Hugo Barclay

Tom Wilmott

Hugo Barclay
Tom Wilmott

Tom Wilmott

Tom Wilmott | British visual artist, based in London

2003 Central St Martins & Camberwell College of Art

What inspired you to pursue art?

My dad was my main influence.  He passed away in October last year quite suddenly.  Part of the eulogy tribute to him was to thank him for introducing me to a passion which will last a lifetime.   He was very supportive and would always encourage me to draw as a kid. I suppose it was the one constant, from the day I could pick up a mark-making tool.

What else can a parent do than give their child something they will enjoy for the rest of their life? 

Apart from the painting, how else did your dad influence you? 

He always said, if you are well intentioned and things don't go the way you planned, just get on and do it better next time.  You don't have to be perfect to be good.  He had his significant flaws but was always a good person.   Everyone makes mistakes but not everyone can get up and say yeah I fucked up.

At least things can’t get any worse. 1.2 II. (2014) Oil & gloss on canvas.

At least things can’t get any worse. 1.2 II. (2014) Oil & gloss on canvas.

What was your experience like at art school?

It was okay, I don't feel like I learnt a huge amount.  That could partly have been because at 21 and fresh out of my parents’ house, there were other distractions. The tutors I had were supportive and knowledgeable.  However, the resources at Camberwell at the time were not the best, we weren't that well funded.   

I had an interest in galleries as well as making work, so chose curation as an elective.  Whilst I was studying, I ran a tiny exhibition space in a cafe in North London.  I would source artists and do the hangs, there was quite a lot going on.  


I get the impression you were not particularly inspired by art school?

It was fine, I met a few nice people.  I kind of knew what I wanted to do, and I don't believe art school necessarily helped me to figure that out. 

I value the 3 years I had to work alongside other makers.  However, I think the last year was kind of wasted as a lot of it was about marks and passing, which is completely subjective. They had to find different criteria to grade people, and what went around at that time was development, which was considered gradable.  If a person has changed over the 3 years then that will benefit them.  So, in my last year I changed what I was doing completely.  I was making big figurative paintings and then in my final year, I changed to making tiny ink drawings and illuminated manuscripts.  They were okay, but looking back, I cringe a bit.


If you had 4 weeks to train me, how would you go about it?

I would ask you to look as much as you possibly can, and find out what you respond to and get excited by.  The majority of that 4 weeks would be spent finding out about what it is that you like, and then just trying to emulate it.

How did you find your transition from art school to the real world?

I took a job in an art supply shop- that was great and paid the bills.  Alex, my wife, and I moved into our first flat in Nunhead.  She was studying for an MA in production design in film and TV at the time so was making sets and props.  Meanwhile, I was ruining this brand new flat with household paints everywhere -  we lived in the space where we worked so we could just make things whenever we liked.

Then we moved into a flat in Holloway which was much more our style but there was no space to make anything. At that time I took a studio in Hackney.   But, I could only get down there after work or for a day at the weekend.  I ended up spending a lot of time wanting to work, and a small amount of time being able to, which put pressure on that time.

 For me there is a real kind of sensual physical enjoyment in slapping colour and liquid about.

It is quite a strong desire at times, and to spend the whole week frustrated that you can't go and then when you get the opportunity to, it doesn't go the way you want - it can really piss you off.  

You know my grandpa’s in porno, and Elvis is my dad (2015) Gloss & emulsion on board

You know my grandpa’s in porno, and Elvis is my dad (2015) Gloss & emulsion on board

What would you say makes you different?

Giving my paintings away for free is probably my defining factor that makes me different. I began when I was working in the gallery and I was making the very little monochromes that were relatively inexpensive to produce. It was around that time that I started to use Instagram, so I also began to offer them on that platform too.  I met one of my biggest clients through Instagram in fact.  

When I was giving them away for free, it completely set aside the funny barrier of art world pricing which stops people asking. They look at a piece of art with no price tag on it and they don't want to have to admit that they can not afford it, especially in a gallery environment which is perceived to be quite snooty. 

Now I don't work at the gallery I give things away less, but the thing that is really important to me is that when I price my work, it is 100% understandable, reasonable and accessible.  


How do you price your work?

Even if one painting has taken me longer than another, I base my price purely on the size of the painting.  It is a simple equation - 5 pence per square centimetre. 

Do you have any habits or quirks?

It is less the specific processes but if I have a quirk, my environment in which I work, has to be just right.   A lot of artist studios are all white with a few things in the corner, but although it does not relate to my work very much - I like when there is a lot going on in my space.  

It is also important to me that the environment that I live in is inspiring, comfortable and exciting. 


What is your relationship with branding?

It is a funny word isn't it. I wouldn't use it to describe what an artist does. When I think of branding, I think of Adidas.  It suggests to me that you are trying to put out an image, that influences people to think a certain way about what you are doing.

Making art is mostly quite a personal thing so if I have a brand it is just my personality that comes out in the work.

Everything I put forward is something I can stand by and justify, but everybody edits to a certain extent.  If you make something crap you don't put it out in the same way as you would something good, so you will never get a completely full picture of what an artist has made.   I don't know if it is branding as such, but I think it is okay to not let everyone see the work you don't think is good enough. It goes all the way to the top - working at the gallery, I know of artist’s estates that have had major culls, and literally burnt stacks of work they don't feel reflects their artists.

Modern kids (2016) Gloss on canvas

Modern kids (2016) Gloss on canvas

Have any artists influenced your philosophy to making?

Picasso said something about how he spent years building skill and then even longer forgetting it, and that is how he improved. 

I identify with that idea completely.  I don't worry about how my work is positioned in the art world.   You can't get bogged down in that, or you won't end up making anything.

There is a lot of emphasis at art school about the profound meaning behind work, and where it sits in the art world, but I just make things.

That is why I think young children are the very best painters.  They are completely devoid of association, criticism and influence, so they are 100% free.  They move paint around simply for the sake of doing it.


In your opinion, what are the main mistakes in the art world?

There are a lot.  I think it is a bizarre and deeply flawed industry in many ways.  It is so tiny, with so few people in it, that when you get to the top end it becomes a law unto itself.

At least things can’t get any worse. 1.2 XVII (2014) Acrylic, gloss & emulsion on canvas.

At least things can’t get any worse. 1.2 XVII (2014) Acrylic, gloss & emulsion on canvas.

How did having your daughter, affect your work habits? 

I developed a set of rules for myself, so the time I spent making, was as well spent as possible.

One rule was that I had to create quickly within my space - in between naps, and it had to be enjoyable.   It became much more of a sensual pursuit than anything else. 

I figured out what brought me down - spending too much time thinking, to the point where the painting was almost completed in my head so that by the time I got around to making it, it was more of a chore.  

That's when I began to make the monochromes.  It was nice to create a little object.  They weren't the most interesting paintings in the world, but as that developed and I wanted to paint in different ways, a new series developed.

Another rule was literally one mark. That was satisfying as well. The monochromes which were very geometric became more expressive.  I started making paintings with multiple marks.  I developed a way of randomising the composition with a random number simulator.  That wasn't so good, it ended up looking like a pretty spotted pattern, which was somehow unsatisfying.  

From there, I went through various motifs which I developed for different reasons. I built up a series of tools, or structures within which I could paint. 

As a result, I learnt to indulge in the production of painting, rather than agonise over the extras.  The motifs became a vehicle for me to enjoy what I enjoy i.e. painting, in the most concentrated way I could.  It is the best approach I have ever come up with, since it is all about deriving enjoyment from your pursuit.  

For a long time, I called painting an involved hobby, because I had a full-time job at a gallery.  Now it is not, now it is my life.  My wife's life as well, a big point is that we live it, it is here in the house.  We considered having a studio as most artists do, and aside from the extra cost, I have never found greater levels of success than working from my home.

It felt really good, yeah we really had a good time. V (2016) Tempera & emulsion on canvas

It felt really good, yeah we really had a good time. V (2016) Tempera & emulsion on canvas

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