In 'Conversations with Matthew, Part 1' we were introduced to early influences and how having creative parents provided a supportive atmosphere for Matthew's innate feel for colour, form and design. In this instalment we see how early interests can slowly coalesce into a cohesive lifelong direction.
- Interview by Garret S. / DMS
You mentioned design, but when did you start getting into music?
I have a sister who is eight years older than I am and when I was little I had the good fortune to be exposed in real time to The Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, Simon and Garfunkel and others who were creating great music. I can still recall the first time hearing, 'Get Off My Cloud' and Rubber Soul by The Beatles.
The Beatles Canadian album, 'Twist and Shout (ca. 1964)
Aside from that, my mother was a childhood performer in local vaudeville-type productions at the Walkerville Theatre in Windsor. She was known as ‘Little Babe Nantais’. This would have been way back in the ’30’s!
However, this rather unique experience was not something that factored into family life. By the time I came onto the scene I guess she just considered all that to be ancient history.
My father, for all his fine qualities, was quite possibly the most non-musical human being who ever lived. He seemed to almost regard music as an annoyance, so its presence in our household was really quite minimal and playing it was out of the question.
Dad's seeming aversion to music can be summed up in an incident that involved Stevie Wonder, of all people. Stevie rented an apartment one flight below us, I believe for a member of his family, and every year he'd come by a couple times for a visit. We could hear him playing the piano on these occasions. And there was dad, banging on the floor with a broom. Damn neighbours!
As a 12 year old I thought this had to be the single most un-cool thing anyone could ever possibly do. To this day I think 'Dave Giffin's Broom' should be featured in the Motown Museum, beautifully presented in a plexiglass box with a spotlight.
Regency Square, Lafayette Park, Detroit
So, at what point did you decide to actually start playing music?
I didn’t get into playing music until I was in my 20s, after I moved to New York. I love to write, so I bought a guitar because I wanted to write songs. I started by writing country songs. Over time I became somewhat proficient and at this point, after decades of playing, I’m possibly not half bad.
It took a long time for me to consider myself a ‘musician’ in any respect, but at this point I’ve written and recorded well over a hundred songs and done enough on a professional level that it would actually be inaccurate to say that I’m NOT 'a musician’.
At what point did you decide that art would become your main focus? Were you doing it in high school? Taking classes?
I never took art in high school. It was one of those things that had always been such a part of my landscape that I didn’t really think about it much. I just incorporated it into whatever else I was into at the time.
I was one of those kids that did not fit in at all with my peers and my middle and high school experience was, quite honestly, miserable. There was just not a lot of structure to my life at this time. I relocated from Detroit to Belle River, Ontario, less than 20 miles away, but seemingly in an entirely different universe.
Belle River, Ontario
I was probably about 18 when I started doing artwork in a conscious, applied way. It revealed itself to be just about the only thing that made life understandable. I put together a portfolio of designs and drawings and was accepted into the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, which I attended for one semester back in 1978.
Art school was an enlightening experience in some ways, and sometimes in ways that were unexpected. I had a couple of really good teachers. I was a little thrown, however, seeing the graduating class exhibit in which much of the work seemed eerily similar to that done by the instructors.
I may have been young and inexperienced but I knew I was not interested in ‘working in the style of’ anyone. I didn’t yet know precisely what I wanted, but I could feel something inside me that I just had to explore and I did not want to have to work around the demands of following someone else for four years only to produce things that didn’t really ring true.
So I left school to find out what that was.
'You've Got a Lot of Nerve' (sketch, 1978)
On my own I started work on a first series of paintings and drawings and spending a lot of time reading art history and interviews with artists whom I admired. I was really inspired by artists like Paul Klee, Lawren Harris, Adolf Wolffli, and Alfred Pellan, and many others; masterful visionary artists of all types that seemed to have an extraordinary freedom of imagination, who left nothing unresolved or half completed.
Over the next year or two, I found a direction and a language that was mine. Overall I'd say this was a time of self discovery, when the various bits and pieces of myself that had been somewhat scattered recombined in a way that felt both familiar and brand new.
Matthew Giffin, 'Inner Peek #2', 31" x 34" coloured pencil, graphite on paper (1981)
Part of this awakening was an transcendent experience I had when I was 19, in which I entered a realm in which I was seemingly everywhere at once and could see everything from every possible angle, where all information was available and instantly accessible.
It is impossible to describe the experience in words, but at this point there are countless books written by people who have had the same or similar experiences through meditation or near - death experiences. Implicit was the realization that consciousness itself is the only reality and that all manifestations are creative in nature and essentially based on unconditional love.
This became a foundational experience for me, and it allowed me to see very clearly the direction I had been, until then, unconsciously searching for. It was a lot to process but it was clear to me that the only way to process it would be, for better or worse, through creative activity.
Next up in 'Conversations with Matthew': New York City.