Tom Lines is multimedia artist currently studying at Newcastle University. He works across media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, sound, and performance. He is also exploring digital media, text and moving image.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and concerns behind your art practice?
As an individual I have come to realise that I cannot live without other people around me. Maybe my longest running theme has been to do with the connections between people, or lack of. Usually this takes the form of sexual or domestic relationships. Often the people I depict are alone, perhaps bored, anxious, or depressed, reflecting times in my life when I have been socially disconnected. I’d like to say that my work is Feminist or political, but I do not usually set about to have a specific message to my work. I want my work to have more of an interpretive element to it. Usually it comes from an introspective place and taps into thoughts that I have on masculinity, desire, mental health, and our relationship with animals because those issues are an intrinsic element of my personal life.
A lot of my work uses mythological or animal imagery, which I originally adopted as a vehicle to deal with sexuality and gender. Many classical stories have shocking stories of gods raping women, or women transforming into trees to escape the pursuing male, as in the case of Daphne and Apollo. Minotaurs, satyrs, and centaurs represented what was, and still is, seen as barely controllable male sexual drive. Picasso depicted himself as a Minotaur almost as excuse for how awfully he treated his women. I wanted to reinterpret some of the mythology intrinsic to our western culture. The common theme of metamorphosis interested me from a Queer Theory perspective. And then at a different level I am interested in bodies, how chemicals and hormones influence our actions, how so much happens under the surface that we don’t want to know about. And how would we deal with it if we found our bodies weren’t how we thought they were? Or if we just transformed. Maybe the scariest thing I’ve seen in cinema is in Akira when Tetsuo transforms and his body grows uncontrollably, and he has toes growing out of his toes. His body is doing something that his mind, his “person”, actively does not want to do. More recently, inspired by my own vegetarianism and from experiences I’ve had interacting with my girlfriend’s dogs, this mythological imagery has steadily become more literal. I have tried to explore the social interactions between animals and humans, just like many artists might explore the interactions between humans and humans. We often act like animals are simplified versions of people, but I don’t think most people understand animals at all. We have separated ourselves from animals with an arbitrary boundary, but what defines that boundary? What if a creature inhabited the space between animal and human? I guess that’s where metamorphosis and chimera comes back into it. The Minotaur is a monster because it is both human and animal and neither at the same time. The idea of the Monster has the same sort of social function in my eyes as the idea of Disgust. It defines what is normal and good and what is abnormal and scary. I want to push at that boundary. If it’s not challenged then animals, queer people, people with mental illness, people on benefits, and every other “Other” will continue to be harmed and marginalised.
Why did you choose to work across so many media in practice? How do you connect them all together?
I guess there’s two modes of working that I have. There’s the planned pieces of work that usually takes longer, and there’s the work which I churn out without fully knowing what I’m doing. The second is the more common state. Many of my paintings start as improvisation. Almost all of my performances have been planned and rehearsed for weeks or more. The more long term pieces stand on the foundation of the improvised stuff. A painting may come from a sketch, and the imagery from every pieces I make bleeds into the next. I don’t want to limit myself to one medium. Especially when it comes to 2D media. I don’t want to only do oil paintings when I could do a print, a drawing, a collage, or even a digital piece. I think you have to be good at what you do if you’re going to pursue it though. I know of some good painters and conceptual artists who have made some etchings which are just not very good for example. On the other hand, basing your practice around how paint mixes or layers, or on the intricacies of acid biting into metal - in other words, making paintings about Painting and prints about Printmaking, seems very boring to me. So as I see it, everything two dimensional I make is connected by theme and imagery. The difference in medium is solely to give the image a different timbre, or perhaps also to make it more widely distributable as in the case of printmaking.
As for the sound, I spend most my time listening to music, and I think about it a lot. Musicians like Bjork, Tricky, D’angelo, Arca, Saul Williams, amongst a hundred others, influence my work just as much as Lassnig, Picasso, or Rego. Music seems to give a more personal and emotional response. A lot of sound artists hate the term music in relation to their work, as if the fact it was composed by someone or set to a pulsed rhythm makes it less genuine and more contrived. Yet to say the same about visual art would be to get rid of all abstract, figurative, and narrative work. I think that my sound and my images share a similar timbre or texture. I have been told that loops which I make on my sampler sound like how my paintings look and usually that’s what I aim for. And then my performances could be said to be a different perspective to the same subject that my paintings and sound explore. It is a way for me to say something more directly and clearly. In my Moth Dance for example I could give a clear narrative of a certain time of my life. With the Dog Performance, Maria and I could create a micro-representation of how we saw people interact with animals, in a way that was more direct than my paintings. Perhaps I could say that my wordless work is more ambiguous and mood based, despite also dealing with conceptual issues I have said above, while I can bring my intellectual concerns to the forefront when I bring text into the work. Another thing which appeals to me about performance with my own body is being able to evoke a presence, the feeling of a body in a space with the audience.
Moth Dance Performance
You are currently studying art and I wonder how tuition fees are affecting art students. It seems to me that as art can be a precarious occupation financially, saddling art students with thousands of pounds of debts means many won’t want to take the risk of doing an arts degree. Are we at risk of making the arts even more elitist that it currently is, as only wealthier students can afford art school?
The actual student loan is less of a problem in my eyes compared to the other expenses to do with being a student. While i strongly believe that university education should be free, the form the student loan takes is relatively low risk. Which is not to mean that it doesn’t put off poorer students. A bigger problem for me is the cost of living required to study, as well as the cost of materials for the art student. Where I study in Newcastle, my maintenance loan only just covers my rent, which is a third of what some people I know are paying in London. Studies have found, unsurprisingly, that working part time while studying decreases your chances to get good grades. But a lot of students don’t have the ability to do otherwise. Moreover, I feel that London’s rent problem is especially bad for art students. Most of the famous art schools are in London. Most of the international galleries are there. Same goes for dealers and buyers. While I am happy at Newcastle for my undergrad studies, and the art scene there is strong, it cannot compare to London’s art scene and art economy. But the price of London is such that it is harder and harder for a young person to live there, let alone while they study, unless they have parents whose house they can live at. And then when the artist leaves art school, the rent problem doubles, but they also need to rent a studio space, which is in most cases separate to their residence.
What are you plans for the future? What’s next for your practice?
Right now my plans are just to make art until I die... In the more short term though, I want to take my image making back to observational work. I still have a lot to learn from looking at things. Also I want to have a 4 or 5 track EP recorded and on Bandcamp by the end of the summer. Then hopefully I should be going to Muenster in Germany on exchange next spring. There will probably be another performance by the end of the year as well. Keep making images, doing sound, and thinking things.
You can find out more about Tom's work at www.tomlines.com and @_tomlines