Wednesday, 1 July 2009

3.1 / Taking over the world / Hank and Matlok

What: A design, art and illustration duo
Where: Copenhagen, Denmark and Melbourne, Australia

Who are these dudes…
Hank: Matlok was this tall, weird looking skateboard dude with a red flat-top haircut and some fruity t-shirt that was just impossible to miss – a really funny, smart guy who was great to exchange weird thoughts and ideas with.

Matlok: We met on pretty much our first day in Melbourne in the reception area of RMIT University's School of Architecture and Design. Hank had just moved over from Norway and I'd moved over from Perth. We were both trying to work out where we needed to sign up and confirm that we were in fact enrolled.

Hank was the year below me but we'd bump into each from time to time, around school and at parties. There was a strong community of Scandinavian students, for some reason, and they all hung out. So, I started hanging out and going to parties with them, not knowing anyone else. And, through that, Hank and I became closer friends. We didn't really become that close until after university actually. We were both quite into screenprinting and always talked about collaborating but never did. Then one day, Hank said he was keen to go check out some sewers with me and while we were in the drains we started painting things on the walls. It was very spontaneous, whatever we felt at the time. It was always lots of fun and involved a few beers. Then I remember I told Hank we should do some work on paper together. I gave him some stuff I'd worked on but we never really made any progress until a month or so later when Hank broke up with his girlfriend who he was living with at the time.


I remember Hank rocked up to my apartment with a duffle bag full of clothes and half a slab (half a case) of beer and said, ‘Can I stay a while?’. From there we spent many nights around my kitchen table drinking beer, listening to rap music and drawing.

At the same time, in the daytime, I was working with a guy who ran a store called robio in his spare time with his two sisters and he'd mentioned they were thinking of putting on a few exhibitions. So, one day Hank and I walked in to robio with some of our drawings and showed him what we'd been working on and pretty much told him we'd be exhibiting these drawings at his store in a couple months time. He and his sisters were super laid back and let us do it. Our first show was at their store. At first, we couldn't believe people were actually buying our stuff. We owe a lot to that family for just being so cool and giving us a space to exhibit.

Why they thought it'd work…
M: We didn't think it might work. It just happened. I suppose at certain times we questioned whether it was worthwhile, but we were having fun and we both felt it was so refreshing especially considering we had day jobs designing stuff we mostly didn’t like. It was nice to come home and have no rules. I could draw whatever I wanted and he'd draw a monkey in a bikini or something right over the top. Although sometimes we'd get annoyed at each other for doing those things, nothing was too precious.

H: I remember working for some show and we got a bit drunk and I started going on like 'it's not looking too bad, man. I kinda like it!' and Matlok's just 'yeah, mate it's great but maybe we should stop sucking each others' cocks, hey?' It's fun and unpretentious. Is it working? I dunno. On a personal level it is. If the fun-o-meter is saying it's on, it's working for me.

Their makeshift studio space…
M: Like I said for that first show we were working in my apartment. It would get so claustrophobic in there. I remember we'd always be hanging out down the street or going to play basketball at the flats or going to the bottle shop or pretty much any excuse to leave that fucking flat.


Our next show we mostly worked in Hank’s garage (when he moved out of my place) because we were both so sick of working at my apartment. And it was limiting because we couldn’t mess it up too much. Definitely couldn’t spill a bucket of paint in there. So, it was great to have a garage to work in. It would get pretty cold on those nights but it was such fun. I'd ride up after work and often eat a sandwich for dinner as Hank was on his way home and we'd paint from about 6pm til midnight. Then I'd ride home in the cold.


H: No studios. Very much like a garage rock band practising in some garage on stolen equipment.

Getting on…
M: We haven't grown much to be honest in terms of capital or studio space, but our instinct and understanding for each other’s work has grown tremendously. We both can just hit each other’s work and know when enough is enough. We’ve taken on more commercial projects and had great fun with them but in the future we'll be pushing to spend more time on our gallery work.

H: I think we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses better and work better together than apart. Together the stuff we do is funny and full of humour. Apart, we tend to do sadness and despair. I think it's a like a love affair where we feed on each other’s stupid thoughts.

In the beginning…
H: I came to Melbourne to study design and to complete the course I started in Oslo.

M: We both studied graphic design. I started at a university in Perth. I remember going back to Perth after my semester in Melbourne and feeling so far removed from anywhere I wanted to be. I found it very frustrating. As soon as I finished I knew I could either work there in a job I didn't care about or move to the east coast, where there was more ‘hope’, and struggle to get work.

First jobs…
H: I got a design job in an Aussie design studio (Baseline) after finishing university and worked there for three years full-time while kicking on as Hank after work with Matlok. I felt like Batman or something.

M: Oh man, my first job was at this little studio with this lady. I was struggling so hard to get any job so I took it on part-time. It was a pretty weird vibe. I was doing production work for calendars of girls in bikinis and dudes in firemen suits. It was quite weird looking back on it. I didn’t last long there. The lady running it and myself were on totally different wavelengths and just didn't click. We never argued or anything, we just didn't understand each other. But I’m very thankful I got that job because I was this close to becoming a spruiker in the Bourke Street Mall (even had the interview and everything).

People they've worked with…
M: For the past four years I've spent my time working for Madman Entertainment working on film and DVD releases for the Australian market. It’s gone by so quickly. When I first started I told myself I'd stay there for two years max. But I've made so many good friends there I find it really difficult to leave. But it’s something I have to do soon. It’s gotten way too comfortable.

H: I just started my own business based in Copenhagen where I take on design work. Apart from that, I've done all kinds of weird things like being a kindergarten dude, tyre repair dude, bartender, café dude, house painter and dump station assistant and dude.

Learning new things…
M: Regarding 9-5 design work, I've learnt how to work quickly and sell ideas to clients and not to get too attached to your ideas/solutions. I've also developed my ping-pong skills dramatically.

H: I know how to hold on to a computer mouse for 10 hours straight, five days a week, sometimes six. The 21st century nerd ball-and-chain.
H: I'm from Sweden – pine trees, skiing, punk music, lakes, midnight sun, moose spotting and drinking.

M: I grew up in the suburbs of Perth, with my parents and my elder brother. I was a very ordinary kid, very enthusiastic but not particularly artistic, especially not in my teens. I only really started painting again when I was about 19. Looking back on it, my next door neighbours were a very artistic family and I would spend hours at their house everyday – hanging out watching them paint, playing with their ducks and watching them sculpt things out of timber.

Right now…
M: We're working on a correspondence project we’re doing through the mail. Also, I've started to do more three-dimensional works. I’ve really been enjoying working with timber lately, although I’m terrible at it. But, there’s something so emotional and raw about it. I've accepted I’m not one for neat edges and clean lines in most of my work. I really admire people who can make beautiful things but that’s not me, for now anyway. For a while, I tried to do that but I couldn't make it feel natural to me. Hank’s good at that and maybe that’s why we compliment each other.

H: I like turd polishing. Matlok just craps 'em!
People they'd like to work for…
M: Anyone who’s open-minded and has a worthwhile project... And lots of cash.

H: I want to be a full-time artist, doing what I want and then have people like it. I enjoy design work too though, especially typesetting and functional design solutions.

Nice things…
M: There's so much out there, I find it hard to start.

H: I see things all the time. Birch trees, patterns in nature, two shapes creating something new, even blogs. But mainly real life ‘triggers’. They’re always concepts and ideas, but they’re everywhere. Apart from that I go to the museums and check out fine art. Don't find much interesting stuff in things that are similar to what we do – it needs to be different and new, at least to me.

Not so smoothly…
M: We've been burnt by clients (and potential clients) when we were a bit inexperienced and naïve, but you learn. Now, it's so obvious when things won’t work. I’ve learnt when working for clients to spell out the terms you're working on and what is expected of both parties. Everyone has negative experiences, but when you’re desperate to get your foot in the door it’s much easier for people to push you around and waste your time and energy.
Admiration for…
M: So many… Robert Crumb, John Brack, Keith Haring, Brett Whiteley. There are countless legends.

Right now, I'm really enjoying the work of the Tough Alliance, Neil Young, AJ Fosik and Kool Keith. I know these are mostly songwriters, but I really like artists who can tell a story. I saw a great Melbournian artist Dan Moynihan's installation the other day. It was so funny, clever and unpretentious.

H: I always forget their names. I photograph stuff I see to remember. Or tear out pages and put them in a journal. Or bookmark them on the computer. But the world is full of talent, that's for sure. If anything, I'd like to point out Swedish children's book illustrators Inger Strandberg and her husband (I think) and the Moomin Trolls from Finland. And Paul Rand's illustrations. And all the old crew from MAD Magazine – Sergio Aragones was one of them. Awesome. I used to copy all my dad's MAD Magazines from the 60s and 70s. And the guys who did Tintin (Georges Remi) and Asterix (Albert Goscinny and René Uderzo). That shit's just off the hook – composition and colour perfect. And Lee Falk who did the Phantom. So many people.
M: A felt-tip pen, paper, lead pencils and spray paint. And beer helps for more fun times too. Oh, and timber!

For love or money…
M: My 9-5 job is very different. But commercial works we do as Hank and Matlok aren't all that different, I don't think. Perhaps a little more directed and focused but that’s because we're servicing someone’s wants or needs. I guess you get paid and are probably more likely to finish the project rather than dwell on shit forever and ever.

H: Yes, as a designer you work for someone else. You have a specific target market and everything really revolves around profit. Hank and Matlok is much purer. It's primal and direct. No need to apologise and everything is on our terms.
Inspiration daily…
M: Original thinkers and people who care about what is happening in the world and shape the world around them. People living life. Nearly everyday I see something that jumps out at me. I live near a particularly busy strip of Vietnamese restaurants, $2 stores, heroin dealers and their clients. If I’m ever stuck, I wander down to Saigon Bakery, grab a roll and just sit and see what’s going on. Everyday life is inspiring. The beautiful and the ugly.


H: You've got to look at things from all angles. Put something on its head and suddenly it's inspirational. But in general, I ride around and do new things to trigger inspiration. No internet, I rather go fishing.
Reading material…
H: Car stuck girls… Nah, just joking. But really… I mentioned MAD before. I’ve always liked that and in depth books about trivial things – they're fun. The library is a great place to get inspiration. Definitely not the design section at the cool bookstore but old weird things. Sport stats…


The 'wow' factor…
M: I’m not sure what the name of the artist was but I walked through NGV's permanent collection of works by indigenous artists on the weekend. The sculpture in that collection is amazing. And the other day I saw an amazing sign (above right) in the street.


H: I saw my first Rothko (he painted the simplest paintings but is considered amaaaazing). It was wicked. To make a purple square on a black background look so intriguing was ‘wow’ in a new way. Normally it's technical things like composition, colour schemes or just a skill level that I like to look at a bit longer so it was great to see that painting.
On the horizon…
M: I’m leaving Melbourne in a couple of weeks, with my girlfriend to visit some friends and travel around Europe for a few months. We’re doing a bit of a spaghetti trail but some places we hope to visit which I’m really excited about are Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic and Berlin then onto visit Hank and Jules in Copenhagen!

Then we’re going down to do some work in southern France for a few weeks before heading up to visit a bunch of mates in Oslo and going across to Edinburgh. Finally, we fly out of London in October. If anyone has advice of places to visit that we might overlook please email us (!

H: Hank and Matlok to unite soon for some action. Maybe a Europe vs Australia thing. Or we might just invade Poland together.

M: Hank and I have been working on a project we’re doing through the post. Posting each other works on paper. We’re hoping to exhibit them next year. I am also hoping to organise a small four person group show which will feature more three-dimensional sculptural work.

H: It's interesting working like that. Much slower of course but also good to keep the postman busy.

Dreaming of faraway places…
M: Africa.
H: Borneo sounds cool. Or the moon maybe. But only if I can get out and walk on it a bit.
Environmental influence…
M: Location is super important for my work, if I don’t have a space setup to work in I find it very hard to get anything done. I can look at every project Hank and I have worked on together and see how the location and working environment has shaped the outcome. At the moment, I'm quite lucky. I’ve moved into a house with my girlfriend, Katrina, and we’re lucky enough to have a spare room that looks out over some train tracks. I spend most of my spare time in there painting. It's a decent space with nice light. Hopefully when Hank gets back to Australia we'll look at working in a studio together.

H: I'm lucky too because my mistress Katrina just moved into a new house with her boyfriend and he's got a room full of paint that I use when he's at work. It's got some pretty nice natural light.

Academia vs experience…
H: When we were starting out in design and getting a job, education was very important. It provided me with a portfolio and taught me the basics. However, as our work slowly crosses over into the art world and with regards to painting, neither of us were formally trained. Some may say that this shows in our work but we paint as a release. I think inspiration is the most important thing. Education may show you where to look for that inspiration. I think it did that for me.

M: It’s important. But not essential. You need to know your shit. Whether you learn it through school and work or just work, it doesn't matter. You're not a designer just because you’ve got Photoshop on your computer.


M: I think depending how open you are, you can learn anywhere. I was introduced to a lot of great people, ideas and schools of thought through my education but just as many when I was working in the various jobs (postal work, roof carpentry, plumbing) I did to help support myself while studying. I think education is important as it teaches you how to think for yourself but some people don't need that.

H: Both. I was drawing type by hand for a whole year at school. At work I can do a logotype in three hours max. You get the idea. You got to know the rules to break them.

Feeling jealous…
M: All the time, especially now with the internet. But just look in any library too and there are so many ridiculously clever and talented people in the world.

H: I just admire them. No jealousy.

Relaxing, work and play…
M: Painting and working on art for myself is how I relax. I do it as a release and I enjoy it. It doesn’t feel like work. That and riding around and drinking beer. Hanging out with my girlfriend. Maybe eating a nice meal together, which is actually something I never did before I met her. I used to eat the weirdest shit just because it was fast and required no effort. Everything in the microwave. It was not unusual for me to eat a bag of carrots, some prawn crackers and have a beer for dinner then. Seriously. I’m stoked we eat well now.


H: I like being in nature. I ride my bike and just look at things. Playing ping-pong, eating brunch, having sex and categorising my record collection is relaxing.

The final word…
M: Do your own thing and have fun doing it.

Thanks to everyone who's supported us and bought our art. There are a lot of things on the horizon and I'm very excited about the future. Thanks to you guys for organising Goodness Greatness. I think it’s a great thing you’re doing. And g'day to all our mates worldwide.

H: Yes, rise up against the growing racism in the EU. Ride a bicycle. Think for yourself. And hopefully read something more important next week. Not the ramblings from two idiots like us.


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