Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am a Scottish artist who has recently relocated back to Edinburgh Scotland after living in London since 2011. London was a great city to be based as an artist, as you are spoiled for choice with gallery’s to visit and interesting people to meet, but it has become increasingly difficult to exist there financially. I am very excited to have moved to Scotland, as both Edinburgh and Glasgow have amazing and close-knit art scenes and are less than an hour away from each other.
I recently completed a masters degree in Print at The Royal College of Art in 2018, it was a great two years and very pivotal in my art practice. Having that time to experiment with different ideas and media and being surrounded by amazing artists has helped me steer my practice into a direction that I am very pleased with.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I have always enjoyed creating art which can be seen in the large collection of sketchbooks which my Mum has kept from my childhood, which mainly consist of drawings of Godzilla destroying cities. I studied art in high school, but felt as if all creativity that I had enjoyed as a child had been replaced with meeting grades by completing compulsory projects like imitating Monet paintings; it all felt very dry and art school was never mentioned as a serious prospect. However, I ended up at art school for other reasons, studying landscape architecture at Edinburgh College of Art in 2007. During my first year, the majority of my friends were in the fine art course, and I was very envious of their creative freedom and energy from being able to create what they liked rather than following a strict curriculum which I had previously experienced. I transferred as quickly as I could, and have been creating ever since.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Since moving back to Edinburgh so recently, I am yet to move into a new studio. I have plans to move into a new space which is currently being built and is 10 minutes walk from my flat which is incredible, and certainly an improvement from my 40-minute commute to my London studio. Edinburgh is a small and beautiful city where you can feel its gritty history, it also has an ambiance that I really love. Scotland has always had a huge influence on the UK’s art scene, and you can feel this now more than ever as more and more artists are choosing to base themselves here.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
The ideas for my pieces often come from the dismantling of my everyday experiences and memories, focusing more on a feeling or aura of that time rather than the reality and mundanity of living it. I am particularly drawn to making work about that period between adolescence and adulthood where senses are seemingly heightened, memories are more dreamlike, and the supernatural seems more plausible.
In recent pieces, I have explored obscure stories and humorous fallacies of the conspiracy and UFO culture, for example, the work ‘Dusk in Bonnybridge’ explores the brief phenomenon in the early ’90s where the locals of the small Scottish town Bonnybridge experienced a flurry of unexplained UFO sightings. I am interested in discredited sub-cultures and their followers who spend their lives pursuing knowledge about something that others would perceive as crazy. Often this feels like a close parallel to being an artist.
What is your process like?
There are many stages to creating my work before I reach the finalized piece. Pieces usually start from a sculptural perspective, drawing shapes in combination, and thinking about what those shapes could contain. I like to think about how the physicality of these shapes would affect those contained inside, and also how those who are inside the frame might affect its shape. Once I have found a form I’m interested in making I go on to think about who might be contained within the work and why they are there.
A few years back I discovered some printed drawings made by my father in the ’90s using an early form of Microsoft Paint, obviously bored out of his mind in the office he was creating pretty unflattering drawings of his colleagues and strange self-portraits. I really liked the crudeness of the lines and the program’s simplicity for drawing. I now always use Microsoft Paint when drawing the figures when planning new works. It’s also very difficult to use meaning that you often get some ridiculous results. These drawings are then sometimes refined further as etchings, and if they make the cut I will then go on to make the larger final works as one-off screen prints.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I have a book called the ‘The Doyle Diary’ which is always a source of inspiration. Its a collection of sketches and scribblings by Charles Altamont Doyle (Arthur Conan Doyles father) during his stay at an insane asylum. The drawings are incredible, and I find something new every time I open it up.
I really like Steven Shearer’s recent paintings as well as work by an Edinburgh local legend John Byrne.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
I once bought hospital curtains and hung them in my living room window for a particularly morbid project I was working on. It felt pretty strange to me browsing hospital supply websites.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I have worked as a freelance art tech for quite a long time, I really enjoy it, but it also lets you in on the brutal reality of the art world. Its all pretty scary actually, and sometimes makes you wonder why you are persisting with it yourself! I have recently started a new job as an artist assistant for Katie Paterson, which so far has been amazing, I feel more like a geologist than an artist assistant due to the nature of her work, this has been a nice breather from the gallery tech world.
Working freelance is ideal, especially if you have enough work coming in, you can pick and choose jobs and dedicate a good amount of time to your art practice when you want to, and then do a stint of freelance work to pay those bills.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I have some really great friends and my wife Vicky, although she is not an artist she definitely has an eye for what’s good and what’s not.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
I recommend finding someone that can give you brutal and honest feedback about your work. I get quite attached and stubborn about my finished pieces. That’s when you need to bring in your brutal friend. It can be tough listening to someone tear apart a piece who wasn’t there during the blood sweat and tears that was involved when originally making the piece, but more often than not they will be right on whether it’s any good or not. I feel when you have worked hard on something you can become blinded by this, unable to properly see your finished result.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Having a studio practice can be quite a lonely thing, especially when you are working in a prison-like studio with no windows in deepest darkest Woolwich. That’s one of the main reasons why going to art school is such an amazing thing, you meet a great community of artists, who perhaps you can continue to work with, or share a studio with in the future (ideally with windows).
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
It was definitely hugely significant, I wouldn’t be making the work I am making now if I had not gone the RCA. Although it is incredibly expensive, if you can manage it by applying for grants etc I would definitely recommend it. To have that amount of time to worry solely about your art practice is invaluable, along with the peer group you make. No art school is perfect, but I think its really about you, and how you use your time when you are there.
How would you define “success” in art?
If I could get to the point where I am able to support myself, my family (I recently had a baby!) solely from my art practice, for me that would incredible. I think at that point I would feel that thing called “success”.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I had my first solo exhibition at Arusha Gallery in March of this year, for me seeing the culmination of two and a bit years of work come together was a fantastic experience, and has given me the confidence that might work is on the right path.
What are you working on right now?
Settling into my new home and life with a new baby, as well as a new body of work!
Find more at thomasadamart.com and on Instagram @tom____adam!
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