American painter Thomas Ascott’s new body of work ‘The Astral Woods’ uniquely captures what for most of us is a deeply buried childhood imagination – one that we sadly put to bed when we grew up. Remember those carefree days that you spent with your friends and family, just laying by a river with one arm dangling in the cool water, or playing hide and seek among the tall grass. The nights spent by the campfire, retelling those urban myths that scared the hell out of us yet were so captivating that generation after generation re-tells the stories. Thomas’ work takes those urban myths and mixes them with a large dollop of childish curiosity and wonder.
The monsters and ghosts become our fast friends and we walk with them side by side on our youthful adventures and into Thomas’ unique surreal narratives. This series sets Thomas’ characters in the beautiful Smoky Mountains [Tennessee] where he grew up. Thomas’ love of the natural world is palpable as we the viewer are at once transported to the forests of his youth, and there we are able to allow our inner child the joyful freedom to play.
‘The Astral Woods’ is on view at Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia until 26 May.
One of the new editorial’s in Beautiful Bizarre Magazine – the SNAPSHOT Q&A asks multiple artists the same questions. This format is wonderfully insightful as we get a peek into the hearts, minds and practices of different creatives working across different mediums and styles.
Art is a visual language, what are you hoping to communicate to the viewer through your work?
I try to communicate different things on different levels. Foremost, I try to convey a tone, a sense of place and deeper narrative. I tend to go for “creepy beautiful” and “edgy but sweet”. I am personally drawn to art that holds these seemingly contradictory aspects. I think the tone is important because it usually is what the viewer sees first and how they will interact with a painting hanging on their wall on a day-to-day basis.
Secondly, I try to clearly and concisely convey the concept or idea of a particular piece. I try not to let the macro-level themes that run throughout the entire body of my work overwhelm the smaller theme of any given individual piece. My work is filled with symbolism and imagery from my experiences and anxieties: family, fertility, fatherhood, etc.
These ideas are there and show up in my work organically, but I like to keep them as an undercurrent that adds to the overall richness of a painting without being too blatant, kind of like how building up layers of glaze impacts the depth of a finished painting, but the technique isn’t necessarily obvious in and of itself.
What do you hope to leave behind in the world through your art?
Honestly I create art mainly because I love creating it and attempting to improve at it. Hopefully, in the end, I will leave behind a large body of work that shows a progression of skill, is varied, is compelling, and something my daughters will be proud of.
What is the most challenging part about creating art for you?
Time. I have a day job, so most of my painting is done after my kids go to bed and on the weekend.
The challenge that I am always chasing and that excites and drives me to create is improving how I incorporate all the Cs: craftsmanship, concept, communication, composition, contrast, and color.
Did you do formal study in the Arts? Did you find it helpful or a hindrance?
I went to a university for a year but their art department was focused on abstract impressionism and discouraged representational art. When a piece I did was criticized for being illustrative, I realized that the school was not a good fit for my goals and the type of art I wanted to do. I ended up getting a degree at a commercial art school. This definitely helped me find an entry level job as a graphic designer/illustrator and reach my broader goal of earning a living doing art.
I think becoming a better artist really boils down to just drawing or painting constantly while making a concerted effort to identify the weaknesses in your art and trying to correct them.
“Fairy Ring resonates with me the most from this series. The first time I drew the skull girl was a sketch of her dancing in the forest while a forest animal sat and watched. I was sketching on the couch while one of my daughters was sitting next to me and watching me draw. I drew it just to make her laugh. I also have a fond memory of making the reference material for this painting. It took serious coaxing and bribery to get one of my twins to put on a dress for it but I have delightful slow motion video of them laughing and spinning around in the backyard.” T Ascott
Who is your biggest Art Throb and why?
There are so many artists that I adore for so many different reasons. One person whose art I keep coming back to is William Adolphe Bouguereau. He has amazed me for a long time now. His skin tones and glazing kill me, and I love his paintings of shepherdesses and peasant girls. Definitely an influence on my own work.