UK-based painter Tom French creates intensely beautiful and dark ‘double portraits’ that explore the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious mind. A combination of impressive realism and loose, abstract, unfinished forms, his works are deeply emotive and filled with movement and life. We caught up with Tom for some insight into his creative process.
Do you remember what first inspired you to paint?
My parents should probably get the main credit here. Even after they finally bought a TV (we didn’t have one when I was a kid) it could only be turned on if I’d done something creative first – spend an hour on your art homework and you can watch this programme, that kind of thing. That must be where I got my current discipline and work ethic. I can remember having the desire to be good at things from a young age – if I was working on a drawing, I’d spend a lot of time trying to perfect it. And I can remember getting a sense of pride and wanting it to be seen. So maybe the desire to create comes from yourself as much as others.
Where are you based? What is the creative culture like there, and how does it compare to other places you have lived?
I’m based in Newcastle, UK. Although I’ve lived and worked in plenty of other places, Newcastle is home and I’ve always ended up coming back. The creative culture here is very good. There’s a surprising amount of large arts venues for a northern city, and studio rents are affordable so there’s a lot of creatives able to rent a space and do their own thing.
My current studio is in an old industrial building thats split up into about 20 units, most of which being used for band rehearsals. As it’s not in a residential area, there isn’t any noise restrictions. So it’s not the most quiet of spaces but it’s large, and I don’t need to worry about getting paint on the walls.
What are some of the themes and issues you like to explore with your work?
Primarily I’m working with concepts around human consciousness and the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. We are all subject to constant psychological forces, and are generally at the mercy of our subconscious more than it’s possible to realize.
For example, it’s been shown that many decisions are made in the brain before we are actually aware of making the decision. This means that in many instances, by the time we’re conscious of having made a choice, the choice may already have been made for us. It’s suggested that the subconscious is generally responsible for emotional actions & reactions. We have little control over this, and are generally unaware of these forces even though we experience, and are in a sense enveloped by them.
This is the underlying basis for the compositions of my double image paintings. The characters acting out the scenes within the larger composition (of a face or a skull) are unaware of the bigger picture, yet moulded and influenced by it, and visa versa, both a separate, yet integral part of the others existence.
Emotion and reason, instinct and awareness, mind and matter, the constantly present co-existence of opposites – a small few of the many facets to dualism theory.
Is there an overarching message or feeling you like to convey in your work?
For me there is, and although I’ve given clues in my previous answer to what my intentions with the work are, I find it much more interesting to let people find their own messages.
If anything I’d rather ask questions than give answers, enquire rather than preach.
Could you walk us through the process of creating one of your pieces, from idea to realization?
Once the concept is clear in my head I work straight on to canvas. I don’t really use preliminary sketches or have the desire to perfect elements before starting a final painting. I see my whole body of work as a work in progress, and if mistakes are to be made I’ll work through them as the painting progresses.
Working this way allows the paintings to evolve themselves, in a more emotive and less restrictive way.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned throughout your time as an artist?
Try new things even if you doubt yourself. With every painting I make I’ll go though a period of self doubt, I’ve learned that this is only temporary and doesn’t mean the painting is no good, you just have to believe in the initial idea and work through it.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
See more or Tom’s work at Tomfrenchart.com