Raglan artist finds new role in Covid-19 lockdown

It’s funny how a crisis can sometimes change what you do so completely.

Two weeks ago, Raglan artist Matt Meenagh was getting busy with paint for Raglan Arts Weekend and now he’s helping Raglan Medical control who and how many people enter its doors.

Wife Michelle is the Raglan Medical practice manager and this new role is pretty much a fulltime job and one the former oil rigger is happy to do.

“As you can imagine our health professionals’ well-being is very important at the moment. I was asked if I would be available for emergency work offshore in Taranaki, however I turned this down as I felt assisting our community and staying close to my family was far more important than money at this stage,” he says.

This would have been Matt’s first Arts Weekend; he was talked into exhibiting in the popular Easter Weekend arts trail by artist friends Geraldine Burns and Megan Hockley.

“I think RAW being cancelled would have been very disappointing for the organisers as they had put so much into the event, however from my perspective it just allows more time for me to produce more work for the event.”

He also thinks the event will be bigger and better once things get back to normal and the organisers can set a new date.

“When things return to normal RAW will provide a great destination for people who will be looking to get out and about after a long haul being stuck in their respective houses and towns. It could also provide some much needed cashflow to our community’s businesses.”

Matt’s a man of many talents but art has remained his constant throughout his life; something he’s always dabbled in and with some success.

Having spent many years traveling to short-term contracts overseas, Matt come back home permanently to take a load off Michelle who was busy coordinating the move for the medical centre to new premises.

He’s loving spending time with the kids, preparing dinners, finishing off home improvements, studying Architecture Technology through the Open Polytech and, of course, putting brush to canvas.

Art is emotional for Matt, his inspiration comes through what he feels and experiences; there’s the surf (he’s a longtime surfer), nature (he loves flowers), there’s Raglan and there’s the joy in life.

“I love this place, it’s one of those places that has always been a creative inspiration for me.”

He describes his style as retro psychedelic and his paintings have a real 70s vibe with bright, bold colours, repeating patterns and a touch of humour; look closely and you’ll spot the skulls amidst the flowers.

Matt knows that his emotional state affects his art, looking back on his School Certificate art you get a sense of a dark foreboding and that’s exactly how he felt at that time.

“I had a pretty tumultuous childhood, there were mental health issues in my family and my mother passed away when I was young,” he says.

Chucking away metal work and woodwork, Matt only took up art a third of the way though the School C year at Te Awamutu College.

His first job leaving school was in demolition, but a serious workplace accident that almost left him paralysed turned Matt towards a signwriting apprenticeship, which he did for five years before heading overseas.

It was here that he first started on the oil rigs in the North Sea working his way up from low-skilled work to operating the drills and then pipe inspection work.

Throughout this time Matt was always sketching – clothing designs, drawings, logo designs and cartoons – it was his creative outlet from the high-pressure rigging work.

His cartoons were a regular feature in Irish extreme sport magazine Freeflow, following the exploits of a combi van and the humans that crossed its path.

He met Michelle in Ireland and the pair moved to New Zealand and settled in Raglan. Having grown up in Kihikihi, the territory was familiar and he had grown to love surfing when he worked as a signwriter in Hamilton.

Matt was travelling to the Western Australian oil rigs by this stage and the pair were owner/operators in the Aqua Velvet a café/live music venue (now West Coast Tacos).

He says the work in hospitality was some of the hardest graft he has ever done and after four years they decided to give it up in order to spend more time with the family, with Matt still continuing working away on the oil rigs in Oz.

Giving up the oil rig work last year has given Matt more time to focus on and enjoy family, and he says the lockdown really brings home the importance of family.

“My son and I are fixing my old V8 at the moment, and my wife and daughter are mucking about in our garden. I think the key is to just try and stay as busy as you can and be sure to keep in touch with family and friends.”

He’s also trying to get out on the bikes with the kids a couple of times a day and just spending some quality time with them.

“If you have kids try not to tie them up and gag them,” he laughs.

Janine Jackson