Matthew Higgs on Mathew Sawyer. (First Take)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Matthew Higgs on Mathew Sawyer. (First Take)


THE 2001 TURNER PRIZE WINNER; MARTIN CREED, once said he made art so that he might better communicate with other people, because, ultimately, he wanted to be loved. Creed's disarmingly honest rationale could equally apply to Mathew Sawyer, a recent graduate of London's Royal College of Art whose gentle and unassuming, if somewhat melancholy, works have recently been seen in group shows in London and San Francisco. Materially, it has to be said, Sawyer's art doesn't add up to much. Almost comically pathetic--often little more than a desultory image accompanied by a brief (and often poorly written) explanatory text--his pieces describe, for the most part, his tragicomic, typically unrequited attempts to make contact with or have his presence acknowledged by others.

An untitled work from 1999 saw Sawyer purchase from the same fruit stall in a South London market a single Granny Smith apple every day for over a month until finally one day the owner of the stall anticipated his request, saying, "One Granny, isn't it?" On being recognized and accepted within the "community" of the fruitmonger's regular clientele, Sawyer had accomplished his mission: He belonged. In It'll All Come Out in the Wash, 1999, Sawyer scribbled fragments of rock lyrics by such emotionally introverted acts as the Velvet Underground, Neil Young, and the Raincoats onto scraps of paper, which he then surreptitiously placed into the pockets or handbags of strangers he encountered in the street or on public transportation, with the vague hope that these messages--"Only love can break your heart"; "Sometimes I feel so happy"; and so on--might somehow resonate with their unwitting recipients.

A more recent work, Someone to Share My Life With, 2002, titled after a track on a Television Personalities album, evolved as Sawyer observed over a period of months his next-door neighbor's nightly ritual of leaving his shoes outside his apartment door. One evening Sawyer kidnapped the shoes, taking them into his own apartment, where he painted a beautifully rendered swallow on each worn sole. …

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