Matthew Nystrom grew up in the well-to-do Klein suburbs of Houston, Tx. Many of the people Matt knew growing up in Houston paid their mortgages and fed their families by working for ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Halliburton, and Conoco Phillips. By age ten Matt was acutely familiar with these companies and their logos; he saw their branding everywhere he went. He played little league at parks they helped build, and he can’t recall an event “that a seashell and a pegasus weren’t sponsoring.” These companies, along with a handful of others, are affectionately known as “Big Oil.” Over the past fifteen years, the Big Oil industry has become highly scrutinized for polluting the planet, manipulating trade markets, and avoiding paying taxes on their arbitrage profits.
After graduating from Texas Christian University with a degree in graphic design, Matt got his first “real job” working for a small advertising firm in New Orleans. Matt had reached his childhood goal of getting paid for his artistic abilities and felt he was on his way to a successful career in advertising.
But in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, an off-shore oil rig owned and operated by BP (British Petroleum,) exploded, and the Gulf of Mexico was devastated by the spill. To date, BP is still battling with the legal ramifications from the catastrophe and has paid out over $4 billion in restitution and penalties.
Matt was deeply affected by the overwhelming disparity he saw throughout New Orleans after the spill. “I can’t tell you at exactly what point I changed, but after witnessing the destruction of the Gulf, and feeling unfulfilled by a career of making car dealership ads and promoting needless consumption, I knew I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life,” he offered.
“Being in New Orleans for the spill, seeing firsthand what can happen to the little guy who doesn’t have millions in litigation reserves like BP does, I couldn’t help but think ‘Who is going to stick up for them.’”
Matt began reworking a graphic he had developed in college that was initially meant for a hybrid car company. He drew some devil horns on the common fuel logo that can be seen on most highway exit signs and he felt this new design adequately portrayed his dissatisfaction with the industry he had grown up admiring.
“I made the Guzzled logo to more-or-less vent my own frustration,” he recalled. “The first actual street sign I produced was green and yellow and had the horned-fuel logo accompanied by BP’s logo. I still have the original hanging in my workspace. I wasn’t sure how I could help make a difference at first, but I knew I was committed to creating and provoking positive change through art.”
Guzzled.org is Matt’s website he created to display his activist art and raise awareness for his current and future art campaigns. This summer, Matt plans to launch his initial campaign by traveling around the United States and deftly placing his Guzzled street signs at strategic intersections in major U.S. cities. He has spent the last year creating a large reserve of street signs with the hopes of dispersing them around the country like a modern day Johnny Appleseed.
“Since the first campaign is about Big Oil, I thought what better way to address that than by making and placing traffic signs” Matt suggested. “I can’t wait to finally hang the signs and see peoples’ reactions to them. I am excited to be out there, and share my art, and hopefully it receives a positive response.”
And here is the link to the Guzzled.org Indiegogo campaign where you can help support the cause
Matt continues to support himself through freelance graphic design, but he also has an online store on his website where he donates 50% of all profits to charity. This summer’s tour is the first of many, Nystrom hopes. His next campaign is already taking shape as he plans on challenging the financial sector in 2014.
“My focus is on the initial campaign at the moment, but the ideas for what to do next continue to flow,” he explained. “I definitely want to create art that challenges the banks, Big Pharma, Big Agra, and the corporate media at some point in the future.”
As Matt sets out this summer, his Dodge Sprinter, which has been converted to run on vegetable oil, will be loaded down with street signs, camping gear, and as always, his dog, Tonka, by his side. With the meaningless toil of commercial advertising in the rearview, and endless possibilities of art activism ahead of him, Matt is excited for the road ahead.
“The initial response to Guzzled has been really encouraging,” Matt said. “I just got off the phone with a guy who wants to accompany me for part of the trip and make a short documentary about the campaign, and I have received numerous emails from people who want to collaborate. There are so many talented artists in the world who are challenging the status quo and making provocative art; I just hope to be one of them.”