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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with artist Tom Howse, as featured in The Catlin Guide

Artist Tom Howse creates magical glowing animals and mysterious iconography from monolithic everyday objects...

Written by Amelia Gregory

TOM HOWSE (AM) - SEARCHING FOR THE ONE YOU WANT
SEARCHING FOR THE ONE YOU WANT by Tom Howse.

A few months ago we interviewed Justin Hammond, the creator of the The Catlin Guide and Catlin Art Prize for the best new up and coming artists – currently represented at an exhibition being held at the Londonewcastle Project Space in Redchurch Street in East London. Amongst many interesting artists (I like the work of Adeline de Monseignat, who is also promoted by Art Grab) the mystical paintings of Tom Howse stand out as particularly unique. I decided to find out what makes him tick.

TOM HOWSE (AM) - RADIANT BAZAAR
RADIANT BAZAAR by Tom Howse.

You say that you attempt to create a sense of mystery and unknowing in your paintings – often with a monolith like appearance to a possibly everyday object – why do you think you are drawn to this kind of seeing?
I think that there is something poignant about solitary objects, they give a sense of unity and completion. Where other things may need to be combined and joined together to create a meaning, the impact is sometimes diluted with each component. Mono-imagery has the responsibility to represent all the themes which multiple images would otherwise share. I like the idea that a solitary object can attempt to convey multiple themes, to a point where it becomes implausible to transmit so many ideas through a direct representation, therefore the image resorts to a higher level of omnipotent representation. Which is ludicrous, they can’t do that, but I like the thought that they can, because it feels more exciting.
 
TOM HOWSE (AM) - SPHERICAL MANOEUVRES
SPHERICAL MANOEUVRES by Tom Howse.

Where do the original ideas and objects come from? For instance what is the Spherical Manoeuvres? It calls to mind both a snowglobe and one of those things from the 80s with electrical currents zipping around a sphere.
I like that these things can be interpreted in a variety of ways, that they don’t have to remain fixed in one state of being. An example of what I was saying before is that the object is attempting to be a snowglobe and an 80’s plasma ball thing at the same time, its impossible for it to do both things, so it attempts to become both things at the same time and results in becoming something else altogether. In an alchemical manner it has become a new element, existing between states. I want it to appear to be trying to do this act seriously, but I also want it to fail to do so, and just make itself look ridiculous. There is an absurdity in my work, like trying to express really deep, meaningful pearls of enlightenment, but through the eyes of a buffoon.
 
THE TOWER by Tom Howse
THE TOWER by Tom Howse.

There is something deceptively simple about your final artworks, but I imagine they take some time to create – what is the process of putting an artwork together? 
I can end up painting dozens of images on each canvas. Sometimes I’ll be really excited about something I’ve painted, but after an hour I may have completely lost interest in it, other times I may see something I like in a painting I’ve not touched in months. I think it takes a long time to really understand what you’ve painted. Also, to achieve that simplicity, the image will often have started off being far more complex, I then tend to get annoyed with the busyness of it, I begin to try and single out the most vital aspects of the image, and go about turning the volume down on the peripheral irrelevancies.
 
LANTERN by Tom Howse
LANTERN by Tom Howse.

How do you choose what medium to work in and why is it your preferred medium?
I almost solely use oil paints and pastels, I think that I’ve developed my approach to painting not through what I want to paint, but through how I want to paint. I don’t tend to wash my brushes out between colours and I don’t tend to wait for wet layers to dry, this results in loads of unexpected effects, really dirty colours but with brilliant streaks of virgin paint running through. I usually draw figures in with pastels as apposed to with a brush because it feels more like working with pencil on paper, makes it feel more relaxed and natural. I also hate to waste paint, so you can leave the oil paints on your palette for weeks then still pick them open like scabs filled with beautiful gems.
 
UNCONQUERED MAGIC by Tom Howse
UNCONQUERED MAGIC by Tom Howse.

The colours you use are very vibrant – so much so they seem to take on a 3D life of their own, almost as if the paintings are lit from within. What other artists or movements have inspired your work?
I really like colourful work, but I also quite grimy, dirty paintings too, and best of all when their combined together. There is a list of painters who have inspired my work in different ways, such as Henri Rousseau’s portraits and jungles, Phoebe Unwin had a show at Wilkinson Gallery a year or two ago, that’s still in my mind. I saw a painting by Daniel Richter at Frieze last year that has stuck with me called London Is The Place For Me. Recently I’ve been looking at the patterns in Gustav Klimt’s work.
 
TOM HOWSE (AM) - RAINBOW WAND
RAINBOW WAND by Tom Howse.

Your sense of magic is very prevalent in Rainbow Wand – what do you hope viewers will feel when they look at this image?
I hope they feel magic. If viewers felt magic in all my work I’d be pretty chuffed. I hope that it can attract people to look at it, and look at it long enough to try and think what the image may mean for them. Chances of anyone feeling anything profound when they look at my paintings is pretty far-fetched, but I think it’s a pretty good aim to have in mind when I’m painting.
 
TOM HOWSE (AM) - LEMURIA
LEMURIA by Tom Howse.

If Lemuria is inspired by a cat is it inspired by a real live one? Can you tell us more about this character… real or imaginary.
Well there is a real live cat in my life, and he’s a nasty piece of work! Not all the time though, he can be a real darling too. He goes out most nights and gets into trouble. He doesn’t really have a name, it doesn’t mean anything to him what he’s called, and he never listens. Sometimes I call him Teacake, sometimes Susan. Recently I’ve been calling him Fun House. I like that he’s not got a proper name, makes him seem more elusive.
 
SPOTTED MONOBROW by Tom Howse
SPOTTED MONOBROW by Tom Howse.

What next after Art Catlin?
I’m going to enjoy some good studio time, main thing I want to do is get on with some more painting. I’m meeting with a couple of different people to discuss doing some shows later in the year and I’ve been asked to put in a piece of work for a group show at The China Shop Gallery in Oxford, the show’s titled Apophenia and it opens 7th July.

Check in with Tom Howse here. The Catlin Art Prize exhibition runs from 4th – 25th May at Londonewcastle Project Space. Read my full listing here.

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