writers at the centre of communities. Our creative life gives us the ability to respond meaningfully with each other and the places in which we dwell. 

I’m also working on an idea for a book about running and painting. Really an exploration of our relationship to movement, landscape and art. I’ve come to believe that dance (in its broadest sense) is at the centre of all the arts. An embodiment of seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling through sensation and movement. For me running and painting are a kind of dance, a ritual movement of touch in and through our internal and external landscape. Our connectedness to anything even our lover is a part of this dance. Perhaps that’s why many of the longest lasting societies centred their cultural life around it.


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