HAVE A CUP OF JOE – Traditional Art Gets Contemporary
Not every artist is a starving artist. Far from it.
In fact, many artists find ways to combine their creative powers with entrepreneurial skill sets and opportunities to make their artwork profitable. Case in point: meet Matthew Giffin, an entrepreneur, visual artist, musician, and multimedia storyteller.
He was born with the “platinum mobility card” that locals in this area know as dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship.
Having spent his early years equally on both sides of the border, Giffin recalls: “I grew up embodying the contrasts that exist between inner city Detroit and Belle River, Ontario — two entirely different worlds within a 20 mile radius. These contrasts were foundational and continue to inform my work to this day.”
He attended the prestigious College for Creative Studies in Detroit. His professional art career began when he was 23 and had moved to New York City, where he created a series of abstract drawings that formed his first solo exhibition one year later at Shiffman Galleries on West 71st. Street in Manhattan.
Into the early 1990s he was a regular exhibitor in SoHo and the East Village while also presenting at Helio Gallery in New York. Years later he would also show at 360 Gallery in Toronto, as well as at Toronto’s Helio Gallery, where he is currently represented. His most recent exhibit was in October 2019.
Giffin, who returned to live in southwestern Ontario just prior to the pandemic, says: “Art has always been central to my life; even as a very small child, the juxtapositions of certain shapes and colours seemed to hint at something powerful and mysterious. My life and work have been about discovering and exploring that power and mystery and staying true to that initial fascination has led to some amazing situations and opportunities.”
His career continued to evolve in the 1990s and resulting from his early successes he widened his opportunities through commissioning his art. “Illustration Commissioning” art is the process of hiring an artist to create an artwork, based on the client’s request, preference, and needs. Some of his notable clients included Oxford University Press, Los Angeles Times, Random House, The Globe and Mail and later, in 1994 he began work as a designer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Up to this point in his life as an artist, Giffin produced most of his art “at will,” when he was moved or inspired. Transitioning to this next step of “Illustration Commissioning” was not without its challenges, difficulties and eventual benefits as he describes: “Illustration forces you to work within the precepts that are present in an article or a book. At first it was a difficult to work within these limitations, but soon I discovered how certain limitations can bring about a different kind of freedom. As an artist it presented an opportunity to come up with visual ideas that otherwise would not have occurred to me.”
He then discovered the new possibilities of creative expression with the computer in the digital world.
“It’s hard to believe that not so long-ago digital art did not exist,” he comments. “In 1992 I bought an Apple Quadra 650 and began experimenting with Illustrator and Photoshop. This was a game changer, opening up yet another universe of new possibilities to explore.”
By the time of the new millennium, Giffin had evolved from gallery artist to illustrator, and explorer of the new digital realm.
Then, his life journey would take another interesting twist. Due to the 2005 CBC labour dispute/lockout, he created his own personal website to market himself, which in turn led him to being commissioned to serve as art director/designer for several productions back in New York City. One even included working with Sir Paul McCartney for his Space Within Us project ) in 2006!
“In my view, Sir Paul is a creative force of historical significance and anything that represents him should not suggest anything less than ‘Art’,” states Giffin. “This was the basis on which I was commissioned for this project. It was an amazing experience.”
In 2007 Giffin, and his life partner Cheryl Thornton (storyteller, educator, and former off-Broadway performer), founded a Toronto-based company Storyvalues, Inc.
Since then, over one million users in Canada, Australia and China have benefitted from their curriculum-supportive live and online programs, suitable for schools, daycares, home schools and families.
From 2016 to 2018 he lived in Beijing to from a joint venture, KapowKidz.
Finally, (for now) Thornton and Giffin have joined forces with Windsor’s Samantha Walker and The Art Lab. Together they produce The StoryArt Box of Imagination, a monthly subscription-based service that features a classic world folktale, expertly presented on video by storyteller Thornton (Giffin providing guitar and vocals).
Stories are interactive, engaging and provide the context for creative art activities that a child (aged three to nine) will anticipate receiving. Every month subscribers receive art supplies and directions for projects that relate to the featured story. These projects are designed to strengthen a child’s creativity and the resulting art can be used as props to retell the stories, building literacy skills in the process.
To follow Giffin’s ever-evolving artistic journey and an extensive library of his artwork, check out his personal website.