I'm totally enamored with these bright, almost effervescently colorful small paintings by London-based artist Tom Wilmott, who uses repetitive shapes and compositions in a variety of color combinations, to explore the formal and material possibilities of the paint. More info at the links below!
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First, tell me a bit about yourself! What first interested you in making art?
I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Both my parents love art and encouraged me from day one, but it was my dad who was the main influence. He also studied painting and although he didn't follow a career in the arts he was always making something with or for my sister and I when we were small - all sorts of elaborate fancy dress costumes, a life size model of my sister constructed entirely out of plastic food containers, sculptures in the garden from felled tree branches - just so much to entertain us. Making things was an everyday part of our lives from the start and has just stayed with us.
You describe your attraction to painting as essentially that: enjoying the act of painting as much as possible. Can you tell me more about your practice?
The way I work now was devised as a response to restriction. Becoming a father, moving further out from central London, a rapid increase in work pressure, all these things reduced my opportunities to paint. It got to a point where I really didn't make anything for a good 6 months - the longest I've ever gone in my life, and it became intolerable for me. I feel a need to paint. It's more than a desire. I feel a physical and mental release and relaxation just from wiping coloured liquid across a support with a hairy stick and the frustration and tension that built up from being unable to do this forced me to completely rethink and restructure the way I make things, and in turn what I make. I realised that I had to embrace this burning need as an intrinsic part of myself and shape my practice around it - to satisfy a ravenous hunger and indulge in the pure pleasure of the medium.
You have a show coming up, consisting of 100 new paintings, called The Waltz. What's this about?
Generally speaking the formats and compositions that characterise my work are derived in large part to facilitate the physical process of painting. The formal aspects of a painting - shape and colour - are determined in advance of work beginning, which means that when I do paint I can enjoy the physicality of the process and the inherent beauty of the materials without the burden of making tricky creative decisions during construction. Deciding what to paint, as I'm sure many people will appreciate, is the hard part.
The Waltz is just this - a system that provides a finite number of possible formal compositions (108). Once this was settled I was able to make all 108, knowing exactly what I had to make, how to make it and when it would be finished. All ambiguity was removed from the physical act of construction and so I was free to just get on and enjoy it. I fully appreciate that many people may consider making 108 very similar paintings to be quite the chore. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. It was an indulgence and a privilege.
What is your process like? Do you plan works or series in advance, or work more intuitively?
Pretty much answered above. Of course I do experiment with colours and materials, but when it comes to making finished works they're very much planned first and then executed.
How would you describe your studio or workspace? Do you have any daily routines or rituals there?
My wife and I share a studio at home - she is also an artist. We converted our rear reception room and effectively have half each (plus a small space for our 4 year old daughter). I've had many studios over the years, both at home and elsewhere and my best work has always been made at home. The opportunity to make something as soon as the urge takes me is critical. Having to wait until I get somewhere else before being able to paint has always been deeply frustrating for me and I realised it was simply not conducive to the way I work and didn't fulfil my needs. Also, having complete control of the environment I work in is very important. I like things just so in terms of the atmosphere of the space and the objects that surround me and being at home means I can make sure things are the way I want them to be.
Do you have a tool or an object in the studio that you couldn't live without?
In terms of objects and tools, I need them all, but probably the most important aspect of the studio is that it is at home and is part of everyday life. It's not something I go away and do, it's something I live in with my wife and daughter. It's part of their lives too and I'm really happy my daughter will grow up surrounded by and contributing to all the things we make.
What do you consider the most challenging part of pursuing your practice, whether creatively or professionally?
Probably the admin side. It's a cliche, but it's so dull. I'd always rather be painting, but number crunching has to be done (even if the numbers aren't very big!). I don't think I find any of it that challenging, as such. Honestly it's just a joy to be able to spend my time making paintings.
You've had some experience working in the commercial art world; how have your experiences in that field shaped how you make or approach your own work?
I think there are two main ways my work in the commercial art world has influenced what I do now. Firstly, as cheesy as it may sound, identify and focus on what's important to you. There are so many distractions, stresses, worries and so on that serve to cloud one's vision. It's easy to get lost and end up working hard and wasting time and energy on things which are of absolutely no significance or importance. Keep analysing what you're doing and asking yourself if it's really important to you. Work on what you want, not what anyone else wants.
Secondly, and more directly, its affected my approach to pricing. The exclusivity of the art world and its financial vagaries are irritating to me. Thankfully the are many schemes and projects aimed at making it more accessible. My contribution is to make my paintings as accessible as possible. It's a small thing, but I believe if people genuinely love art they should reasonably be able to consider buying it without remortaginging their house. So, I price my work in an entirely transparent and affordable way - at 5 pence (sterling) per square centimetre. This means a painting 25 x 20cm would be £25, a painting at 50 x 40cm would be £100 and so on. I aim to be approachable, understanding, flexible, welcoming, trusting and all the things I feel are lacking in the commercial art world. I have recently set up an online shop where I sell small paintings to make it even easier for people to invest in art. Is a small thing I'm doing, and of course part of my thinking is that I have to make a living, but I hope it's also part of a larger movement that seeks to democratise the art world.
What is the best advice you've ever received? Is there any you're glad you ignored?
The best advice I've received is to look after yourself. The better you look after yourself, the better placed you'll be to look after others. It influenced the way I work now - painting for enjoyment. It's made me much, much happier and in fact healthier too.
I've received plenty of bad advice working in the commercial art world. I wish I'd ignored a lot more than I did, but one learns from mistakes, both their own and those of others, so that's what I'll take from it.
How would you define "success?"
In terms of being an artist, I'd consider being able to spend the majority of your working time on your own practice and to be respected amongst your peers as having achieved success.
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