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Artists discuss new hybrid gallery exhibit, speak about creative process

| Friday, February 19, 2021

Author Philip Matthews and photographer David Johnson hosted a virtual discussion for the Saint Mary’s community to showcase their new collaborative exhibition “Wig Heavier Than a Boot” in the Moreau Center Art Galleries.

During the panel moderated by associate professor of art Ian Weaver, Johnson and Matthews shared their experiences about working on the project. 

Johnson first met Matthews in August of 2014 at FLOAT, an artist workshop featuring writers, artists, activists and cultural workers, and led by the group Radical Intention. 

“During this workshop … we would spend time doing activities that would allow for listening techniques and consensus building practices in group working,” Johnson said. 

The workshop included a variety of activities for the artists, Johnson said. 

“We would wake up in the morning and share our dreams [and] we would do warm up activities and group yoga sessions to come together,” he said.

Johnson and Matthews decided to collaboratively work on “Wig Heavier Than a Boot” during the workshop.

“One of our activities that we would go through during FLOAT was around a campfire sharing our practices,” Johnson said. “One night Philip was discussing his new creative poetry practice which involved this persona, a drag character named Petal. As Phil was explaining how he developed this new strategy for writing a new poem, I was really intrigued and interested in what it would be to work with an author who is developing this character to find a new way of working and a new way of writing. It was at this fire that I had asked Philip if he was interested in working with another photographer.”

At the time, Matthews said he was struggling to develop the specific details of Petal’s persona, and noted his enthusiasm in finding a partner to explore the character. 

“When David asked if I would be interested in a collaboration I was like, ‘Of course,’” Matthews said. “‘You know, right place, right time, right people — you’re exactly the person that I need to collaborate with in order to answer this question for myself.’” 

Johnson emphasized the importance of collaboration and building his relationship with Matthews. 

“Philip and I lived in the same neighborhood and for six to seven months,” he said. “We would have brunch together just to talk about what this budget could be and what it would mean.” 

After creating their first collaborative piece of work, the two artists came to a conclusion about the project. 

“After making this specific photograph, we realized that this project called for a much more introspective look,” Johnson said. “That it was not so much about Petal presiding over a party atmosphere but more of understanding who Philip was, who Petal was and who I as a photographer was.” 

Matthews shared one of his favorite pieces from the exhibit, an image from the first time that Petal was photographed. 

“I love this photograph because it really speaks to this idea of two speakers or two identities in one body,” Matthews said. “This idea of the shadow being refracted off of my physical body hiding behind the sheet and it also plays to this idea of which one of us is about to step forward.”  

In total, the project brings together 26 of Matthews’s poems and 34 of Johnson’s photographs. All of the pieces explore the relationships between the speaker Matthews, the persona Petal and the invited observer Johnson. 

“I think that the photographs provide one record and the poems provide another and it’s not like one is more important than the other,” Matthews said. “They are equal.”

The exhibit will be open for viewing until March 11.

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