IN CONVERSATION | PAINTER- TOM FRY

01.06.20

“My expression comes from everything that surrounds me and the idea that’s in the moment, and sort of like, the current state of mind, trying to express that as well. I think whatever environment I’m in that’s always gonna have an impact on the way the finished piece looks.” – Tom Fry

Tom Fry is a painter and visual artist who explores his mental states and societal observations with his abstract style. His love of London’s urban street art culture, combined with his unique experience as an evolving voice can be viewed in his wide array of bold pieces. [tomfrystudio.com]

What is your definition of studio space?

For me, it’s probably about having a space where you can be 100% creative and not really worry about how that art that you’re making might interfere in your life. So having a space where you can almost isolate yourself, but be yourself and be creative and express yourself without having people look over your shoulder, just somewhere where you can really let loose. I currently work from my home, which is kind of a very slow process and it’s taught me a lot of patience because I feel like I don’t have that ability to be completely free because it’s my home. For instance, whenever I’m taking paints out, I’m taking things out one at a time and then putting them back. I don’t want to have everything out in front of me, because it’s also my home and I’m trying to live there too. So it’s a very slow process of taking everything out and then putting back everything;  it can be really cumbersome and difficult.

I’ve been looking for a really interesting studio space that’s affordable, where I can do just that. But it’s really difficult to get something that’s local to you, if you’re London based and if you’re trying to make an income solely off of art. I’ve resorted to working from home because of the cost of studio spaces in London and I find my ways around it. I’m also very lucky because I have a balcony and for me it’s really important to be outside and to have some outside space to make art. And I think having the sound of the street and traffic, people and stuff like that really influences the dynamic of my work. Having sort of that background of growing up as a little bit of a street artist, I guess, mixed with some kind of more self taught but finer skills, I guess, as well. I’ve grown up in like urban London street culture and having all of that buzz around me being sort of on a balcony outdoors in my own little world, really connects with me. So for me, it’s important that being in the city, you have reflections of that city as well. That environment is quite key.

Do you believe that London has an impact on your art?

Oh yeah massively.

I think having grown up here already I mean, that’s had a huge influence on my work. You know, I grew up surrounded by street art, graffiti. Very modern, sort of work and colours. And then also just the access to art in the city and in London has been really influential because you have so many museums and galleries and independent gallerists as well curators doing amazing stuff. There’s just this amazing access to art, which is amazing and London’s just been hugely inspirational in that space. And it’s a crazy place. You know, you meet so many interesting people. Everyone’s got a character.

Would you consider moving outside of London?

Yeah, absolutely. I think for me as an artist, like, that’s my next step. I haven’t travelled much. I mean, I’ve travelled around Europe, but never for the purpose of developing my work, you know. I think there’s something intrinsic with being an artist as well as putting yourself in new places, and  expressing yourself based on those environments. London has had a huge influence in my work, but I’d love to travel to other cities and do residences and be a part of new cultures and find ways to express myself within those.

Do you think it would impact your work if you were to move out?

Yeah, hugely, hugely. I work in a very kind of spontaneous way, so I think everything around me always has a sort of play in my work, like when I was talking about being out on my balcony and having the sound of the street and all of that. I think it has an effect on the way I decide to paint because I never really approach the canvas and sketch something, I sort of build things as I go with my work. I don’t really have a predetermined notion of what I’m going to make most of the time. Unless I might be working on a commission or something. My expression comes from everything that surrounds me and the idea that’s in the moment, and sort of like, the current state of mind, trying to express that as well. I think whatever environment I’m in that’s always gonna have an impact on the way the finished piece looks.

Collaborative/ communal studio spaces are on the rise, do you believe this formula can work? 

I think it depends, you know, sharing space can be difficult. Large spaces that can be shared can probably work. I have an issue with not being able to have all of my paint, all of my spray paints and  different materials, like pastels as well, charcoal or graphite and everything that I can get my hands on all in front of me. You can express yourself a lot easier if you have everything at your disposal. Working in a shared space, you have to be extremely well kept and tidy. You have to put your stuff away for other people to use the space to and I think that being messy is being part of an artist and that requires a lot of space; it’s important.

I think sharing space can definitely work as long as what you’re doing works within that shared space. For example, if you were a jeweller and you’re working on small sort of pieces of work, where you might just need a desk space and a little bit of storage and, you know, that kind of thing,  It’s great. But if you’re someone like a sculptor or someone who likes to paint on quite large surfaces, like myself, for instance, sharing spaces is difficult because I think it hinders or limits your expression.

I see the future of art in kind of unused spaces that become well managed spaces, but that work in almost like a social enterprise way. I think making spaces that potentially could be free, sustainable for artists would be quite interesting because there’s a lot of vacant space in London.

Like I’ve made projects in really interesting, unused spaces, and I used to run a pop up gallery in a local brewery. The idea was we would use existing businesses that wanted to have art in their spaces, and give them a cut of the sales that we’d make on a private viewing night. That way they would get something out of it and we’d also bring them extra clientele, and then I would take a small cut for putting everything together and advertising, and  the artist would get the rest.

 So like finding sustainable ways to use space I think is the future in art. For example, in the space that we were using, it was a brewery taproom inside a community centre and upstairs they had five or six rooms that were always vacant.These could have been studios where people could have been having residences. And it was a council owned building and there’s loads of ways that you can turn these into usable, affordable studios. So yeah, I think finding sustainable ways of creating studio space that’s manageable within existing businesses or unused spaces is probably the way forward. 

I’ve always been in a place where I’ve got a part time job  for the security of paying my rent and if I had to have a studio space, it would be for that as well. I think that the cost of studios makes a lot of artists uneasy about making that leap into being a full time. It’s too much of a risk for most of those artists to make that jump. Like for me, I’m stuck in a place where I’m always hesitating about getting studio space because  I feel like I’d have to get a full time job because the security of my work is not constant. 

How do you believe we can ensure artists remain in London in the future?

Well I think that’s an interesting question. I think to some degree artists in London will not want to leave, I guess. There are a lot of opportunities, but maybe still a lack thereof due to the number of people.

How do you think artists can collaborate and communicate with developers in the city to try to maintain that cultural community?

Well, I mean, sort of making them realise how much value we add to communities. There’s a system in place, right? Where typically what happens is there’s an area that artists can afford will go to in London to live. That area then becomes trendy. It was once cheap because it was rundown and artists will flock there because it’s the only place they can afford to live in London, right? And then a few will start making a career for themselves. Then it becomes a desirable area for investors to begin developing, and they add this value to the area the artists have inherently given, right. Then these creatives can’t afford their rent and start getting pushed out.

I’m thinking of my area like now as well because I know the majority of the community of artists in my area because I used to run the pop up gallery. I’ve heard a lot of them talk about how this area became a bit more on the map, and now the prices have shot up in the last three years and  everything is more expensive to buy and businesses are slowly moving in. Luckily, no one’s really been pushed out because it’s an area that never really had any dense communities that was being segregated or anything like that. I’m thinking about 15 years ago, it might have been quite affordable to find flat but as an artist now it’s ridiculous. I think  developers need to think about the inherent value that artists give to an area when they create these communities.