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30th January 2017

Q&A: Artist Tom Sewell discusses his solo exhibition

Originally an undergraduate student at the University of Brighton a decade and a half ago, multidisciplinary artist Tom Sewell went back to school in 2015 to begin an MA in Printmaking at London’s Camberwell College of Arts. Due to complete his MA later this year, Tom’s overt desire to answer an endless stream of his own questions results in him channelling his energy into multiple creative processes at any one time, something indicated in his work by the diverse pool of mediums and scales from which he plucks his inspiration and concepts.
Despite currently living, working and studying in London, Tom has taken his latest exhibition north of the capital to Nottingham — a city which boasts some of the best art and design institutions outside of London — and it’s worth the trip. Head to Losers Gym before 10 February (be sure to make an appointment) to see A Nature Of Agencies, a solo exhibition showcasing a number of new works that Tom hopes the audience will apply its own definitions to.

We caught up with the artist ahead of his show to talk about Nottingham’s thriving art scene, the impact of academia on artistic output and the subjective narratives behind his work.
Hi Tom! Great to see you kicking off 2017 with a new show. How did it come about and what was your main inspiration/motivation to do it?

Hi, thanks! My friend Sam co-runs the space (Loser’s Gym), he’s been following what I’ve been up to for a while and he had time and space to offer me a show so I gratefully said yes. It came at the right time, I’ve got a lot of work that I’ve made that really needs to be out in the world figuring out what it is.
It’s always a joy to see London-based artists showcase work outside the capital. How did you end up in Nottingham? Are you familiar with the creative scene there? 

Quite a few of my friends have moved to Nottingham over the last few years and through them I’ve met loads of others. There’s a great art scene up there, the Nottingham Contemporary has a great programme of shows and events and places like Primary, Backlit, Loser’s Gym, Syson and One Thoresby Street all contribute affordable studio and/or gallery and event space that allows a community to exist full of good people, its great to be able to be a part of it.

Can you tell us a little more about the narrative that defines the show? What was the catalyst for it?

There’s a kind of alchemical narrative behind it, a quest for the thing beyond all things. I’m interested in our relationship to nature and the landscape and the fictions we make through translating our experience to images. In a sense everything in the show is equivalent, it is down to our imaginative capacity to make sense of the things that are there, at least I think that’s what I’m saying. The show is intentionally provisional, in a very real way I have absolutely no idea what I’ve made and why and putting a show together and having other people interact with it will—hopefully—help me make sense of it.
What do you hope people will feel when they look at your work?

I guess the hope is that I can communicate some of the total confusion and uncertainty that lies at the heart of trying to make images of anything. All landscape is a fiction, all images of it are a technologically mediated reduction of what it actually is, because what it actually is impossible for us—as conscious, self-aware beings—to experience. It is beautiful and seductive as well as being totally alien and separate from us. I read the other day—and I’m paraphrasing but it feels relevant—something about trees: you know a tree doesn't actually have branches, roots and leaves, they are all just what being a tree is. It’s us—in trying to make sense of a tree—that categorises it and gives it different parts and different names. I guess what I’m trying to talk about is the inherent failure of images and language to communicate what nature might be.

You’re currently studying for an MA in printmaking. Has being in the midst of an academic process impacted your current work?

I feel it’s transformed it. I’m conscious that I’m in the middle of the whole process, which can often not be the best place to see how things are. Certainly being forced to commit long term to an involved research-based project, the theoretical unmooring involved with that and the sheer amount of time that you get to spend just making work can’t help but impact both who you are and the work you make. It’s simultaneously opened up and refined my process, forced me to be more critically self-aware and provided me with infinite questions and maybe a kind of acceptance that I won’t ever answer all of them.
Some very established artists, as well as those newer to the scene, are leaving London for a variety of reasons including rising property prices and lack of space. As a London-based artist who is exhibiting outside the city do you think this is indicative of a creative migration in the next five to ten years? Where do you see yourself?

That's a tough question. It’s a strange time and not only in this city. These changes that manifest themselves in London are indicative of broader cultural themes that we all need to try and resist. People in search of an alternative way of living need to be in London to guide the city in an interesting way but it can be really hard. I guess I'm conflicted about it. I've spent years building a community of friends here but it's unlikely that I'll ever be able to settle here long term and that is a feeling shared by many and is a detriment to the place we live. I have coastal dreams, but right now who knows really what the future holds.
You’re working on a variety of different projects, what is it that makes you get out of bed in the morning?

I guess I just have load of questions to try and answer and every day is a chance to do that.

What else is happening for you in 2017?

I finish my MA in July with a final show and right now I can’t really think beyond that. Given the parameters and structures of the course my practice has become necessarily quite studio based, I’m interested in working out how things work beyond the studio, involving myself in specific landscapes and in collaboration and dialogue with other artists, in that spirit I’m applying for residencies in the Amazon and Antarctica. There’s also talk of a show with a really great sculptor at a gallery in Hackney Wick in the summer but mainly when I’m not overworking myself on my masters I dream of lying on a beach in the sunshine drinking cold beer and swimming in the sea. I imagine I’ll also spend a fair bit of time protesting this year.

Visit Tom’s show ‘A Nature Of Agencies’ at Nottingham’s Losers Gym before 10 February. By appointment only. 

Studio 3
De Beauvoir Block
92 De Beauvoir Road
N1 4EN

+44 (0)20 3735 5855