I find myself haunted by the misery of the human condition. What drew me to performance and storytelling is the vulnerability of accessing raw emotions and crafting a connection to an audience while pointing out painful truths and charming amusement in tragedies and human experiences.
New York, USA
You have a strong background – a BFA in Painting and an MFA in Performance Art. But, later, you chose film as a medium, integrating storytelling and using performance. What potential do you see in this way of communicating your ideas?
The stories I create are serious, lighthearted, and poetically spoken. The carefully written themes challenge our perceptions of delicate topics like the fear of death, racism, war, and humanity’s coexistence with nature. And although I’ve lived many parts of my stories, the finished script is usually a blend of fact and fiction. I strive to find accompanying visuals that are intentionally uneventful, yet mesmerizing. I use old B&W-found film footage that is usually over a century older than the period of the spoken stories.
The film clips depict realistic, historical, and sometimes humorous visual portrayals related to the story’s settings and themes.
Through my artistry, I aim to help others connect to what they may feel, but might not be able to articulate.
You participated in many exhibitions with your photographic works on the theme of icebergs and arctic landscapes. You presented several projects on this topic in different parts of the world. Your project, “Floating Blue” recently finished touring the USA. What was the reaction to the project in the USA and how was the work received in China?
To achieve an other-worldly feel when photographing, I’m contextually elusive and don’t depict the broader environment in which the icebergs exist. I avoid including familiar references like boats, or land masses, letting the majestic ice form stand alone. Which sometimes leaves people at my exhibitions asking me questions like, “How big are they? Are you standing on land, or in a boat?” And though I enjoy answering their questions, I prefer to allow the viewer to get lost in the magnificence of these floating forms with nothing more than the vastness of their imagination.
I was very fortunate to have “Floating Blue” debut in Beijing, China. It was easily feasible as they printed and framed the photographs on-site. At the exhibitions, the audience especially loves hearing stories of my annual travels to Greenland, where I camp in a little tent, and sometimes hitch rides on boats with local families that are going seal hunting.
Thomas, in your work, you raise such sensitive issues as racial equality, politics, and events that have affected society. Why did you decide to work with such complex topics? Did your environment influence it?
My career moves were never as much about commercial success as they were about my quest as a spiritual seeker and teacher and honing my artistic craft. I’m drawn to the intertwinement of beauty and pain, and the truthfulness necessary to express it. I constantly study artists and public figures who boldly speak the truth and then bravely endure the consequences. Many of them are shunned by segments of society.
One of the ways I know I’m on track when creating an artwork is there’s a risk that perhaps I’ve gone too far.
I feel a little bit afraid to put the work out there, because of the delicacy of the subject matter. But bravery is about feeling that fear and doing it anyway because it is worth it.
In your work “Out My Window” you talk about the outbreak of rallies after racially motivated killings. About what the police turned a blind eye to, allowed or were accomplices. You are working with the topic of past events, but this is also the basis of current problems. Do you think society will be able to learn from past mistakes?
As forerunners of society, activists “set the stage” for social change. Many people think the racial justice protests of 2020 started with the police killing of George Floyd. They actually started almost three months earlier when activists saw a window of opportunity during the global pandemic lockdowns. Then when George Floyd was murdered, the worldwide uprising was a massive extension of what was already in motion.
I’m beginning a new work that deals with the Iraq War. When I look back on that time, I feel my whole country was involved in suspending all critical thought. And now, it feels like Americans have moved on and there’s been no accountability. The Iraq War was the consequence of the 9/11 attacks. When traumatic events are unfolding, it can be difficult to be rational and see things as they truly are. Now that much time has passed and some healing has occurred, we can see the past through a clearer lens, and if we’re interested and receptive, we learn from past mistakes.
By the way, your solo photo exhibition and short film “A Final Elegant Gesture” were presented at The Cultural Center of Cape Cod. How has the support of the center affected your work?
That particular solo exhibition, “The End of Nowhere, Stories and Photographs” as well as the film “A Final Elegant Gesture” were very risky endeavors for me. The solo exhibition combined still B&W Arctic landscape photographs along with short stories that were printed on text panels. I’d never seen anything formatted like that before and I was concerned galleries might not be willing to show it. It was nearly overwhelming for me when the Director of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod explained the reason he chose the work was because it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
A few years later when they invited me to create a short film that drew from my experience beneath the Twin Towers on the morning of 9/11, I made “A Final Elegant Gesture”. It’s a very bold piece, as it explores transcending the quality of thought at the moment of impending death, in a hauntingly beautiful way.
The Cultural Center of Cape Cod has been a guiding star in my evolution as an artist.
In addition, your work was presented at film festivals… Which of the events where you were a participant was most memorable?
Although I’m never seen in my films, occasionally I play some of the characters using my voice. And I’m always playing myself as the narrator. Recently, several film festivals invited me to perform a live reading of the script during my film presentation. With me standing on the stage, the artwork occupies three-dimensional space and becomes a live performance with the film as accompaniment. Which I feel is the optimum presentation.
My stories are self-confrontational and challenge the belief patterns the audience members hold in their minds. This is at the heart of what I do as an artist. I create a spaciousness in their minds without ever telling them what to choose, and then let the characters in the stories go about making the full spectrum of choices. As I read, I make eye contact with the audience. There’s a sincerity they experience when the creator of the artwork is speaking directly to them. It feels very deep and genuinely authentic for both the audience and myself.
One of our obligatory questions is advice from the hero of the interview for emerging artists. You have tried your hand at painting, photography, performance, storytelling… what advice would you give to beginners?
In creating art, notice when you’re ordained by others for being good at something. That’s no accident! You are indeed good at what people tell you you’re good at. It indicates a direction you might move in and explore further.
I want my artwork to live, breathe, and be out there in the world. I’m constantly soliciting my artwork for exhibition. If a venue will exhibit my work, I’ll send it to them. When you solicit your artwork for exhibition, brace yourself for rejection. And don’t let the rejection letters take you down. What you ultimately want is for your artwork to end up in the right place. Watch how rejection moves you toward where you should be showing your work. Notice that when you’re invited to exhibit somewhere, it is indeed exactly the right place for you. Trust the people who are making those decisions, they know what they’re doing.
And there’s one thing you have control over. Keep going, keep working, keep moving forward, no matter what.