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Johnny Dewe Matthews: He who taught me the Art of Life

Johnny and I met at the entrance of Primrose Hill.

« Ah! » he exclaimed, « At last! Someone drawing… everybody takes pictures these days! »

To which I retorted, « I’m not drawing, I’m writing a poem. Shall I read it to you? »

His cheerful smile was an answer. I recited…

« Meet me at hill top, with Mister Cloud we’ll sit and stop. Compose sorrow’s goodbye lullaby, for all the birds who live and die ».

The rest of our interaction resembled an exuberant battle of wits, which culminated with Johnny’s proposition to show me his atelier niched in the corner of Grafton Street. Little did I know I had just met he whom I had been waiting for at hill top all along, Johnny Dewe Matthews.

Johnny’s practice of draughtsmanship began in the late 1960s as the young creative joined Architecture school, an experience which he remembers as « difficult and excruciatingly boring » yet nonetheless one which enabled the artist’s training of the ‘eye’, and the development of what eventually became a unique ability to grasp light, space, motion and color. Perceptual abilities which Matthews transferred to a passion he found whilst living in New York- photography- prompted by an irresistible wish to partake in the celebratory spectacle of the 1970s artistic and cultural scenes. From Freddy Mercury to David Hockney, none could capture the soul behind the mask quite like Johnny. A few extraordinary adventures, encounters, romances and explorations later, Johnny was eventually called to his soul’s harbor: painting. Where ever since, Matthews has been creating a visual world which reads like a colorful extravaganza of abstract and figurative works exploring the dynamic interplay between beings, places, emotions and most of all… souls. The result? A waltzing, poignant ode to life.

Johnny’s atelier is a vast oasis of light overlooking the verdant fauna and flora of Primrose Hill Park, a space which theatrically stages the delicate fluctuations of the day’s sun, whose presence is immediately felt upon entrance, like that of a loving guardian. An extraordinary library extends upon the atelier’s right wing, amongst which one can find poems of Apollinaire, Neruda’s prose, Mystical tales, Indian textile catalogues, sketches of Henri Matisse… A collection which captures Johnny’s unquenchable curiosity and immense love of the world. Most importantly a myriad of hues, shapes, forms, faces, bodies, flying and dancing up above in an explosive color ballet. Johnny's abstract works are fragments of his flamboyant soul; lilac zigzags, green twirls, vermillion waves… all carefully assembled by the artist in an aspiration to grasp something beyond ... Or perhaps more so, to defend, protect it- like an undaunted soldier of Joy. The first time I witnessed the splendid sight of Johnny Dewe Matthew’s world, the words of art critic John Ruskin resonated in my mind « The purest and most thoughtful hearts are those which love color the most ».

This first interaction of ours closed with the reciprocal promise that Johnny and I would inspire one another. A few months have passed since, filled with - Monday life drawing classes, sitar listening sessions, phantasmagoric storytelling, guidance on matters of the heart, cross cultural poetic exchanges- and yes, I can safely say that Johnny inspires me each and every single day. The day he came to my apartment baring only a satin sachet of lavender cultivated and assembled by himself was one of them. The day he invited my friend and her mother to his drawing class was another, the day he saw I felt blue without me saying so- and invited me to spend the afternoon painting by him as he discussed the printing of his Brazilian sketches on the phone was another. At the door of his atelier, a note reads in bold « YOU MUST KEEP ON LOOKING ». Johnny Dewe Matthews is an artist who’s single quest is just that- to look- with the aspiration of finding, creating and revealing the world’s utmost beauty to others.

In teaching me to see beauty everywhere Johnny Dewe Matthews will always reign in my heart as a Master in the most special craft of all… The Art of Life.

Photography by Julius Thieroff

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