Tervo: An Artist of Great Contra-Dick-Tions 

For someone who calls himself “Your Nan’s Favourite Artist”, Matt sure does draw a lot of dicks.  

Matthew Tervo, known to the street art community as “Tervo” and known to his mother as “a very nice young man”, is many things. A teacher, former delinquent vandal, self-proclaimed larrikin, public figure, artist, and co-organiser of Brisbane’s first legal graffiti wall, Matt has done it all. 

His phallic story began many years ago, while studying year 12 at Villanova College in Coorparoo.  

When presented with the stimulus of ‘manhood’ for his final art project, in an attempt to undermine the school’s art curriculum, Matt designed an artwork he fondly refers to as “Where’s Willy”, a piece covered in over 100 cartoon penises. 

“I wanted to prove that the curriculum was so flawed that I could draw cartoon dicks and then write a good enough artist statement to make you believe that it was a deep and meaningful artwork,” he said.  

“The way I justified it was every single character in there is a stereotypical representation of masculinity in modern society.” 

The various ‘characters’ included breakdancing penises, a penis Osama Bin Laden, and a penis spiderman.  

What was the inspiration, you ask? 

When Matt came home from school and told his mother Nikki Tervo that his prompt was ‘manhood’, she gave him her honest take on the matter. 

“Just draw a whole lot of men but make them so that their heads are penises. All men are dickheads anyway,” she said. 

With that solid piece of advice, Matt began on his endeavour to change the art curriculum, one dick at a time.  

Word of his project was whispered through school hallways, like some sort of underground game of Chinese whispers, and eventually he had an audience at each lunch break as he worked on the final piece. 

“It was a lot of dicks. I can draw a lot of dicks, like, just pump them out,” he said. 

But the popularity from his classmates did more than just encourage him to keep going with the controversial artwork. 

“To have my art recognised in a big way, in my small world, it really grabbed my attention. My reputation spread through my school, and it was the first time I’d realised that my art had power.” 

Though “Where’s Willy” was Matt’s first brush with fame, his power as an artist truly blossomed in his work with Brisbane City Council. 

After his live mural was rained on at the launch party of Botanica 2022, Matt ended up at a table with Adrian Schrinner, Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. When Mr Schrinner asked him what it was like to be a Brisbane street artist, Matt candidly replied, “It’s shithouse, and it’s all thanks to your Liberal government.”  

Matt’s words must have struck a chord, because a few weeks later, there was a commitment in the council’s budget of $50,000 to support street art.  

“It’s been non-stop ever since,” he said. 

A year of countless reports, meetings, printing costs later, Matt attended the media launch of Brisbane’s first legal graffiti wall in East Ekibin Park, Greenslopes.  

He had organised fourteen graffiti artists to cover 100 meters of wall with world-class street art, all for free, within the space of a few days. 

“The way we saw it was, graffiti and street art has given us so much, it was our chance to give back,” Matt said.  

Nikki told me that she was “so proud” of her son’s work with the council.   

“I think he’ll help take graffiti out of the bin and put it on the wall where it belongs,” she said.  

The popularity and success of the Ekibin Park wall led to five more tunnels in Greenslopes being declared legal graffiti walls. The public can access these walls and paint on them at any time, improving Brisbane’s street art culture in the lead up to the 2032 Olympic Games. 

When I asked Matt how he felt about his work with the council, he replied, “I don’t get to write my name on wheelie bins anymore, which is upsetting, but if it means I get to go to fancy meetings and get more legal walls, so be it.” 

The former wheelie bin vandal goes by the tagline of “Your Nan’s Favourite Artist”, a tongue-in-cheek name for a man known for his dick art. 

“It’s a borderline ‘your mum’ joke, but one level removed. It’s funny. It has a ring to it – and prove me wrong. Call your nan. She’ll either be like, ‘That’s a nice boy! Isn’t that funny!’ or she’s dead.” 

When I asked if I could confirm this with his nan, Matt replied, “Nan’s dead. If you’ve got a Ouija board, go for it. You can’t even argue if I’m her favourite.” 

Nikki assured me that her mum would’ve loved his work. 

“I’m not sure if every nan would appreciate it, but I think he would be his nan’s favourite artist,” Nikki said. “I know Mum saw the penis picture and she was into it.” 

Matt hasn’t left cartoon dicks completely in his past. At the 2021 Yonder Festival, he painted a mural of two penises getting married, with the phrase “Boys will be boys… but sometimes they won’t” written across it.  

And, if you look closely at his online shop, he has a whole category dedicated to ‘Dick Prints’, cartoon dicks drawn as various characters, such as Shrek, Hulk, Jack Sparrow, and even a drag queen. 

“Matt’s a bit obsessed with penises. I don’t think he’ll ever grow out of it,” Nikki explained to me, while drawing me a penis for reference. 

Though his phallic obsession was the result of his hatred for school and the art curriculum, Matt is currently teaching art at Kelvin Grove State College. 

“I still stand by a lot of my thoughts around the art curriculum even as a teacher. But now, instead of drawing cartoon dicks to fight the system, I do my best to bring my mates into school, show the students real, successful, practising artists and try to give them advice on how to make it as an artist.”

Tione Zylstra
Tione Zylstra

Tione is one of the 2024 Glass editors. She's a final year Journalism and Justice (majoring in policy and politics) student who lives to write about everything going on in the world. If you're after more of her work, check out Urban List Brisbane, The Music, and Purple Sneakers. Concerts and food are her go-to, so hit her up for either of those and you'll have a winner.

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