Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Matthew Giffin
Meet Matthew. Artist, musician, designer, songwriter, creator, entrepreneur. I first heard of Matthew when a fellow ‘Villain who’d been following my photo project had messaged me that there was an artist who was a member the I Am A Leslievillian page that I should check out. And I did. I remember messaging Matthew and letting him know I was wowed by his artwork. We had a nice virtual chat and then became FB friends. We just met after nearly a year. Facebook is funny like that. I felt I kind of knew him.
Born in Windsor, Matthew actually grew up in Detroit. With an American dad and Canadian mom they border hopped a lot and settled in Detroit in 1967. His mom is an artist and dad a creative director/writer, so the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. ‘I grew up wanting to be an artist and writer, and that’s pretty much how it turned out!’ Essentially self-taught, he credits Paul Klee, Picasso and Inuit artists as influences in his work. Matthew left Detroit at 23 and moved to New York City. His first exhibit was at an art walk (similar to the annual Riverside Art Walk we have every summer) and he was gainfully employed after most of his pieces sold, many picked up by gallery owners who offered him shows. He continued exhibiting his art in the East Village in the 80s, ‘which was pretty cool as it was the centre of the art world then’.
By the age of 30, he was a father of 2 and the economic disaster of the early ’90s saw the East Village dying in terms of galleries. So, he hoofed around NYC dropping off his artwork and soon began working as an illustrator for a number of publications including the Village Voice, The Atlantic Monthly, Globe & Mail and the L.A. Times Book Review. He and his family moved to Toronto in 1994 where his reputation preceded him. Getting work in Toronto brought local notoriety for Matthew and one of his illustrations became a wall-sized commission which took over 6 weeks and 340 hours (Woman & Baby below) to complete. Shortly after, he was offered a job at the CBC as a designer and in the 12 years he was there moved up to Senior Art Director, working mostly on The National.
Matthew’s coolest gig was working for Paul McCartney. At a concert one night he saw a promo video on the Jumbotron for an upcoming McCartney concert and thought ‘Hmmm, that’s a cool montage video, I wonder who did that?’ It pays to find out. Once he contacted the producer and introduced himself, thought ‘Wouldn’t it be outrageous if I could work with him?’ And so it was. He worked for McCartney as his Art Director for The Space Within Us DVD and did promo work the album Memory Almost Full. Cool indeed.
Matthew’s other love, songwriting and music, started later in life. ‘I love words and I wanted to write songs, so when I was 24 I bought a guitar, learned to play & started writing. I’ve written a couple hundred songs; rock, blues, folk and some instrumental stuff as well. I’ve made videos for a number of them. It’s not that different than visual art; in both cases, it’s about relationships, balance and composition to express ideas. In art, the relationships are between colour and shape; with music it’s between sounds and words’.
Matthew’s marriage ended in ’97 and a few years later he was reunited with an old friend he met when his and her boys were only 9 months old. They remained great friends over the years and eventually teamed up as life/work partners whose kids are still best friends, 29 years later. Cheryl, a storyteller (mostly folk, based in modern heroism/honesty/values motifs) & Matthew worked together and created Story Values, combining her talents with stories, his with graphic and art design. They developed the programme as a kind of ‘Train the Trainer’ idea hoping to get their project into schools. In 2007, they sold the licence to the TDSB and were away. In 2011, they upgraded Story Values to a more interactive programme which included literacy, geography, maps and it proved to increase kids’s scores in school. Alas, due to budget cuts the programme was scrapped in 2012, but that didn’t stop them. They approached their advisor at MaRS and were hooked up with a research and technical student from China who worked with the China Canada Angel Alliance. Last year they were one of 10 companies chosen to go to Beijing and promote their work. They’ve since received a $1M investment and established a brand there. Now the sky’s the limit. ‘We’re saving the world through storytelling,’ grins Matthew. ‘Positivity creates empathy which creates equality. I can’t think of a better way or time in our society for this to flourish’.
To see more of Matthew’s work go to www.matthewgiffin.com.