Artist Interview With Tom French
Artist Interview With Tom French: A Man with a Dynamic Expression of Beauty in a Modern Age
It’s hard to say what exactly is wrapped up in the concept of beauty. Beauty is as much instinctual as it is elusive, forever inspiring us, comforting us, and allowing us to connect to something beyond ourselves—something universal. In this post-modern and utilitarian age, beauty has become somewhat of an extravagance, yet, as humans, we still retain that inherent desire to connect to something beautiful.
I had the privilege to interview Tom French, a talented artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne in North East, England. His work is a dynamic expression of beauty in a modern age. Together we touch on what inspires him as an artist, the role of women in his artwork, and the relationship between art and interior design.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew that I needed to do something creative and the more creative freedom involved the better. From a young age I’ve always been drawn to the visual arts and throughout school art was an oasis. I’ve worked many different jobs on the journey to working full time on my art, and I have put in so much effort to get here, so it feels like such a luxury to wake up in the morning looking forward to what’s in store for the day. Freedom is important to me in my life as well as with my creativity. I’m much happier if I can manage my own time with minimum restrictions, so it all fits together nicely.
What does art mean to you? Is it purely a form of self-expression?
It’s much more than that. It’s been a part of my life from a young age. My partner and family members are artists, and, in a way, it helps bind us together. I have a relationship with art. It’s a friend, sometimes an enemy. I love it, fight with it. It’s an oasis, a refuge. It’s freedom, power, passion, inspiration and drive.
How has your upbringing and education influenced your artwork?
My dad is an artist. My mother and sister have always been involved with theatre and the performing arts, so this will undoubtedly have helped me on the path to creating my current works. I spent a lot of time in my dad’s studio as a child. His current house is also his work-space, and I can see his old studio from the window of my current studio, so this area of town feels like a place for making. I studied design at university (under the misconception that it was impossible to make a living as an artist!). Much of what I learned there, as well as whilst working in design, has transferred across to my artistic practice.
“The female characters in my recent work are always carrying out action… they can be vulnerable and sensitive, but they are always more than objects.”
As for how my life has affected the actual artworks, the first thing that comes to mind—and something I’ve been giving a bit of thought to recently—is the depiction of the female characters in my work. Women in art are so often depicted as objects. Upon reflection, this is something I’ve almost subconsciously avoided, especially more recently since the birth of my daughter. Her birth has also reinforced the respect and admiration I have for my partner and my mother. The female characters in my recent work are always carrying out action. They’re active and possibly in control of the scene or situation. This immediately gives them a certain strength. Yes, they can be vulnerable and sensitive, but they are always more than objects.
What inspires you the most?
Inspiration is a curious thing. Many artists have historically had a drive to create, often against odds, circumstance, or advice. They had a self-belief and determination, so looking back at those figures is a huge inspiration and motivation for myself to do the work, take risks, and keep pushing forward. Inspiration for the themes comes from many angles. The ongoing research into the concepts used in my work is always a baseline for this. I try to see as much art as possible in various forms, and I love discovering new ideas, which often leads to a mental chain reaction. Sometimes ideas just come out of the blue or maybe they’ve been simmering in the subconscious for a while. I’m never ever short of ideas. The hard part is selecting which ones are most worth dedicating time to.
“I’d like to think it brings more than a narrative—feeling and emoting, character, power, a sense of freedom and impulsiveness comes with the dynamic brushstrokes, maybe even comfort when the viewer relates to the image.”
Your partner Teresa Duck is also a talented artist. Do you take criticism and inspiration from one another?
Yes, she is! And yes, we do, very much so. I think that as an artist it’s important to take on criticism constructively. Occasionally, artists I’ve spoken to have taken criticism or critique almost as a personal insult, but both myself and Teresa can remain objective when talking about our own work. Sometimes with painting you need to understand why something doesn’t work to understand what does and move the work forward. If you can’t take criticism, there is little hope. Both myself and Teresa have the same end goal, so this understanding underpins any input given from either side. As for inspiration, she is a huge inspiration for myself in many ways. She’s incredibly motivated, strong and creative—in life as well as with the work—and we’re both quite competitive, which helps us drive each other forward.
Each piece takes a lot of time and thought to produce. What is your creative process?
The process varies from piece to piece. Sometimes I will have a clear visual picture of what I’m looking to achieve and will plan quite extensively with character and compositional studies. Other times I just have an abstract emotional idea. With this, the only way I can make progress is to work intuitively with the paint and almost let the image paint itself. Either way, the paintings begin with the boldest marks, going straight in with the free-flowing brushstrokes, which secure the composition. Following that, the smaller marks and the figures are worked in. The placement of these depends largely on the first part of the process and often pre-planned restrictions will need to be put aside. The final stage (often the most time consuming) is adjusting the light and dark contrasts, adding depth and interest to certain areas, and adjusting the figures. The tilt of a head or how a hand is carried can greatly affect the flow of a painting.
Your pieces are very dynamic and philosophical. Do you think viewers intuitively pick up on these concepts when they view your work?
Yes, they do, often with surprising accuracy. The works are conceptually multi-layered with numerous meanings for myself, but these are personal to me. When hearing other people’s interpretations, it’s equally interesting to hear an angle which I’ve never been aware of.
Aside from art galleries, when creating your pieces, do you ever visualize the ideal spaces where your work could potentially be installed?
Yes, I do see spaces and imagine how the work would fit with them, but unless I’m working on a specific commission for a space this doesn’t influence the paintings. It’s primary for me that the works hold up on their own regardless of their environment. The palette and style of the work does allow the paintings to work well in a lot of settings, but that’s more a lucky byproduct of the creative process.
Even though your artwork is very contemporary, your use of a monochrome palette, hyper-realistic elements, and humanistic themes give your pieces a very timeless feel. Would you agree that your pieces would work well in both a traditional and modern space?
In your opinion, how does your artwork impact or enhance a room from an interior design perspective? Does it help give the space a narrative?
Strong narrative runs throughout the work, so surely it brings that into a space. And I’d like to think it brings more than narrative—feeling and emoting, character, power, a sense of freedom and impulsiveness comes with the dynamic brushstrokes, maybe even comfort when the viewer relates to the image.
Have you ever seen the film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover? Most of the film is set in a large restaurant dining room, overshadowed by a huge Frans Hals painting on the wall. The costumes of the film’s characters and the color scheme of the restaurant and everything throughout the film directly reflect the painting. In terms of how an artwork can impact a room and its’ inhabitants, this example is surely something of a holy grail.
Your recent installation at Blacks Club for London Design Week 2017 looks like it was made for the space. How closely do you work with interior designers?
The installation at Blacks Club was a beautiful fit for both the work and the space. The paintings weren’t created specifically for Blacks, but it certainly felt like they were when I first saw everything set up. I’m generally very studio based, but I’d like to work more closely with interior designers than I do currently. The exhibition at Blacks was a great eye-opener, so that door is always open.
How do you see your artwork and creative process evolving in the future?
As I’m just about to begin work on my next exhibition, this is something that I’ve given a lot of thought recently. It’s something I always give a lot of thought for that matter! Truth be told I’m not 100% sure on the answer, which makes the process all the more exciting. I’m always looking to move the work forward. I’ll do research on new concepts and develop current ones, look back over successful works, and see what comes of it. I enjoy painting large pieces and am currently building some large canvasses, so things will definitely be scaled up.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions where clients can view your work?
My next exhibition will be in London later this year with Unit London. Their exhibition space is truly amazing, so I’m really looking forward to this one. The dates are still to be confirmed, but if you are looking to see the work in person that will be the place to do so.
How does a potential dealer or collector get in contact with you to purchase your work?
If anyone wants to purchase work, or just be kept up to date with news and exhibitions, they can get in touch with my gallery Unit London or directly through my website.
For more artwork from Tom French follow him on Instagram @tom_french_art
All Photos courtesy of Tom French and Author Interiors
Interview conducted and written by Alexa Jennelle