Into Urban Mundane: Q&A with Matthew Venables and Paul Gilsenan


We always appreciate a good art exhibition, and one that depicts the physical and imaginary urban space around us is just fantastic. We chat to photographer and Macquarie graduate Matthew Venables and painter Paul Gilsenan about their upcoming exhibition ‘Urbanal/Schmurbanal’ at the multi-arts hub 107 Projects in Redfern.

INTERVIEW Megan Smith & Nathan Li

What does the title of the exhibition mean?

Matthew (M): Well, it’s lighthearted. I don’t know what it means as such, I mean some of these works are urban art and some of them are more schmurban art.

Pauly (P): There’s a quick answer to that: Matt was basically putting this exhibition together and it was, you know, shots of the urbanal, it’s how he described it to me… what were you going to call your show originally?

M: The urban owl.

P: The urban owl, or something like that. And then he needed to add me into the show… well he didn’t need to…

M: Wanted to…

P: [So he] asked me to join him, so I provide the schmurbanal. I guess my take is a little less literal than the camera, even though in this show sometimes it’s hard to tell if Matt’s shots are really literal or if it’s made up or messed around with. But they’re not, they’re real shots.

M: And then there’s on average a debate between the two of us on the relative merits of photography and of painting and drawing and those types of things. Hence the line between urbanal and schmurbanal.

What is ‘schmurbanal’?

P: Actually it’s just that old thing, that old saying that I guess a lot of people are familiar with and a few people aren’t. It’s like work/schmork or good morning/schood morning. It’s just a sarcastic…

M: Just a stupid… I recently found out, after we titled it, that the original schmick came from monty python apparently… which I’m not surprised by, it’s just a light hearted take really.

Do you find that there’s an emotional difference in the landscapes in the work?

M: Actually I’d say more connection than difference, to be honest. Certainly Paul’s got some stuff that’s perhaps more fantastic, but then I’ve often chosen to photograph those things in the way that makes them towards the fantastic, for lack of a better word. So I would say there’s more of a connection than a difference.

P: Yeah, I think of them, I guess pretty similar in a way – our views pretty similar. We’re pretty good friends and we’ve worked together for a while. It’s just that the mediums that we’ve used, and I guess the fact that my places are out of my head and Matt’s are real. But aside from that, I’d like to think that half the photos could be jammed in my head somewhere as well and probably be in the same realms as the cities that I make.

M: We often think pretty similarly about stuff in the city, feelings, whatever and magic. Obviously we have a reasonably strong colour connection.

What’s the creative process for you both?

M: (To Paul) Don’t you have to spiritually sit down and [with] your blindfold and don’t you just paint without actually thinking?

P: I am probably trying to do – recreate a moment, which is described as the dumb painter, when you dumb yourself down to your surroundings and just let the painting or drawing happen. A lot of these works, in this show, basically the way that I practise or the stuff I do for light relief as opposed to the works that I usually exhibit. Matt has a camera that takes 100 shot a second and he can wave it around blindly and just pick one out.

M: I usually just get you to choose them…

P: I like to have, and I like these things in general and I tend to gravitate towards them. I guess I didn’t really think about how to response, just sort of make a picture usually and then as I get a few of them together maybe I’ll think about how other could group together that to build on the series.

What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?

M: I don’t know, maybe something that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

P: I’d like to think that some of the people that live in this city could understand where we came from and sometimes it’s a bit of a city that you have to battle with a bit, a lot of friends leave the city and say that they couldn’t handle Sydney anymore. But ah, it’s worth going through the gruelling pain of this city sometimes, it’s a beautiful place. I’d like to think that some people will feel the same way we do.

Tell us about 107 Projects.

M: It’s a multi-arts hub and a community place, obviously. We’ve all come up from artists’ friends spaces that we relied on for a lot of years. I guess the idea is… one of the core ideas would be that a lot of these creative things, a lot of these arts are actually intermeshed and work a lot nicer when you have them in the same place and people enjoy them like that and that it’s crazy to visit an opera place and a painting place and a this place and a that place. And that these things are becoming more intermeshed anyway. It’s also a community place so we have lots of workshops and studios. We like to support people to be able to do their thing, to graduate towards something, to make a living from it or practice from it or educate people by running their workshop. And it’s run by largely by volunteers, we have a grant from the council for this particular building and all the rest of it, whatever salaries and monies comes from what we do with the sale of ticket prices or fundraising.

What do you hope to contribute to Sydney’s art scene? 

M: Well we hope to fill some of those gaps, to provide a warm, welcoming place to cross sections of community, to mingle these things together so that people feel welcome, and can come and enjoy a bit of this and a bit of that. To support people through their emerging years, we hope to deliver them with good principles.

Urbanal/Schmurbanal opens on Thursday 1 August. The exhibition continues till Sunday 11 August (open Thursday to Sunday 1-6pm) at 107 Projects (107 Redfern Street, Redfern).