Sunroom Studio Visit: Tom Jean Webb
At Sunroom we’re guided by the thrill of discovery and unexpected inspiration — be it a piece of art, a photo, a place we travel, or a conversation…this week we’re excited to introduce a new series on our journal — conversations with artists of all kinds whose inspiring work reminds us that creativity knows no bounds!
First up: Austin based, London-born artist Tom Jean Webb. Growing up in the UK, Tom was inspired from an early age by his grandfather’s interest in Americana nostalgia and the specificity of Southwestern geography. Today, he creates striking, iconographic art that’s heavily influenced by American landscape.
Can you share a bit about yourself + your background?
I was born just outside of London. My family had roots in East London, owning and operating scrap yards and eventually moving out to the countryside.
As an artist, I’m interested in the role creativity and art have in society but also in an individual sense — what it can mean emotionally and spiritually to make or express oneself through a medium and where life or creativity starts (…and which is leading which). I’m interested in how art can be a form of communication but also allow room for discovery, being an opportunity to allow someone to feel.
What has been your trajectory into art?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawing and creating. When I visit home one of the first things my mum will ask is, ‘What shall we make?’
My mum is a curtain maker, clothing maker, and upholsterer and my grandad built and restored motorcycles and cars, so I grew up seeing the joy of making something purely rooted in passion. I also struggled in school quite a bit and often feel I developed in art early on as mechanism for expressing myself in a way I couldn’t in other ways.
My grandad was always a fan of all things American, and his house was a museum to Americana. We spent a lot of time together and he bought me my first Stetson as kid. I remember we’d sit and watch Westerns together or look through maps of the American Southwest, reading out names of places and expressing how magical it all sounded.
When I would sit and draw, these were the places I took myself to…and so it felt quite natural to make the work I did. Eventually it got the the point where I wanted to go to these places to complete the circle: to start a real dialogue between the imagined and the reality. Ultimately it has been the best decision I could have made.
How do you get in the creative “zone”?
I’m always teetering on the edge of creativity….[I find] that one thought can open a floodgate of ideas. Anything can trigger it; it’s learning how to listen.
I feel quite lucky in that my process for making work was developed at a young age and hasn’t really changed all that much. I remember a tutor explaining to me that the hardest thing to do as an artist is re-learn that childlike play in art: I’ve tried to hold onto that as much as possible.
I often like to find a place of silence and retreat to make work so that all outside distractions seem far away and I can be left to play. I also think it’s important to be open and listen for those moments of inspiration because they are so beautifully surprising.
What ideas, color combinations, or art concepts have been inspiring you recently?
At the moment I think more than anything Im interested in the idea of space: How to create space in an artwork and to create work that allows someone to find room to breathe, to participate, and discover. Often, negative space can say the most: in a song, it’s the silent moments that make the sounds.
I also really enjoy keeping in moments of error…these moments of imbalance are necessary in trying to create beauty.
Color has always been important to me and my work and how it can illustrate place, time, and feeling. The colors I use are a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time, and it’s always fun to look back at the work I’ve made and find these correlations between color and emotion.
Describe a typical day in the life.
Most days differ: Being an artist it’s so tempting to ignore some of the less inspiring parts of the process or daily ritual and want to be solely focused on the creating. I’m trying to be better at creating a balance. The thing I find with art is that my mind is never switched off from thinking about it. So it’s about learning how to healthily create a level of structure and room for myself, so that my day can be productive.
First thing is making my bed, such a boring answer but I’ve really found it to be therapeutic. It signals the start of the day with a small level completion and achievement.
For the rest of the day I try to switch it up: some days I will sit to do the admin side of my things and others I will allow to make art first and then have an evening of admin. I try to listen and see how I feel and to keep an eye on balance.
Can you share a few favorite places / go-to spots in Austin?
There’s still much I need to discover about this city, so I’m really enjoying finding new places to visit. I’m lucky enough to have been asked to do artwork for Central Machine Works, which is a favorite spot of mine. One place I have found that I enjoy for some quiet walking and contemplation is Laguna Gloria.
Other favorites are: Maufrais, Kinda Tropical, STAG, Justine’s, Sour Duck and art shows at Preacher Gallery
Where do you love to travel to get inspired? Where is next on your list?
Anywhere with silence, fresh air and clean light. Somewhere where I have room to walk. Walking is so important it me, I find it meditative but also there’s something about moving around nature without machinery: I love the sound of steps on the ground. I love being able to see for miles.
For inspiration I like the desert landscapes, the balance of the beauty and harshness. There’s so much subtlety and yet when you stop to look you can see so much happening. I would really like to take more trips out to Big Bend and I’m also going to visit Colorado for the first time.