“I like to make things. Sometimes they are good enough to look at.”
‘Thomas Freer was born on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, famous for its stone quarries and fossils. Spending his early childhood surrounded by traditional sculptures in stone taught him the importance of immersing oneself in a material and understanding it entirely.’
Tom now lives in Worthing, where he is a trustee of the Worthing Arts Trail, involved with Brighton Open Houses and works alongside Creative Waves Community Arts. His work is highly sought after by individual collectors, and has found its way to New York, Rome and Berlin to name but a few, whilst being featured in exhibitions around the world. Thomas’s next exhibition is scheduled for Summer 2014, at a venue to be revealed soon.
We at Worthing Art have been to photograph Tom at work and ask him a few questions….
Do you have positive/negative memories of art when you were at school?
My art teacher when I was 7 really believed in me. She facilitated my curiosity and never put up barriers, even though I often strayed from the brief. I owe her so much but never got the chance to say thanks. She gave her life to teaching art, in the end quite literally.
What would your school report have said about your art?
I have one here. It reads “…yet despite Thomas’s apparent lack of ability to focus on anything or anyone for more than three seconds, in that time he is capable of producing some quite reasonable work.”
Did you go on to further education in art or are you self-taught?
I took degrees in art and engineering, with the ambitious goal of understanding both the abstract and the concrete. I was eventually felled by applied mathematics and nearly gave up altogether. Fortunately I have good friends who picked me up and gave me a good shake. Everything since I have taught myself via friends, inspiring characters and the internet.
What or who has inspired you over the years?
The craftsmen who work from the stone quarries in Dorset where I grew up study a single material for their whole lives. Their skill, knowledge and dedication inspire me to concentrate on what is in my hands and ignore the shiny things that are all around.
What Artists do you admire?
I admire anyone who challenges preconceptions, challenges themselves, challenges me; anyone who ever made a mark on a piece of rock with a burnt stick or embarks on an intimate study of social beliefs in order to tear them apart.
What is your favourite piece of work (yours and someone else)?
My granddad had an unsigned painting of some blue-green stormy waves which mesmerised my entire childhood. I secretly tucked a piece of paper with my name on it into the back of the frame in order to claim it one day.
My favourite piece of my own work is a small ceramic sculpture which my mum mended and saved for me. I don’t remember making it but apparently I was five and cried a lot when it broke.
What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far? What are you proud to have achieved?
I’m cautious of pride but always happy when a piece of work brings joy, especially in unexpected ways. A rather sad lady once bought an entire flock of paper seagulls for her Christmas tree so she could finally let go of a generation of bequeathed decorations. We both had tears when she left.
What have you sacrificed for your art?
Sometimes money has been short and I’ve missed out on fun things my friends have afforded; and my family openly wondered when I was going to get a ‘proper’ job. But none of this has really mattered to me deeply and I’m pleased to be able to say I am sticking to what I believe in. Also I didn’t really notice when a girl I loved left me during a particularly intense bout of painting. I just looked up one day and she had gone, which was sad.
What’s the best bit of advice that has been given to you?
Keep at it, you’ll improve.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist/craftsperson?
Stop procrastinating and get on with it. And get rid of your tv, it’s far too distracting. Also, don’t listen to me. Lastly, when you approach a gallery or a shop for the first time, hold your head up high and be bold. Don’t do that awkward, shuffling, shy thing; you’re better than that.
How do you start a piece of work?
Usually by doing the washing up.
Then the laundry, tidying up, dusting, take the rubbish out, clean the bathroom, make the bed. Weed the patio, oil the bike, build a shed… you get the picture. Everything has to be tidy before I can concentrate, otherwise my mind… ooh look, a beetle with only five legs!
When is it finished?
I have ruined countless projects by obsessing over unnecessary detail so now I try and stop working on a piece the moment I realise I’m fiddling.
Do you have a mantra, quote or line from a song that best sums up what your art means to you?
The words I try to live by are: Focus, work hard, be kind, have fun.
Does music help with your creativity? If so what would you choose to listen to whilst working on a piece?
I mostly work in silence and my studio is dark and quiet. I can’t have the radio on, because the talking distracts me too much. Occasionally I listen to deep filthy house with the volume turned up loud, and then I dance and paint and laugh at myself.
What is your favourite medium to work with/in?
I have a generalised worry that my creativity will run out suddenly and without warning, so I tend to work in materials that provide rapid results. When I’m painting I use acrylics which I mix with chalk dust and acetone to speed up the drying time; if I’m sculpting I use accelerated resins and composites. Right now I’m working with the heating turned up full because this so-called fast-set plaster takes up to an hour to cure and that just won’t do.
Do you have a lucky or favourite something that you use that has been with you forever?
My beloved ‘Art Box’ is a treasure chest of collected items since I was born. I have my first nappy pin (perfect for unblocking glue nozzles), a set of tiny screwdrivers from a cracker (general spectacle repairs), school reports, my dad’s old stopwatch, some dried-out platignum ink cartridges, a protractor, a huge mobile phone from the eighties, coins from Germany and Thailand… The box is a physical map of my life so far and I take it everywhere I live.
Are you living your dream through your art or do you have one – what do you strive for?
I’m making a living from my art, which is part one of the dream. But my good friends and relatives keep moving to more and more exotic places as we get older, so I have to keep upping my game to be able to see them as often as I’d like. My aim is to be able to balance work and travel, which I don’t think is unreasonable.
Is there anything you avoid with your art?
Although it’s not particularly artistic of me to admit this, I do try and avoid conflict. There are plenty of admirable artists who provide intellectual contradiction or vulgar statements and whilst I enjoy having my balance upset in many respects, I prefer to play with harmonious aesthetics and simple observations.
Thank you Tom, it was a real pleasure to photograph you at work and so interesting. If you would like to see more about Tom Freer then visit the links below or you can meet him in his Studio next to Coast Cafe.