Performance artist Matthew Silver has been delighting passers-by on the streets and in the subways of the Big Apple for years. From street performance tips to his message of universal love, his thoughts on a higher power and developing his character, Shane Hannon has a fascinating discussion with the man himself
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people walk past Matthew Silver every single day in New York City. You will find him in the subways, or perhaps at popular Manhattan meeting points like Washington Square Park or Union Square, not far from Broadway, where different breeds of performers act daily. Often attired in just a pair of Speedos and with his lengthy and dynamic beard and hair that will continue growing for at least the next five years, he sure is hard to miss.
Some people see him as the performance artist that he is, others aren’t sure what to think. Perhaps he is crazy, or homeless, or just a trickster or village idiot, but Silver is undeterred by what people think of him and is resolute in why he does what he does. “I perform for smiles and laughter, loosening people’s armour, and opening up a portal for imagination, creativity and love.” The wackiness of Silver’s performances have led to various videos of him going viral online, and his popularity has reached the point where his official Facebook page has over 100,000 likes. “Because of the internet I’ve experienced people knowing my name, which is nice. It’s kind of nice to be known and not known at the same time – my performance still has an edge of mystery.”
Growing up with his family in New Jersey, Silver was partly inspired by Robin Williams’ performance in the 1991 comedy-drama film The Fisher King. “There’s a genius scene where he was a crazy man on the street. My family and I cracked up so hysterical at this film. I wanted to be that guy on the street – it hit my heart really strong.” Even in his younger years Silver always wanted to perform. “I was a class clown and a goofball in high school. I always did stuff for attention but to make people laugh.”
If you want to be a performer you can’t be scared to look people in the eyes and feel what it feels like to be judged. Let people’s perspectives be free
From the very beginning Silver decided he would learn by doing. “I just started doing it over and over and over on the street. When I first started it wasn’t always positive but I learned to just be on the street and focus on the positives.” He also learned to look past people’s scrutiny. “If you want to be a performer you can’t be scared to look people in the eyes and feel what it feels like to be judged. Let people’s perspectives be free.”
Performing on the streets of a city as diverse as New York also undoubtedly helps legitimize what Silver does. “It’s the performance art capital of the world just because there are people from so many different countries. I’m very lucky that I can do what I’m doing and actually live here.” The city is also in his blood. “My parents were born in Brooklyn and Queens and then they moved to New Jersey and I eventually moved back to New York. I realized I was born to be here and blessed to do this.”
Silver hasn’t always been this happy-go-lucky and free-spirited however and he experienced struggles in his past that have undeniably helped shape who he is today. “Between the ages of 15 and 25 I was heavily depressed and was sucked in by illusion and a poor negative mentality. I didn’t do anything with my life because I was too scared of being judged.” Now however Silver has a focus and wants others to delve into what he dubs ‘The Love Economy.’ “I want to help inspire people to shift their consciousness to love. Love is already here – I just need to inspire people to focus on the love that they already have in their life.”
Many artists have catchphrases or certain quirks that punctuate their performances, and Silver is no different. As well as employing phrases such as ‘Love is the Answer’ he often utilizes fart and chicken noises and long awkward pauses, peculiarities that often gain interesting reactions from people. “They’ve always been a silly, weird thing that are still funny over time, they’re universal.” These moments of hilarity have a purpose however. “You say the message and then you add a fart or chicken sound to it, and you make people think even more. It’s magic – my technique is open for anybody to use.”
As well as being a performer and ambassador of love, Silver is a strikingly philosophical man. Referring to the possibility of a higher power he remarks “I don’t know who’s on top, if it’s God or the Universe or whatever. But you can’t doubt that there’s definitely an energy that glues us all together. It’s called Chi or love or the Holy Spirit; it’s not a person, but it’s definitely an intelligence that surpasses infinity. By not understanding it, we understand it.” He goes on to surmise that “Your brain is the most powerful tool in the Universe because it is the Universe.”
I want to help inspire people to shift their consciousness to love. Love is already here – I just need to inspire people to focus on the love that they already have in their life
Now in his mid-thirties, Silver intends to stay healthy so he can continue his rigorous street performances. He also maintains that he has learned to leave his performance character outside his front door. “It’s two different people – that’s the only way I’m going to stay sane. There was a time when I thought I wanted to be that character all the time, but then I realized you need a middle ground. After you perform for three or four hours you need to talk to people in a way they can relate to. You need a bit of both worlds.”
A talented filmmaker and performer, Silver intends to focus on the latter for now. He recently embarked on a mini-tour of small indoor venues in Germany and Poland and spreading his wish for a ‘Global Heart Awakening’ is what he will continue to do. “The chaos of the system, of capitalism and money, brings you out of love. I’m not judging people for trying to make a living, but the economy is not based on love at all, it’s based on fear.” He urges people to stay true to themselves, something he evidently lives by himself. “Do what you love, follow your wildest dreams, follow your heart – always use your heart to feel things out, don’t use fear.”
Matthew Silver is clearly a man with a big heart and here’s hoping his performances continue to inspire and move people for a long time to come. If you’re ever feeling down, a quick browse of some of this man’s clips on YouTube ought to put a smile on your face. After all, never forget that every cloud has a silver lining.
Visit Matthew’s website for more information and videos: www.matthew-silver.com.