Gromit Unleashed – Interview with an artist

Aardman designer, illustrator (including one of Lionheart Magazine’s) and now… Official Gromit Decorator. Gemma Geldart finds out about Sarah Matthew’s exciting five foot project – about to hit Bristol

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‘The dog!’ barks Sarah Matthews. It’s why we’re sitting in my garden sipping gin and tonics on a rare sunny Bristol evening – yes! – and why I’m about to grill her in a way you don’t usually with your friends. But I love the chance to interview people I know: there’s something different about the way you listen and the way you get to know someone beyond the boundaries of pub banter, idle chatter in the park or workaday rants. So here we are, and really there’s only one place to start, you might say it’s the elephant in the room, but of course we’re talking about a dog. And a very particular dog at that…

Gromit Unleashed is about to descend on Bristol with 80 of these iconic five foot sculptures taking up residence in major landmarks all over the city next week. ‘I remember the gorillas in Bristol and the cows in Bath, and I just loved it.’ smiles Sarah, ‘It was quirky and a really nice thing for a city to do: showcasing the city as well as the designers’. Now come the dogs in aid of local children’s charity Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal and Sarah, who works as a designer at Aardman by day, is one of the chosen few who’s been selected to design and create a bespoke canine: ‘There was a competition for a certain amount to be made by ‘normal’ people’ she laughs, ‘A few other people in my department were submitting so I did was persuaded to do one too.’

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She entered design on a sheet of A4, ‘which was tricky because my work’s really intricate so I had to do my best to mock it up based on how it might look when I got this five foot thing!’ and an event was held at Aardman so people could come and select designs they wanted to sponsor. ‘Oh God,’ she cringes, ‘I was at work when that happened so I could hear them all – I had to just put my headphones in. But then I got called out and George Ferguson wanted to meet me.’ The Bristol mayor? ‘Yeah, Bristol Council sponsored mine, and it’s going to be at the…’ Wait – are we allowed to talk about this?

So far, it’s all been very hush hush, bar the odd peep at those by designers Cath Kidson and Paul Smith, and celebs such as Joanna Lumley (legend) and gasp, Zayn Malik of One Direction fame. With a host of famous names on board and a heap of Bristol institutions clamouring to get their paws on a Gromit, I don’t want to ruin the surprise but I’m insanely curious: Go on tell me about the Gromit, I beg. She’s such a tease.

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‘Well, it’s all Bristol areas I like. Gromit is a bit of a Bristol institution and I wanted to celebrate the places I really like, so it’s quite personal. There’s a lot of historical landmarks that could have gone on it, but – there’s a piece of graffiti from Stokes Croft that you won’t realise is a wall unless you’ve seen it and it’s just things like that that I remember from when I first came here. So yeah, it’s all about the Brizzle.’

Her love affair with Bristol started four years ago ‘I just thought it was the nicest place I’ve ever lived!’ While still studying graphic design at Portsmouth, she did work experience with Aardman, and by her own admission, pestered them into letting her go back once she’s graduated. ‘I stayed on contracts for ages as a freelancer, then a came up as a Junior designer and I’ve stayed there ever since’ She evidently loves her job: ‘The work is really great, as stressful as any job is, you can’t get that stressed when you’re working on kids things just because they’re so silly and fun. And I get the boat to work! I love the little boat to work…’

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It’s a good thing she loves her job so much because that’s where she spent a month and a half (‘when I wasn’t at work, every evening and every weekend it was just the dog!’) working on the Gromit. ‘It wouldn’t have got through my front door so there was no way it was going to my house – my cat would be all over that – so no way.’ There’s an image. So it arrived at Aardman and she ‘freaked out because I actually had to do it then!!’ She’s laughing but she evidently loved the process: ‘I had it in the reception area and that was actually really nice because I was there on my own a lot I could chat to the cleaners and the security guards and I needed that kind of connection. A lot of people had theirs in secret and will be having a grand reveal but a lot of people have seen mine go from really early pencil drawings and I guess it’s nice to be able to share that’.

So now it’s done and the Gromits are catching the train to Bristol as I type, ready for their grand unleashing on Monday. How does she feel after all that? ‘It’s quite a privilege to be able to design one’ she reflects, ‘Definitely worth it. The whole thing is for charity so there couldn’t be a better reason to do it. They’ll be out for 10 weeks and then they’ll get auctioned so it’s a really really nice feeling to know that it’s (hopefully!) going to raise money.’ And for yourself? ‘ I suppose in a a selfish way it’s nice that people will be able to see something that I’ve designed’. She hesitates, and beams that killer smile: ‘Hopefully they’ll like it. That’s all I want really’.

‘Ship Shape & Bristol Fashion’ will be on the Gromit Unleashed trail at the *trumpet fanfare* Clifton Suspension Bridge from Monday.

Sarah, we’re going to love it!

 

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