We recently asked Tom some questions about life and work as an artist. Here is what he had to say:
Life as an Artist
You’re an artist who has been active for over 25 years. What continues to surprise you about making art?
The endless possibilities and joy of creating. I am not loyal to any one medium or material. Making something, anything, gives me a sense of purpose and I always feel as though I am learning.
Have you ever struggled with self-identifying as an artist?
Yes, when I was younger I found it hard to affirm (on an application for example) that I was an artist. It almost didn’t seem like a legitimate occupation. When I was in high school I met with a guidance counselor and they asked what I wanted to be. I said, “An artist.” They responded that was not an option, that my profile test suggested I would be better suited to be an undertaker. I disagreed…
Music seems to be one of your creative companions. What is consistently on your playlist?
Miles Davis, Beatles, Radiohead etc. I used to have music on in my studio constantly but feel as I have gotten older, silence has inspired me even more.
What gets you in the studio even when you don’t feel like being in the studio? Is there a practice or action you rely on to start the creative engine?
Making a living as an artist, being in a relationship, supporting a family, all were drivers in me coming to the studio everyday which has always been 15 miles from home. I never felt that it was a luxury to create when I felt like it was my job and I had to work extra hard to make it work. Making a commitment to anything is a motivator.
How do you capture ideas?
I take photographs with a camera or my phone. I make lots of notes about titles, ideas, thoughts, more than I sketch. I have had a daily studio diary since 1984.
The Artist’s Work
In your Artist Statement, you describe your artwork as “rehearsal[s] in uncertainty.” Do you make sense of uncertainty in your work and create order? Do you invite uncertainty into an observed structure?
So much of life is about uncertainty. I accept it as a fact. Each time we participate in an act with an uncertain outcome, I feel we become more attuned in planning our response, questioning our assumptions and trusting our instincts. For me making art is much about that experience.
The lotus series showcases a different direction in your work, both in terms of element scale and also abstraction versus representation. How did it come into being?
I started the lotus series in 1995 when a friend returned from a trip to Thailand, and a lotus tattoo. It is an image that has a powerful symbolic meaning and history in many cultures. I never had an intention to explore it as much as I have in the context of my art but it has just become a part of my story. Meditation in action. It’s been gratifying to see where my lotus pieces have gone: a hotel in the Philippines, a Saudi Sheik’s Manhattan penthouse, a public power supply in Phoenix, a gynecologist in Las Vegas, a hotel lobby in Olympia, etc. Several years ago WA Governor Jay Inslee’s office commissioned a print of one of my lotus pieces as a gift to the Japanese sister state for the 50th anniversary.
Do you refer to your art as abstract?
Sometimes I refer to it as abstract or non-representational or industrial alchemy. To me abstraction is exploring an idea without the benefit of a planned conclusion. It is an improvisational experience defined by the courage of letting go and being in the moment. It is the instinct of experience and emotion happening in the present. Walking out the door/skiing/surfing are all to me abstract in that the intent may be clear but the outcome is not. Much of my work comes from the same place of spontaneity.
An Artist’s Inspiration
What is best creative advice you have ever received?
“Creativity takes courage.” -Matisse
Creative people tend to have obsessions. What are you obsessed with lately?
My obsessions are pretty fluid, for several years it was vintage guitars, 60s psychedelic posters and old cars. Twelve years ago I restored a 75-year-old lakefront log cabin. Last summer I started restoring a 1969 Airstream trailer so I’m researching the process. I enjoy the process no matter what I am doing.
Who are some of the artists that inspire you. Who is part of your creative lineage?
Miles Davis, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Eames, John Lennon, my dad Quentin Anderson (jazz musician), Keith Richards, Bill Evans, Jean Basquiat, and many more…