TOM ORMOND's oil paintings make visible the unseen energies surrounding the intangible intersection of progress and nature. In layered compositions featuring the hard angles and straight lines of architecture and the recurring visual motifs of the geodesic dome and a column of climbing rays of light, he presents our habitual human attempt to contain the uncontainable. Tom earned his BA in Painting from Loughborough College of Art and Design in 1996 and his MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2005. Recent exhibitions include group shows Disclosure (2014) at Chart Gallery in London, Beautiful Things at Next Door Projects in Liverpool, The Future Can Wait (2013) at Victoria House in London and Digital Romantics (2012) at Dean Clough in Halifax. His solo exhibition Everywhere from Nothing (2013) opened at Charlie Smith in London, and he won The Open West Curator's Prize in 2014. Tom lives and works in London.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist.
Tom Ormond: I did a BA in Painting at Loughborough College of Art from 1993–96, where I ended up painting stuffed animals and golf courses. Afterwards, I landed an internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I did very minor bits of research for the Painting and Sculpture department and the Film and Video department. Then I moved to London and tried to be a ‘proper artist’—dole and squalor. In 1998, I became an artist’s assistant to Damien Hirst. It was still a relatively small set up. At its best it was like a family business and was exciting.
In the relative isolation of my own studio, I painted caves, apes and diagrams. I earned an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2005. I finished there making mash-up paintings of Prince Charles’ Poundbury—his answer to late 20th century architecture—and Stubbs-esque landscape paintings—horses removed, morphing modernist structures encroaching. Damien bought work from my degree show and later showed it at the Serpentine Gallery. That exposure allowed me to focus exclusively on my practice and led to a period of working with a commercial gallery.
The architectural elements infected the landscape, and I began painting exploding and morphing structures. In 2007, a travel scholarship allowed me to travel round the U.S. visiting nuclear test sites, experimental architectural sites and off grid communities. I made paintings in response to the trip: large canvases with centralized explosive forms—built up from layers of poured paint, marks, diagrams and obliteration—onto which I would impose geometric structures.
OPP: Many of your paintings seem to be revealing invisible structures within architecture or energy channels breaking through architecture to the sky above. I go back and forth between thinking of these as stills from a sci-fi film sequence in which something is being created or destroyed and imagining that these are static moments and you are revealing the energy that is already always around us. Thoughts?
I enjoy the ambiguity you describe, and I aim for the snapshot versus
the constant. I’m interested in architecture in a state of
transformation: dynamic, physical and tangible, possibly violent. This
comes across in a painting as a snapshot, which is almost contradictory
to the slower pace required for the revelation of the something that is
unseen, inward or abstract. I paint as if our eyes could see magnetic
fields or even ideas and creativity before their physical realization,
using technologies yet to be discovered.
Painting allows me to create the snapshot and look beyond. It starts with an idea which is acted upon, made real, built up, erased, revised, reformed, informed and responded to until a moment is reached that is made up of all those moments. Painting can also show the light bulb above someone’s head.
OPP: How do feel about the Futurists? Visually, I see a connection to your work.
TO: I can see how you might look at my paintings and think they were made by someone inspired by the Futurists, but really they aren’t. Since early on, I’ve had a block against the Futurists, particularly the paintings, which I’ve associated with a certain dead handling of paint. I’ve never really taken them to be that futuristic, so I’ve not been seeing them in context. I’ve never looked much deeper into the movement and worked in oblivious naivety of them. Weirdly though, I’ve recently embraced that same dead handling of paint, which for me represents an old fashioned idea of the future. I’ve come round to their work on a formal level.
OPP: Do you share any conceptual ground with them?
I’m with them on wanting to express dynamism in painting and also their
celebration of the industrial as beautiful. But in other ways, I’m
almost an anti-futurist. I don’t hate the past. In fact, I often revel
in it for Disney-esque consolation. I look to the past as much as I look
to the future, which at times I view with trepidation. I admire the
optimism and true belief of the Futurists. I can see it was born out of a
frustration with a particular situation and the weight of European
(Italian) history, yet I am almost nostalgic for a time such as theirs
where the future seemed so hopeful.
We’re at the other end of a century and have seen how many of the Futurist beliefs have panned out—war cannot be viewed in a positive way as a cleansing process. Science is still glorified, yet it is tainted with doubt, informed by many developments of the 20th century. Today we, too, struggle to believe in man’s triumph over nature.
In thinking about the future today, I look back at markers of progress and former visions of the future—science, war and architecture—subjects to which the Futurists were drawn and looked forward to. I picked up on similar visual motifs: painterly explosions, geometric architecture, collapsing space, creation of light, effects of gravity. But if the Futurists were around to today, they probably wouldn’t paint, and it’s the anachronism of painting the future which draws me.
OPP: Could you talk about your use of hard angles, rays and straight lines?
The hard angles and lines balance the more fluid gestural parts of the
early layers of each painting. These marks suggest architectural
fragments, part of a futile attempt to give a quantifiable shape to a
morphing, shifting, unquantifiable form. I like the idea of trying to
build an Epcot-like dome around a nuclear explosion.
Linear elements allow me to suggest varying degrees of plausible architecture. Straight lines aren’t immediately present in nature yet everything we build involves them. In older works, I exploited an ‘offness’ of perspective and scale. More recently, I’m basing works on existing spaces or architectural models, so it makes sense to use perspective as a tool to create a ‘believable’ space in which the impossible or improbable can be believed and tested. The three-dimensional grid is a means to locate one thing in relation to another. Our modern mind understands the logic of these spaces. The two-dimensional illusion of the three-dimensional space can temporarily support the illogical in a way the actual three-dimensional realm cannot.
The rays, forming along x, y and z axes, represent an artificial light generated or received, a non-religious halo. These are the visible product of something abstract. . . as if thoughts, actions or aspirations could be viewed through a pair of first-generation-philosophical-glasses. Their blocky graphics are the precursors to the more sophisticated three-dimensional enabled lenses to come.
OPP: I’m curious about older works like General and Figure, both from 2010, and Fusileer, Guardian and Vela Uniform, all from 2008. These non-traditional portraits are of figures of military power. How do they relate to your landscapes?
TO: Portraiture can give away answers to questions about time and scale that I hope remain open, so I’ve always been cautious. People feature in my research as influential characters—architects, scientists, ecologists, etc— but rarely make it beyond the sketch-book.
When I was dealing more directly with images of nuclear blasts—which are essentially scientific records—I began to view these fleeting, morphing spheres as the ultimate expression of the modern era. . . a scientific global architecture of humans grappling with their control of nature. I want that to stretch beyond the reference to the historical document, and I treat the figures in those paintings the same way.
They are based on images of people involved in the Manhattan Project, selected for their look rather than their individual significance to history. I didn’t want them to be recognized as specific individuals or as historical heroes or villains. I see them as representing what humans are capable of in the modern era. The paintings only began to work when I treated them like architecture and landscape. With all distinguishing traits removed, they could become constructed god figures.
To see more of Tom's work, please visit tomormond.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.