I caught up with Tom Laming, a Newcastle artist, to pick his brain on his art, the Newcastle art scene, and his future career ventures. After polishing off a few glasses of red with the subversive social capitalist, we ‘officially’ began the interview and I acquired a little insight into his philosophy on life, and how he manages to survive as an artist in this ever economical world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Forster. I’ve lived in Newcastle for 10 years. I surf. I drink a lot. I like to read.
What sort of stuff do you like to read?
Anything that’s not general popular bullshit.
What’s your philosophy on life?
I INITIALLY ASKED HIM THIS QUESTION BEFORE THE BOTTLE OF WINE. I’M GLAD I DID, HIS RESPONSE WAS ‘AAAH, WHO ASKS SOMEONE THAT QUESTION? HOW DO YOU EVEN ANSWER THAT? WHAT IF I DON’T EVEN KNOW YET?’ LATER WE RETURNED TO IT…
Ok… I would never just accept what has been presented to me as a way of living. I think that’s my philosophy on life, is to naturally be subversive, and non-conformist in the most wanker of words. I’m a bit of a wanker so I’ll say it, I wouldn’t accept what’s given to me, whether it’s right or wrong, I’d rather find out for myself.
What made you want to paint? What made you want to be an artist?
It came out pretty early when I was learning to figure out what objects were and how they existed in, not in the world, but when they’re represented. For example you see a picture of a cup, on the side of the road, and you realize it’s coffee. And then I knew you could make people think something by drawing, and that’s what made me start drawing. Painting came after that because I knew that, but I had more tools to use to fuck with people’s heads. Whether it’s realistic or not, it’s not the point. There’s a preconception of what everything is suppose to be, and you can play with that as much as you want. I think that’s when I started to realize that you had the ability as human beings to be free and just create something that you want. That was when I was in primary school.
What do you enjoy about painting? What figures, or what issues do you enjoy painting, or does it just come out?
The best way to answer this is I enjoy painting whatever comes out. I never deliberately plan what to paint. I deliberately paint ideas, and I deliberately paint how certain material should be together, but the object, or the drawing, or whatever- that’s why I use text a lot because you don’t have to necessarily think about what it is you have to paint, it just can be, and then you use the materials the way you wanted to use them. You feel satisfied, and that makes you happy with your work.
You told me before your show, ‘I just paint and whatever people get from it they get from it’; however what message do you feel you’re sending through your paintings?
I don’t want to ever try and manipulate people into thinking something but I think that I have a pretty cool imagination. I suppose my imagination is what it is. But I don’t want anyone to get a specific message from what I’m painting. Actually if there’s a message I could send; it’s not that I’m trying to show you something from my ability, it’s that I’m trying to show you something with the fact that I do what I do. I’m not necessarily a successful artist but it’s not about being successful in other people’s eyes, it’s about doing what you need to get done, and you can do that in every regard. That’s the idea about questioning things. If you question things properly, and you actually take the time to look at every aspect, and aren’t just the kind of person who allows things to be shoved in, then you’re going to be an ‘artist’. You’re going to do what you want to do anyway because it’s not about trying to make a successful life, it’s about trying to do what you do in reaction to what everyone else is doing around you. That’s the only way you can live right? How else do you know how to live without comparisons to the other things around you? I do what I do because I know that I ‘m able to be who I am and think about things more than I necessarily need to, and I enjoy doing that. The message is you can do that, and don’t let people stop you.
Do you place a lot of significance on the message the audience gets from the artworks?
It’s massively significant to everyone. When you walk down the street, and someone compliments you on what you’re wearing, it makes a big difference. I don’t wear cool clothes, I don’t do cool things, I just do this and then people judge me on that. It’s more important as an artist though because realistically if you want to continue doing what you’re doing you’ve got to impress people. You can impress people quickly, and I’ve done that before, but it’s cheap and generally doesn’t last long. But if you continue to bring fruition to your own ideas it doesn’t matter what other people think. In the long run the majority of people may hate your stuff but it’s not about them, it’s about the people that actually connect with it that make you feel pretty cool. They will say something to you, a little mark you’ve made, and they’ll be like ‘Oh, that’s why you did that’, and all of a sudden you just go, ‘Yeah, it is’. Whoever it is, the artist may not even realize that’s why they’re doing that. There’s a bunch of weird philosophers and literary critics that have this idea that text exists as itself and becomes important as it’s read, not by the person who wrote it. I fully believe that. There’s nothing there until somebody reacts to it, and that’s what art is, that reaction.
You had an exhibition at the Endz late last year called ‘Dumb dumb, not smart’. Why the name?
It’s basic branding. It’s a thing that I did. I didn’t think about it too much. ‘Dumb dumb, not smart’ just sounds cool, so I said it.
Before your exhibition you were choosing random peoples’ names to call your artworks (I was even included in the list of names), what’s your stance on this?
I suppose it came to a point where I had heaps of work in front of me. I originally started naming the work names of parents of my friends.
Wow, why’s that?
I started a body of work that I never got to exhibit that was about metadata. The reason I got into that idea was because, to me, it’s kind of funny the way that metadata is reanalysis of what’s already there, it’s already lined itself in the real world but for some reason humans have to reconstruct things and re-control them. That’s what I find naming your paintings is. I’d found earlier, the week before the show, a phonebook of all my friend’s phone numbers and most of them had come from broken up families, divorced families. So I had the names of each parent of each phone number. But it came to a point where I ran out of names because I had too much work, and then that was the point where I realized, ‘well it’s metadata, it really doesn’t matter’. Realistically it’s just naming people, I don’t know a person by their name, I know them by who they are. And that’s what it came down to; I know my artwork by who they are.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in Newcastle?
In Newy? Aaar man, fuck, I’ve been here for too long. It’s getting better, every fucking 5 seconds there’s something popping up. Whether that’s good or bad for the art scene, that’s not the point, there’s a heap going on. I know for a fact that Newcastle is full of phoneys, not the art scene, just the scene in general. Go out in town, have a look around, there’s wankers left, right and centre. But there’s being a big movement towards the art and creative culture. It became a thing; it became cool to be a part of it. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, I’m 30 now, I don’t have much time for that anymore. There’s guys like John Morris, Michael Bell –the old school, proper artists- they’re all sweet, they’re in their own world. They’re making actual art. These other guys are just cartoonists and illustrators, which is sweet- their designers, that’s fine, but just don’t call yourself an artist. It takes the attention away from people who are making real art. I’m young enough and I’m smart enough to take advantage of, and manipulate both of those things. I can see both sides. I’ve got one by the balls, the other I struggle more to understand. And I’m not going to tell you which is which. I guess I understand them both, and I can do them both really well, I’m just trying to legitamise one side of it for myself so that I can actually survive as an artist. I’m not going to diss what’s going on. I actually started [as an artist] doing real street art. You look at Newcastle scenery at the moment and there is some beautiful artists making good work- it shouldn’t be street art, it should be on the walls. If you’re putting it in the street you shouldn’t be getting a council grant, and a permission slip to make it happen, that completely destroys the purpose of it. You put that shit up because you’re doing that as an artist, not as a public servant.
I ASKED HIM WHAT HE THOUGHT OF THE PORTRAIT OF THE YOUNG INDIGENOUS BOY ON INDUSTRIAL DRIVE.
Brilliant. That guys an amazing artist. Controversially I’ll say it, I think the Newcastle council fucked up by commissioning that sort of work in that sort of space. Just contextualizing things incorrectly. Like I said I’m a subversive, and that’s the exact opposite, that’s conformist. When you cross the boundary, you cross that boundary, these guys are working within the boundaries, and that’s fair, they’re making money, good on them, you’ve gotta do it in this day and age.
And you think you like pushing the boundaries?
People don’t like my art a lot of the time. They don’t understand it, they freak out, and that’s one of my favourite things. Don’t understand it, you’re not meant to, it’s not about you understanding it, it’s about it existing and you conforming to me, not me conforming to you. It’s about the audience having to fucking stretch their minds as human beings in the public. And that’s what these guys [street artists] should be putting on the walls, you put that shit on the walls and that’s how you make public intelligence. You don’t just let that shit slide into the whole popular spectrum; that’s like putting Miley Cyrus on instead of Rage Against The Machine.
Are there any interesting things happening in your future as an artist?
Yeah there are. [There is] this collective that I’m trying to instigate up and down the east coast of Australia. What I want to do is get a bunch of people, who I’ve already organized, to start getting work together and organize exhibitions between cities. Newcastle and Melbourne are the first two stops. So I’ve got print makers, painters, photographers, computer guys… we can share materials and space, bounce ideas off each other, and hopefully be able to swap between Newcastle and down there [Melbourne]. That way you get Newcastle style down there, and Melbourne style up here, and appreciate the difference between places and ideologies in cultures. And hopefully I can move that up to other cities, and internationally as well.
Where can people find your work?
Instagram (Lamingtom). I’ve got a website that will be online shortly- Lamingart.com. And I’m going to make another for this collective. Facebook Subversive Culture Exhibition. Otherwise check out The Endz on Facebook or Instagram (the_endz).