Matthew David Blackburn (29) -  Johannesburg Merit Winner

Congratulations on being announced as one of the 7 winners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2023

Tell us what your reaction was when you received the news.


I was overjoyed, I couldn’t feel my cheeks from smiling so hard. When the phone call was over I found myself literally dancing on the spot!

Is this the first time you have entered the competition? If so why and if not how many times and why is this competition an important one for you?

This is my third time entering the competition, persistence is key. Winning a competition like this would jump-start my career, there is the exposure, networking and financial aid, these are all important aspects in becoming a successful artist.

Tell us a little about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2023? 

Throughout my life I have always had artistic abilities, when I was younger I was always seen as the kid who could draw. In high school I took art as a subject and started to experiment with different mediums, mainly chalk pastels, which initially paved the way for my painting style. After school I was unfortunately not accepted to study at university and I went straight into the working world. I had a number of different jobs, but none of them fulfilled me. In 2019 I began to paint again and found my passion. In 2020 I resigned from my job and dived right into being a full time artist. My work was picked up by the Rust en Vrede Gallery and since then I have had multiple group exhibitions and taken part in a number of competitions. Learning and improving along the way, ultimately leading up to this competition.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career as an artist to date?

I’ve had number of influences over the years, one of the more recent influences would be Australian artist Robin Eley, he is a master at creating illusions in his work. 

Tell us a little about why you created the piece you submitted? 

This piece is part of a larger body of work entitled “Decay”, it is all about how inefficient humans are in comparison to nature. The black bag on the painting has engulfed a forest floor, this is a representation of how plastics are damaging our planet and inevitably suffocating those who inhabit it. I want to bring awareness and change to these issues.

Tell us about your preferred medium/s ...and why? 

My preferred medium is acrylic paint, over the years I have made myself very familiar with this medium, most people see the fast drying paint as a disadvantage, I see it as an advantage, it allows me to do multiple layers in short period of time. Building up layers is how I am able to create a refined image.

When people view your work – what reaction/response are you hoping to create? 

My work has a lot to do with illusions. I love creating paintings that make the viewer question what is real and what is a painting. This also encourages the viewer to visually interact with the art work, which ultimately leads them to the message being portrayed.

Why do you think your work was chosen as a top 7?

It is eye catching, showing technical skill and has message that is relevant to everyone.

Which South African artists do you admire and why?

Deborah Poynton. Her works are always so interesting to engage with, there is always so much to see, whether it be portraits, landscapes, still lifes or combination of all three. I love the idea of not being restrained to just one subject.

Anything else you would like to add?

I paint with the purpose; I want people to see my work. That is why I am so grateful to have this opportunity, the exposure alone is just incredible. Thank you to Sasol for arranging this competition, thank you to all the judges and thank you to everyone who believes in me and supports me.