Vaughan declares artistic freedom

By Rhys Williams

Artist Mat Vaughan exuded artistic freedom in his painting “I declare a holiday” which took out the Fed Art Prize 2019.

The 43-year old has spent the last decade studying arduously at Melbourne’s RMIT and Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) where he has followed stringent rules and methods in his work, but ‘I declare a holiday’ is Mat doing just as the title says – relinquishing some of the confines that you are taught within the academic medium.

“My practice investigates wandering and exploring, getting lost and making mistakes, while finding beauty and narrative in all of this,” he said.

“I declare a holiday” was created with the intention of freeing myself from the rules and expectations instilled in me as an artist and as a person. I literally declared a holiday from these ties and simply enjoyed the process of painting and mark making. By doing this I was able to focus and have fun with the way the vibrant coloured oil paint slipped across the surface, twisting and merging lines and fields of colour into one another.

“This painting is about process and discovery. It celebrates the materials by declaring that it is paint on panels; it is not trying to be anything else but that. 

“I declare a holiday” was a joyous moment of painting for me as an artist and I hope viewers are able to read the joy in the marks that I had when I was making them.”

Mat made the leap of faith into the world of a fulltime artist five years ago and said he “hasn’t looked back since.”

As part of that leap, he left his studio in Collingwood two years ago and moved to Wandiligong with his wife where he now works out of a hay shed.

Mat said that tranquillity of the country side has influenced more freedom and exploration in his art.

“In Melbourne I was quite process oriented and controlled. But now there is that freedom to explore more and at times I can be working on multiple different things.

“The country has certainly helped me find myself more.”

This is the Wandiligong artist’s first art prize outside of university, which he felt compelled to enter due to the pedigree of the judges who decided the prize.

The Fed Art Prize was judged by visual artists Alison Percy and Ara Dolatian as well as MAMA Curatorial Officer Sophie Holvast.

The judges statement regarding the winner said: “Mat Vaughan’s painting I need a holiday displays a distinctly confident command of the medium. The inventiveness of the composition, vibrant mark-making and adept use of colour evokes an alluring energy, and the work presents an exciting level of sophistication that is highly resolved. It is indicative of a rigorous process driven by an exploration of formal painting concerns. Vaughan exemplifies a mature artist with dedication to their practice, whose work will prove to be a nationally regarded asset within the distinguished Federation Collection for years to come.”

Alison has worked for 36 years as a designer, interior design consultant and calligrapher and also teaches painting and life drawing at MAMA. In October 2018 she started focusing solely on her visual arts practice which has opened the door to residencies, awards plus ongoing exhibitions, private sales and commissions. 

Ara has combined his Fine Art degree with a Master in Social Science Environment and Planning, to explore the relationships between cultural landscapes and the natural ecosystem within his work. Ara has exhibited nationally and internationally and has been involved with a large number of collaborations and public art projects.

Along with her role as Curatorial Officer Public Programs at MAMA, Sophie’s previous roles include: Curator at Arts Space Wodonga; Manager, Public Programs and Communications at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) in Sydney; and Coordinator, Client Services at the Moving Picture Company (MPC), London. 

Other Fed Art Prize winners included:

Two-Dimensional Award – Beth Peters with her work ‘Blue girl, I couldn’t count your shades.’

Three-Dimensional Award – Debbie Wood with her work ‘Family.’

Young Artist Award – Bethany Thornber for her ‘No free parking’ piece.

Youth Artist Award – Sommers Hogan with her work ‘Untitled.’