industry insi-Der: matthew stone
In the third of our new series of Industry Insi-Der interviews, artist and shaman Matthew Stone tells us about his South London squatting days and gives some great advice for young creatives.
Photography Matthew Stone, Styling Matthew Josephs
In i-D's 2007 Art and Commerce Issue, we described Matthew Stone as "a devious Pied Piper calling forth all miscreants, creatives, sinners, spiritual, damned and divine to gather round, under his black velvet cloak and dance to the beat called !WOWOW!" As an artist and shaman, that is what he's continued to do. As Camberwell students, Stone and BEAT magazine founder Hanna Hanra dreamt up art collective !WOWOW! in the back room of the Joiners Arms in South London. Together with fellow members including Gareth Pugh, performance artist Millie Brown and artist Adham Faramawy, the group took over four floors of an abandoned co-op, turning it into a rent-free space to house studios, guerrilla exhibitions and notorious warehouse parties. Stone graduated from Camberwell with a first in Painting in 2004, was a resident DJ at the legendary nightclub BoomBox and is now a photographer, sculptor, performance artist, curator, writer, cultural provocateur and pioneer for optimism. As well as putting Twigs (now known as FKA Twigs) on i-D's cover back in 2012 and writing a manifesto called Everything is Possible & Love Changes Everything to go with it, Stone has also photographed the vogue dancers of New York's queer ballroom scene, Escuelita, Boychild, and most recently, the Hood By Air crew for i-D.
When and how did you start your career in fine art?
I don't really see a formal beginning to my career. I come from a creative family. My dad studied Fine Art at St Martin's but wanted to make socially embedded work instead of engaging with the art world, so he started a project working with inner-city kids to design their own play structures. We would do creative projects on the weekends when I was a kid. When I was 16, I started the first online commercial art gallery and attracted £120k venture capital, but I gave it up to go to art school. I rejected ever really making money from my work for years and squatted to survive. My first solo exhibition was in 2007 in London. I had sold work from my degree show, but it was then that I really entered into the art world in a more structured sense.
What was your big break?
It's hard to pinpoint one success story. The period of my life that has influenced my work the most was my time squatting in Peckham and being a part of the South London art collective !WOWOW!. I helped to lead a series of exhibitions, parties, artist studios and residencies. All my work and thinking stems from this time.
What piece of art, exhibition or artist has inspired you most over the years and why?
When I was squatting, I had been reading a lot about the German post-war artist Joseph Beuys. He had proposed a model for thinking about and making art that was called Social Sculpture. It didn't exist as an object, but as collaborative action. I created !WOWOW! with this in mind. I wanted to show that a network of people or that a cultural movement could be an artwork in itself.
What's the best thing about working in the art world?
In certain corners of the art world, the idea that an artist's uncompromised vision should be presented as an uncorrupted force still exists. This utopian view of creativity is still important.
What's the worst?
The worst thing about the art world is its lack of diversity. Some people think that complaining about this is just a politically correct stance. But by only preserving and celebrating the stories of a small group of people you are causing great damage to culture at large.
What's your proudest achievement to date?
Looking back at my work is difficult. I like the paintings that are in my head and that I am yet to make most of all.
If you could collaborate with anyone, past or present, who would you collaborate with and what would you collaborate on?
I would have loved to make music videos for Michael Jackson.
What three rules do you live by?
1. Tell the truth.
2. Test your beliefs.
3. Apply healthy levels of self-doubt and absolute god-like confidence at exactly the right moments.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I think I would make a good preacher.
What advice would you give young artists hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Stay active. Doing is a form of thinking. Do not merely learn from your mistakes, they might be the only original ideas you have.
Text Felicity Kinsella