IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST TOM LEAMON
The ritual experiments of painting and poetry
by Ellie Howard
Tom Leamon is a Portugal-based painter, illustrator and surrealist poet, originally from South London. His solo exhibitions and creative ventures over the years have brought him a cult following, his painting of macabre figures caught up in carnivalesque scenes of humanity have become highly collectable. His artwork dances the line between life and death, bringing forth beauty from chaos, recollecting the spiritual work of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Tom divides his time between the Big Smoke of London and the Algarve. Today he is speaking to me from ‘The Beekeepers’ project, an artist community situated at the magical point where Spain and Portugal’s borders meet. “Beekeepers” is Leamon’s latest venture, having previously set up Studio 180 and the daring Gallery 223 in London. Leaving a trail of tangible successes over the years, it is clear that the artist cannot sit still; there is nothing Tom Leamon can’t do.
KOD: Can I start off by asking you, why Portugal?
TL: Over the years, I have set up art collectives and collaborated with friend Pedro Leitao. When his son was born he moved back to Portugal, and I constantly visited with my partner, artist Jennifer White. It was then we collectively decided to find a place away from London, a subtropical climate that we could start an art space.
KOD: Could you talk to me about “The Beekeepers” project? /Studio 180/ Gallery 223? Everywhere you go you seem to set-up creative hives…
TL: It was really just about establishing a creative space full of life that supports the development of artists and offers an affordable alternative to the rising rent prices of the white-walled spaces dominating the city. When I arrived in London there was very little opportunity for young artists, so Studio 180 has inadvertently become a place where we nurture young talent.
KOD: What does the "Beekeepers" aim to do? Does the sunshine filter into your work?
TL: It aims to reconnect you to your roots, by focusing on how your environment shapes your artwork and you as a person. In London my studio is next to train tracks, busy roads and you can hear sirens, now when you replace that with nature and birdsong, it takes you back to the basics. When I am here, I don’t follow the news, I don’t get stuck in politics. It feels as if I am facing things, which are slightly more important, that we should all be aware of, as opposed to the crap that we deal with. The space has become a retreat from the everyday.
KOD: Poetry seems to weave itself through your painting – could you recite me a line you recently wrote?
TL: “Here were simple sides of mind combine to place pointed pin on time, to launch with pen to match the ticking tock of when, where staged and re-arranged hold hands to mirror age, and thatched futures become present pasts, where thoughts detached have no home, where brittle bodies do not break, here behind soft walls and fake heat, we mark, remark then make”.
That was a quote that that went into the last book, but this piece of text was very much within and inspiring the painting “The Ritual Experiment”.
KOD: Do you think of painting as a kind of storytelling? How do you explain the connection between narrative and painting?
TL: Painting is definitely a form of storytelling, the narrative is often inspired by something that I found frustrating, for example watching the news in the morning! There was always a story within each piece of work. It is an interesting process, working the text into painting and not overloading it with all that London throws at you.
KOD: What is it about the so-called ‘Human Condition’ that you are trying to capture?
TL: My work is about confronting the fear of death, and raising the question of living, asking why we get caught up in the rhythms of a materialistic life. My painting strips back human condition to its core; it’s an attempt to refine life to its simplest form. As we move faster and evolve, what do we leave behind? My painting is the whole process of experiencing life. I hit people in the face with that childish naivety.
KOD: What is DADA to you?
TL: For me it's about being an individual with my own opinions and values. It's about not taking things for granted and confronting, which don't make sense. Pushing boundaries, speaking out loud, exploring/developing and ever evolving.
To see more of Tom Leamon's work, please click here