Words and photos by Jamie Preisz
29-year old psychedelic pop artist, Tom Ferson, looks like a cross between Salvador Dali and a Grateful Dead roadie.
His work is a mix of well-informed colour choices, unique imagery, and technical skill, colliding to make a nostalgic, effortless feast for the eyes.
He’s also the master of an extremely involved creative process that consists of building layers of paint in different colours onto timber boards, and then meticulously, over a period of months, scratching parts of those layers away. Needless to say, he doesn’t have a lot of imitators.
“I use a Dremel (electric multi-tool) with an engraving burr to stipple off the top airbrushed layer, following a projected guide, to reveal the under-painted highlights and mid-tones. It all sounds rather complex but it’s just been a slow step-by-step evolution as the result of constant experimentation over the years.”
Despite the time-consuming nature of his process, Tom keeps a sharp focus on his work.
“If I knew, for example, that I spent precisely 200 hours on that big piece; it would be very difficult for me not to wonder what else I could have achieved in all that time, or to compare myself to other artists I know who could have created 10 times as much work in that time. I’d rather let it sit in an undefined grey-zone in my mind. It took as long as necessary. They take as long as they take. It just so happens that it’s usually a comparative fuck-load of time.”
His early work took inspiration from retro porn, effortlessly walking the line between nostalgia and cliché. However, his first solo show raised a few questions around content.
“A lady did a round of the room and then came to me. ‘It’s really great, but where’s all the penis?!’ I was painting what I was interested in without asking myself too many questions. Since then I’ve questioned much more. I thought more of the works as a meditation on female beauty, then more accurately a societal construction of beauty, deciding there is no static definable beauty. So, I have since explored beauty in the male form as well. That exploration in my work altered the way I see everything, and the way I question what I see.”
It is important, to an extent, to separate the art from the artist. In many cases this cliché is used to create distance from harm caused by artists (or dickheads) in the apparent striving for a creative goal. In Tom’s case this separation allows him room to grow and learn. He takes those reactions on board and uses them to understand the context in which he works.
“Everything I’ve made is a record of who I have been, and has certainly contributed to who I am, but is not necessarily who I am. My work will always be part of me, but I will always be more than my work.”
Despite the pressures of working outside of regular nine-to-five, Tom seems to have an eerily calm sense of himself and where he sits in his career.
“As anxious as I might get about my future, nothing would make me more anxious than the prospect of not being able to continue to make. I keep going because it’s what makes sense to me and it’s what brings me satisfaction and purpose. If I find myself worrying about the future, I look over my progress and the achievements I’ve made in relation to my own goals, not anybody else’s. I remind myself that it keeps getting better, that I keep getting better—slowly but surely, and that all I have had to do to achieve whatever I’ve wanted was to keep going. It’s only ever been a matter of time.”
Tom’s new show Intersections is live in September at The New Standard Gallery.
“It’s about love, sexuality and intimacy, and the way identity can be informed by all of those things.”