TOM COX - BUSY LONDON BOY
Updated: Apr 10, 2018
Make Space Studios house a lot of talented artists and, as my previous guest, Tom is also a resident of the Make Space Studios. I met Tom to chat about, what is it like to be an artist in London.
Tom, can you please tell me about your self and how you became an artist?
Sure. I am 27 and I am an artist and a curator. I started a company called Focus London in 2016. I organize art shows and write features of artists as well as paint.
I didn’t always think I wanted to be an artist. Some people say they just knew it from the day they were born. That wasn’t me at all. I got a little bit into it in school but didn’t think much of it. I just liked art classes. A level – I had a crazy Welsh teacher, she really pushed me to do some work, she was proper nuts!! It was the kind of personality that resonated with me. I really liked that she was a great teacher. That’s when I started taking pride in it and discovered a passion for art.
In my gap year, I was looking for jobs, so I could pay for some travels. I was going to some pubs and as I was handing out my CVs I was looking at empty wall space, so I asked, if I could hang my work there. Within the two days, I didn’t have a job but I had two exhibitions.
Then I went to Camberwell College of Art, did my foundation there. Then I went to North Hampton University. I did art and advertising and I made sure to do the advertising. That’s the thing that I saw was missing from the fine art courses. There is nothing that helps to be an artist, because you can’t teach the actual ‘art’ part of it, you just need to explore it your self. It helps to have guidance for sure, but … So I definitely wanted to have some grounding. When I left university I did a couple of marketing internships, I did an internship in a gallery called the London Westbank Gallery, it is an urban art gallery.
I had a solo show in 2015. At the time I was working in a coffee shop – hating my life. When I organized my solo show, I sold everything. I had money not to work for a few months (back then my prices were a bit more humble, it was only a few months).
In that few months, I got this studio here (Make Space studio) and I started painting on a construction site, which is now a hotel. They bought my painting and then I got all these corporate commissions, so I didn’t have to go back to work. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I managed to stabilize now and continue forward! (Image above: Tom in his studio)
That is an inspiring journey! A lot of your paintings are of London. Is the city your main inspiration?
Yes – you could say that. I describe my self as an urban landscape painter. Not because that is what I choose over other things, it is right now. I am not limiting myself to this.
Basically, I paint my environment, and my environment is the city. I like to paint things that I see. When I was a kid, there was a surgery where I used to go. They had a painting of the road just parallel to mine; it was from 30 years before I was born and I loved looking at that. It was showing me something I know, but in a different light, through the lens of an artist. I found it fascinating and that is what I like to do. Maybe show something to someone that they have seen and give it back to them in a way that allows them to stop and really look at it. (Image above: Beautiful Brutalism (Barbican) and Up High - Elephant & Castle Tom's paintings)
Are you focusing on architecture or people in those paintings?
I am trying to find a balance. I think sometimes when I do scenes without people, there is lifelessness in them, so I’m trying to balance that. People bring certain personality and story to the painting.
Sometimes I am painting a crowd and there won’t be individual people in it just splodges of paint. It is fun to suggest the crowd, even though it is quite a physical thing…
I start my painting with ink, straight on canvas.
Do you go to ‘site’ to paint?
As of 2017, I stopped painting from photography (I used to take pictures and paint from those). Now I go out and I sketch it out really quickly, then I take photographs and then I go to the studio and work from there. Sometimes photos are taking over a little bit more; sometimes I keep it really raw and loose.
How long does it take to sketch out a scene?
Sketch – maximum an hour, sometimes 40 minutes.
Do you work on several pieces at the same time?
Generally yes. At the moment I am only working on one painting, but before that, I was working on 3 pieces at the same time.
This one is a part of a ‘Stage Door’ series. I painted a stage door in 2015 and it was a very popular painting. I’m organizing an exhibition at the Streatham Space Project, which is a new theatre that’s opening up in Streatham Hill and that will be the focus of the exhibition. I continue my ‘Stage Door’ series, in the sense that it will be a theatre. I am getting a bunch of other artists, who are inspired by theatre and we will show our work in the theatre. (Image on the left: Stage Door series)
How do you select your scenes?
Sometimes I am walking along and I just see something. And I think: ‘Right I am coming back here!’
Sometimes I take canvas with me and I have no idea what I am going to paint and I walk around for ages. And sometimes I walk for 10km and come back here with nothing. It is very much in the moment. I don’t do studies. I just go there and do it in the moment.
How long does it take to complete one painting?
It totally depends. I am trying to keep a bit looser, so they are a bit quicker. If I paint from a photograph, then it takes a lot longer, because I end up being a slave to the image. Anywhere from 10 (if I’m lucky) to 13 hours.
Your studio is really tidy! Is it just for today?
Yeah – pretty much! It is a little bit tidier than it normally is. I have been a lot better recently. I share the studio with my friend Billy.
There are two people in here, the mess build-ups so quickly. So I’m trying to be more organized. I have so many paintings because I paint so quickly, so I need to maintain some form of order. (Image above: Tom's well organised studio space)
How did you find this studio space?
I just found it online. This is my first studio space. I have been here for two and a half years. Before that, I was painting in my bedroom. It wasn’t great. You get mad cabin fever. You wake up in the morning and you don’t leave. At some point, you realize it is 3 pm and you are still in your pyjamas. It feels like you have done something, but at the same time, it feels like you haven’t done anything because you have been there for hours.
I recommend that to any artist. It is expensive, but it will force you to recognize, that you have got to move. You have to do stuff.
How do you like to work? What is your setting?
I do stuff like that (videos) to share it on social media and share it with people like yourself. So I can show people not only the finished product but also the process that goes behind it.
What is your typical day in the studio is like?
A typical day is… I normally get in for 10 or 11. I go to the gym in the morning. I like to get exercise done. Get my endorphins going for the day. I do spend a lot of time in isolation. My friend is in the studio only a couple of hours a day. In January he wasn’t in at all, so it was just me. Things like that help to keep my brain focused.
Then I will be working. It goes in waves. January was a lot of exhibiting. So I am either painting, stretching canvases, sending emails, making videos or interviewing people for Focus London. Or if I’m organizing an exhibition, I am spending days doing that. I do annual winder exhibition, at the Menier Gallery. When that’s going on, I’m trying to organize up to 30 artists been in one place at the same time. It is a lot of admin stuff. I feel like I’m a quite well-organized person and can handle that.
Sometimes I’m mixing between the two. When the show is done, then I delve into the artwork. I come out on the other end and I’m desperate to organize something again because I’m going mental and I want to have some people around. I can’t just paint, it doesn’t suit my personality. I need to be chatting to people, I need to be connecting with people and collaborating.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I love Brixton. I have painted it so many times. It is a very big inspiration. Otherwise it is hard to say really … Sometime you are there in that very moment and the moment will be lost if you don’t take a picture.
Sometimes it is better to have a really crap quality photo. Because it means you won't be so precise and try to follow it. When you work from photography the danger is that you can get trap by it. In my current pieces I’m trying to cut parts and show the process as well as the painting. In this instance, I don’t mind to be quite strict with the photograph, because I’m still showing the messiness of how I got there.
You can see more of Tom's work here