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52 Tuesdays: Johnny Matten

With 20 years in the military, 14 years in SAS (Special Air Service Regiment), two tours in Vietnam (Australian Task Force) and teaching bush-craft (navigation, tracking, & camping) to boys’ schools, artist Johnny Matten has learned to adapt. He takes scraps of timber and old pieces of metal and turns them into art. Each piece is unique, due to the materials used, most of which are found or dropped off at Johnny’s house.


Johnny’s metal and wood-working shop is located in front of his house. And after 19 years on Molloy Island, located in Western Australia, he has an impressive selection of tools many of which he has made himself.


“I suppose I am an artist,” says Johnny. “I’m in it (metal and wood art) to keep myself busy. Once you retire you have to keep occupied, otherwise you’ll get fat and lazy. I’ve always been good with my hands and wanted to try something new.”

Photo of Johnny Matten with one of his many pieces of metal garden art


Johnny alternates his attentions between woodworking one week and iron work the next.


His woodworking technique is known as ‘Intarsia’, a smooth wooden picture created by different colors of wood in a mosaic-like process. Johnny’s favorite piece is a wooden horse he made out of 138 pieces of wood. He worked on it for three to four hours a day for eight weeks. “It was like a puzzle. All I had was a drawing. It was very difficult to get all of the angles. If one angle was moved the other ones wouldn’t fit. “


Says Johnny, “With the metal garden art I make, I never have two pieces that are the same.” Johnny repurposes scraps of metal that he finds or that are given to him. “A lot of the people’s gas bottles come in here, I decant them, so they’re safe and I’ll burn all of the paint and galvanizing off and work from there.”


“Most of the junk on the island comes through my place and back out again.” Neighbors often stop by to admire or buy Johnny’s pieces, and some he donates to the non-profit group the Red Hatters.


When it comes to his metal yard art Johnny says, “I found that when you’re making animals or creatures, the most important part is the head or face. Let’s say I want to make a bird. I look around and think, what do I have to make a bird with what sort of bird and how will the wings and beak look? I go down there to my shop and it’s my happy place.”


On Australia’s ANZAK* Day, Tuesday April 25, Molloy Island will have Johnny read the Ode, the fourth stanza of a poem for the fallen, written by Laurence Binyon, during WWI.


*ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces became known as ANZACs. ANZAC Day is a commemoration of the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, Turkey, on April 25. 1915.

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