As an artist, Matjames Metson creates his vibrant works with old objects that he uncovers. Away from the studio, though, he has a fascinating story to tell about his personal life. Indeed, Metson walked out on his baby girl when he was a teenager, but she saved his life over a decade later.
During Metson’s younger years, his family didn’t really have a permanent place to call home. His mom and dad both shared the same passion that he eventually developed, while his step-dad had an interest in art, too. The latter plied his trade as a tutor in the subject, moving from one educational establishment to another.
Metson shed some light on that period in his life during an interview with the BBC News website in July 2020. “We moved endlessly, it seemed like. I’d never really had an opportunity to make actual friends,” he recalled. “I’d meet people and then we would leave, so it always gave me this distance that I still hold on to today, I think.”
Following that spell, Metson’s clan decided to pack their bags for Yellow Springs, Ohio, as they said goodbye to their home in France. From there, the future artist settled in at his new high school. And his life changed forever at the age of 16 when he encountered a girl named Selanie.
“Selanie walked into my American history class and I was just blown away,” Metson explained. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, who is that?’ It was an instant: ‘I need to know who that person is.’ We got together and we had a relationship for several years, and then it had actually ended.”
Yet despite that, Metson’s former girlfriend soon dropped a bombshell on him. “We had what they call now ‘a hook-up’ and Selanie became pregnant. But we were still not a couple,” the artist continued. “I was utterly terrified. It threw my world upside down.” By that point, he was still in his teens.
“I didn’t have the faculties to deal with [the pregnancy] in any sense,” Metson admitted to BBC News. “I was too young, too naïve and I didn’t know what to do.” Regardless of his attitude, though, his old flame eventually welcomed their daughter into the world, naming the baby Tyler.
Off the back of that big moment, Metson and Selanie agreed to see each other outside a local nature reserve. The latter brought Tyler with her as well and gave Metson a chance to cradle their little girl. But it proved to be the briefest of meetings in the end, as the young dad still wasn’t ready to embrace parenthood.
“I held Tyler in my arms for about 30 seconds, I’d say, and that was it,” Metson recalled. “I didn’t understand that it was my child on an emotional level. I knew biologically I was involved, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God this is just really heavy. I don’t know how to react to this, I don’t know what to do.’”
On that note, Metson made a significant decision that went on to shape much of his life. “It’s classic fight or flight,” he said. “Having zero self-esteem at the time, I chose to run and continued to do so.” Just like in his younger years, the teenager found himself out on the road again.
After leaving Ohio, Metson planned to visit his dad, who at the time lived in Montreal, Canada. However, his journey up north proved to be quite challenging, as the authorities on the border stopped him. And they saw that the teen was carrying a pipe and a book that contained a marijuana leaf.
From there, the young father eventually packed his bags again and headed down to Boston, Massachusetts. He was virtually penniless at the time, staying with a group of pals from school.
During that period, Metson formed a romantic relationship with another woman, ahead of a pivotal moment. The couple decided to relocate to New Orleans, Louisiana, finding a home together. For the artist, the city proved to be an ideal backdrop as he continued to deal with some internal demons.
“I was a kid. I was young for my age, emotionally,” Metson told BBC News. “And all of a sudden here I am in a very exotic, very different place. It was a good place to hide, I suppose.” But unfortunately for him, his personal life again began to crumble around half a year later.
Metson’s partner formed a romantic bond behind his back with someone else. And to make matters even worse, it was with a man he knew. Before long he was told to leave their home to make way for her new boyfriend, who just happened to be sporting items from Metson’s wardrobe.
In addition to that pain, Metson was still harboring feelings of shame and remorse for abandoning his baby, too. So as a result of all that, the New Orleans resident suffered a mental collapse. He subsequently spent time at a local medical facility, as he attempted to recover.
At the end of Metson’s stint at the hospital, he opted to move to the French Quarter, which is one of New Orleans’ most famous areas. Although he didn’t have a place to call home, the artist managed to ingratiate himself with the locals. In his opinion, the previous couple of months might’ve played a role in that.
“I went in [to the hospital] as a fairly anonymous resident of New Orleans,” Metson told the BBC. “But I came out and it gave me some sort of mystique, and suddenly I knew everybody. I was living in someone’s closet and I didn’t have anything except for my pens.”
“So I’d go to the coffee house, the bar or wherever people were and I was embraced as a character and a spectacle,” Metson continued. Given his living situation, his art was confined to the page for a while, before things began to change. As the dad became comfortable in New Orleans, he unleashed his bubbling creative juices.
Indeed, Metson became what’s known as an assemblage artist. As we indicated earlier, that means that he builds his pieces from discarded items, such as old popsicle sticks. Nonetheless, during a conversation with the Los Angeles Times in April 2014, he rebuffed the idea that he works with “found objects.”
“That would suggest the things I use in my work are easy to find,” Metson told the publication. “Everything I use is basically antique – mementos or old personal items. Everything has a residue to it, a vibration from where it came from. Everything has a sort of Velveteen Rabbit existence to it.”
To give you an idea of the kind of work that Metson was producing, here’s an example. At the start of the 1990s the New Orleans resident created a chair that honored the famous author William S. Burroughs. The seat featured items like bullet shells and parts of an old typewriter.
The chair was unique in another way as well. For you see, Metson drew up a couple of images of the author to round the piece off. However, he laced the paint with a touch of heroin, in light of Burroughs’ addiction to the drug. And works such as that got the artist noticed.
Before long, Metson’s output was being included in local exhibitions, while he also gave lectures to university students. He took on jobs as a delivery agent and a barman to make money as well. His employment situation had improved as he reached his 30s, by which time he had regular work renovating artisans’ equipment.
Sadly, though, that stability was shattered in the mid-2000s. At that stage, Metson found himself living in Los Angeles, California, with his beloved dogs, because he’d lost his old home in Louisiana. Everything that he’d worked for threatened to collapse – but he received a vital boost when his daughter decided to ring him.
But before we take a closer look at their conversation, first let’s see what happened to Metson in New Orleans. “I get an apartment,” he told BBC News. “I unpack my stuff and that’s when [Hurricane] Katrina hit. It was utter destruction. If I close my eyes I can still see it.”
While Metson wanted to leave the area, he was concerned about the fate of the dogs, so he stayed put for more than a week. However, off the back of a phone call, the trio were given the chance to start anew in Los Angeles. They subsequently traveled to the Golden State in the hope of making a fresh start.
The conditions were far from ideal, however. “Once I’d moved into this flat, they literally tore down every building surrounding me,” Metson recalled. “So the little four-story building I was in suddenly was infested with mice and cockroaches. Someone gave me a futon, I had a little black and white TV and maybe a couple of T-shirts, and that was it.”
Metson eventually earned a low-paying role at an art shop, but he was barely making ends meet. Alongside that, he received several distressing phone calls regarding his old pals in Louisiana, who’d been struggling since the hurricane hit. And after a while, it became too much for him to handle.
“[I was] braced for the end,” Metson admitted. “My capacity for self-preservation was slipping and slipping and slipping, and I had nowhere to really turn. [That is] until the phone call which not only saved my life, but it changed my life.” When he picked up, a 16-year-old Tyler Hurwitz greeted him from the other end.
Hurwitz asked Metson, “Have you ever heard the name Tyler before?” to which he responded, “Tyler, I’ve been waiting for this call for 16 years.” From there, the teenager posed her father a difficult question. She wanted to know if he resented her in any way, given the manner in which he’d left in the past.
Metson recalled, “I said, ‘I really don’t hate you. Do you hate me?’ And [Hurwitz] said, ‘No.’ Like, here I am, a total messed up, traumatized artist guy who had zero to offer her, but we talked about music and we talked about this and that. I really feel as though my spine straightened and my eyes opened.”
As for Hurwitz, she and Selanie had stayed in Ohio after Metson took to the road. The youngster began to develop an interest in art, following in both her mom and dad’s footsteps. She also spent her formative years with a step-father and half-sister at home.
On that note, Hurwitz made a frank admission while talking to BBC News in July 2020. “I had so many people and family and friends surrounding me all the time, I guess I just didn’t really think about [Metson],” she explained. “It wasn’t something that had ever existed in my mind.”
“So it wasn’t ever a huge question as to who my father was,” Hurwitz added. “Or where he was, or why he wasn’t there. I never asked, therefore I didn’t really know.” That all changed, though, when Selanie passed Metson’s personal details over to her daughter. And at that point, Hurwitz decided to call him.
Moreover, following their conversation, Metson felt energized and planned to get back into the swing of creating new pieces. And his new art was subsequently displayed in various exhibitions. Not only that, but the dad opened up his own studio in Los Angeles as well, which marked an incredible personal turnaround.
Due to that upturn in fortune, Metson and Hurwitz planned to see each other at one of his shows. The pair finally came together in Los Angeles, and the latter noted the similarities between them. The Yellow Springs resident had a surprise waiting for her, too, when she examined a piece by her dad.
“If you open this door and unlatch this thing and you slide this over, you’d look down in there,” Hurwitz told BBC News. “And in between a bunch of nails, you’d find my name. So my name is hidden in a lot of [Metson’s] work. You have to search for it, but it’s definitely there, and it’s cool knowing where to look.”
From there, Metson returned the favor and traveled back to his old home to view Hurwitz’s art. She was working on a chair of her own at the time, albeit without the tools that her father used back in the 1990s. Since then, they’ve maintained a relationship – and they haven’t been afraid to speak of that fateful day when he took off.
Metson said, “[Hurwitz] understands why I had to go. She was like, ‘You couldn’t have lived here, it wouldn’t have been the right thing for you, no matter what.’ So it’s nice to have the person that I left clearly understanding why I had to do it and not resenting me for it, which is huge and brave and really remarkable.”