Tom French is a UK based artist and recently had a show opening at Vincent Michael Gallery in Philadelphia entitled Hidden Realizations. We were lucky enough to catch up with Tom in his UK based studio and further delve into his world of skulls and hidden imagery.
What are your artistic beginnings and how has this developed into a professional career in the arts today?
It all starts off right back in childhood, I remember as a kid I was made to do some form of creative activity for an hour or two every day before I could kick back. It would either be something musical or something visual, and as I had little musical ability I stuck with drawing! I suppose it was an attempt to show me that I can get to do what I want if I first put some time and effort in. I also remember being encouraged to draw all over the walls of the house, which was always good fun.
From there it was a relatively steady progression (with a few minor sidesteps) through to university, where I chose a design degree, partly because I love conceptual thought processes involved, and the problem solving aspects, and partly through the assumption that its not possible to support yourself solely as an artist.
Having completed the Degree, I had been creating artworks as well as working as a designer for a couple of years, and found that there was a lot more enjoyment, satisfaction and passion coming from my own artwork, so it was an easy decision to follow my heart and dedicate my full time & effort to this, with no regrets.
From there I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some good people and great shows, which is where I find myself today.
You use multiple mediums in your work, do you have a favorite?
Charcoal is definitely my favourite, I never cease to be impressed with how you can create something so visually powerful from something so simple. I find it a very versatile medium and love the raw quality of being able to work it with just my hands, without the need for brushes, mixers, pallets etc. Also I’ve always done more drawing than painting so it’s the medium I’m most confident and comfortable with. I’d love to have this same connection with oil paint too, which I think will come with time.
I do use a lot of different mediums, particularly with the most recent works, but I nearly always start with the charcoal then build up and layer the pieces over the top of that, depending on what I’m trying to achieve and communicate.
Can you tell us a bit about your recent show Hidden Realizations at Vincent Michael gallery?
This has been my biggest show to date, and the first time I’ve shown in the states, all with a really great gallery, so I’m very excited with the whole thing and have had a brilliant time getting myself over the water (from the UK).Hidden Realizations features work from myself, and fellow artist Chloe Faith Urban. Through exploring the juxtaposition of subject matter, form and colour, we focus on capturing particular moments, experiences and expressions of realizations whether they are instantly visible or hidden between layers.
I’m showing ten original works – some purely charcoal pieces alongside some mixed media images, as well as a selection of prints.
Your play on hidden figures in skulls are reminiscent of turn of the century optical illusion paintings, do the skull in combination with the female form (as seen in your version) hold any special significance?
Certainly! I’m very fond of the turn of the century illusions you mention, and the moment of realisation that the viewer experiences when seeing them for the first time, so one reason for creating these pieces was to incorporate this magical moment into my work. Unlike a few of the original illusions it was very important for me to be uncompromised with the realism, detail, narrative and emotion shown in the figures, to get the illusion working. Because of this, these have been by far the most technically difficult images I have worked on so far.
When viewing these pieces the first thing seen is the image of a skull, then as you approach the work or take a closer look, the figures will appear. This transformation from a dark skull (a symbol of death) to the female form (often a representation of beauty, vitality & fertility) is almost bringing a dead object to life – humanising it. So the closer you get to the image, the more alive it comes.
I’m particularly happy with the effect of the figures appearing out of the darkness, so you get the feeling of a viewer looking in, catching a glimpse of a very personal moment. It’s been fascinating to hear other people’s interpretations of what this moment is, what it means to them, and what the relationship of the figures is in relation to the skull, so I’ll leave this aspect open.
Who are your major artistic influences?
My influences seem to be constantly changing, so here are a few artists I’ve been following most recently –
Eric White, Conor Harrington, Sophie Jodoin, Antony Micallef, Jenny Saville, Rosson Crow, Fiona Rae, Cecily Brown, Josh Keyes, James jean, Richard Hambleton, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Ian Francis, Sylvia Ji, Anthony Lister, Will Cotton, Robert Longo, Thomas Lelu, Marcus A. Jansen, Arth Daniels, Polly morgan, Adrian Ghenie, Charlie Isoe, Anton Unai, Helle Mardahl, Dan Baldwin, Charming Baker, kuildoosh, Bast, Ashley Wood, Phil Frost, Judith Supine.
What’s next for Tom French?
Next on the list is getting stuck into a new body of work. I’ve got a load of thoughts and ideas buzzing around at the minute so I can’t wait to see where it will all go. I’ve learned a lot from working on the illusion pieces, and had fun with the mixed media ones, so I’m looking to develop both of these routes, as well as try some new things too.
There are some group shows in the pipeline, and I’m sure that there will be more travel with these too, which is always a bonus, but all after I’m satisfied with the work.
– by Michael Cuffe of Warholian.com
Visit Vincent Michael Gallery here: http://vincentmichael.com/
Visit Tom’s Personal Site here: http://tomfrenchart.wordpress.com/