I met Thomas at his current art exhibit at Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro, TN. He is an artist that is definitely passionate about what he does, and, it shows. His current work is based off the beauty he found while researching subjects not typically associate with beauty - addictions and diseases. His pieces are mesmerizing, with a curious depth, thanks to painting techniques he has developed over time.
I am grateful Thomas agreed to be interviewed for the blog, and am also certain you will be drawn in by his wit and amazing art.
What does Creativity mean to you? How do you expand yourself creatively?
Creativity is the result of the individual solving problems or communicating in manners that don’t have specific parameters, guidelines, rules, or formulas. With language, math, or even some games, there is a generally a given way to go about doing something which produces a very similar, if not exact result. With art, music, writing, or any other expression, the rules don’t apply, leaving the possible solutions endless. In my experience, the idea or conception of an idea isn't the greatest part of my creative process. I am thinking about a concept and eventually, in some instant, a vision will finally come through. I then begin, usually by quickly sketching out something crude on paper. I can’t draw really well, but it gives me a good idea of what it is I am trying to achieve. Then the creative process begins. “How do I make this? What materials or equipment will I use?”
Some of my biggest creative achievements have been hurdling some of the seemingly simplest obstacles. When my paintings decided they needed to be round. There were a lot of questions and approaches to cutting perfect circles. I know that seems simple, but purchasing them was definitely not an option. So, through the creative process, I was able to generate a technique that works for me. That took some time. Also, approaching the idea of making paintings that were representative of these wildly organic, vibrant microscopic photographs was another challenge. That could have easily been done using oil paint, or various other methods, but that could have taken forever to complete even just one painting. So, that became a choice in materials. Materials that I developed and new techniques that I arrived at through lots of failed efforts, a great deal of experimentation, and a ton of research.
Creating a work of Art or a body of work is sometimes like climbing a mountain. However, in this case, you can see the top of the mountain, but not the path that takes you there. So, there are numerous challenges and obstacles that need to be faced and overcome if the artist is to complete the work. That is where the creativity comes into play. At least for me, that is what it means: solving problems without formulas.
Were you creative as a child? If so, how have you evolved through the years? Did anyone encourage you, especially?
I did a lot of experimentation and made lots of things as a child. I think that’s important. It wasn't focused. But, I think most kids are pretty creative and school provides a great outlet for that. I am still doing a lot of experimentation, but I think I’m a little more focused, I've had some great teachers, and perhaps the results are a little more appealing. But, no, I wasn't encouraged. Not by everyone. Even quite recently, when I was growing some bacteria on petri dishes in my studio, one of my siblings suggested that perhaps I should pick Biology as a major. This was in the final stages of my thesis work. Some people will never get or understand what the calling to do this work is really about. And, that’s important for artists to know. It takes a lot of faith and courage to tackle those hindrances and negativities. But, being true to oneself is so important, and not to sound cliché, but to do as Stevie Nicks sang, “Trust your first initial feelings,” because, “ special knowledge holds true, and bears believing. “
There were, however, some people that encouraged me to do the work. My mother really pushed for me to do art. And, my high school art teacher was very inspiring and made me believe that I could actually do it. For a long time I didn't make art, and I was miserable. I enjoyed traveling, cooking, and even continued to play music. But eventually sort of went off the deep end, fell into a depression and was abusing drug and alcohol. One day, while I was pretty much homeless and out of sorts, I was walking into this beautiful wooded park in Seattle and there in the trees I saw painting hanging about 30 feet up. I have no idea how someone goes about hanging a painting 30 feet up in a tree, or even why? But, that triggered something. I honestly felt it was a sign for me, and so I started to pursue it. That was 2006. It took several more years for me to finally get sober and then another year to get back into school. I needed some formal training, and wanted to finish the degree I had started 20 years prior. In 2010 I started making work again, with a clear vision of who I wanted to be, and the vision and direction of the work came soon after.
What inspires you most?
Either nature or other artists, I’m not sure which inspires me more. Oh, and music. I like the music playing really loud in my studio. And, I don’t use headsets while I’m working because I’m moving around a lot. I’m not sure the music is an actual inspiration for the work, but it inspires me and gives me the energy to keep going. And, probably most of all, I’m inspired by my students. I’m inspired to work harder, to prepare myself better, and they pose a lot of great questions that I have to ask myself about in my own work. Plus, they have the greatest hearts and want to achieve. I recognize that this is what I wanted for myself and my art way back when, and now that I have this opportunity, I have to give myself the fair and honest chance to achieve it.
Do you have any gratefulness practices?
There are some days when I feel like I have been put through the ringer. I've been leaning over a table staring at the crazy bright circles for hours and hours, and my back is breaking, or I've been sitting at a computer, numb from the glow of the monitor, and I somehow make the drive back home. When I crawl into bed, I sometimes have to reflect on what it is that I have achieved, or even failed at, and I have to thank God, the universe, and whatever powers may be, for this second opportunity to make art.
Do you daydream often? If so, does it inform your work?
I daydream all the time. Mostly about food, but sometimes I think about my work, or at least the way I’m going to approach things, so I guess in some ways, it does inform the work.
How do a relationship and/or children affect your creativity?
I enjoy what children say about my work as much, or more, than anyone else. Children are honest. They might not always be right, but they will definitely tell you when something is exciting or not. My husband is kind of like a child, but he distances himself and his opinions from the work as I do his gardening. I tell him I like tomatoes, and wish we had some specific types of herbs to cook with on occasion and either he grows them the next year, or he doesn't. It’s his department. So, I like the way that works. He is perhaps one of the most supportive people to have ever been in my life, but in a very silent manner. On another note, we are both more than happy to share opinions about each other’s cooking.
Is there a Creative, past or present, that you would give just about anything to work with? Who, and why?
There are so many, and it’s always changing. Early on I loved Van Gogh, and would have liked to work with him. But, I think he’s even a bit too odd for me. Maybe back in the day when I was drinking and using that would have been okay, not sure how well that would fare today. I have a friend who is an animator in New York that has an incredible skill set that I would like to work out an installation project with and I have another friend who makes these incredible cut wood installations I've been talking about doing a two person show with. Of course, I would love to work out a present day version of an Exploding Plastic Inevitable with Andy Warhol, or make a video installation with Pippilotti Rist, or even create a giant room of light and video with James Turrell, or do just about anything with Yayoi Kusama. But, really, anyone that has a strong knowledge base of a diverse range of materials or great craftsmanship would complement my approach. I am always interested in new materials and pursuing a better product in my own work.
How do you care for yourself to ensure you’re available when ideas present themselves?
I’ve been going pretty much non-stop for the past four years, and I’m completely worn out. I do eat well, and am always on the go. But, I don’t go to a Gym (even though I have a membership). I know this is important for the longevity of my career. But, right now, I just try and pace myself and give myself a break when I need it. Sometimes that involves getting away from the physical aspect of the work and doing some animations or applying for shows. My body lets me know when I’m pushing it a bit far. But, sometimes I crash and sleep for twelve hours.
How do you balance life and art effectively? Or, do you?
Currently…no. Art rules my world most all the time that I am near my studio. I like to travel, and when I do, I have to cease the art, but I go and check out galleries and eat and spend quality time with my husband. And, I always have my camera and love working on my photography skills. So, there are various capacities to which I am working at all times, whether that be making work, promoting work, submitting work, or checking out someone else’s work.
How do you deal with creative dry spells? Do you make space for them, or push through?
I don’t really have too many creative dry spells. But, I do face technical challenges that force me to pause production of a project on occasion, and generally, being an interdisciplinary, I have something else that I can work on while I conduct the research or find the answers or inspiration to get back to work on the project that is troubling me.
How do you deal with change, especially when it comes to creative mediums and passion?
I’m always working in something new it seems. It just involves some research experimentation and unfortunately, some failures too. Sometimes I just like the idea of working with a new material, but generally the material is selected and driven from the concept. It’s important to keep going. Working in areas where I’m uncomfortable or unfamiliar sometimes forces me to grow the most.
How does criticism affect you?
Sometimes I have to distance myself from what people say about the work, because they are not completely grasping the concept or seeing the same outcome, or they just have a different idea on the way the work should be completed. And, in some cases, I will hear two completely opposite opinions about a portion or variable within the work. But, for the most part, I welcome critique from visiting artists and often I’ll invite professors or peers to come and express opinions on something. Criticism can lead to methods I've not though on to solve some of the problems and often generate new ideas on what to look at for artistic foundation.
So, I think it’s important for artists to get all the feedback they can on their work, but not necessarily take everything too seriously. Get a second and get a third opinion. Take what you like and move on.
Has your work ever been copied? If so, how did you deal with it?
No, but it seems that everyone wants the recipe for my materials here lately. And, I’m just a little hesitant to disclose everything. I feel that as soon as I share, there will be a slew of tiny little circle paintings floating around college campuses worldwide and I’ll have to start all over again.
How important is self-compassion to your creative process?
There are ups and downs all the time. But at the end of the day, I have to commend myself, because, even if the day has not been as productive as it could have been, or I've faced some failures, I know that I’m doing my best. And, I’m content in that.
Do you have any other mediums you use to express yourself creatively?
I have always made music and have started to make music again (digitally). I am a writer, and I enjoy that, although it follows stricter guidelines on most occasions. I am also a cook and a bartender, and I always have fun in the kitchen making food or mock-tails for friends.
Do you enjoy collaborating, or prefer to work alone?
Mostly alone, but there are a couple people I've been itching to work with, and I’m not afraid to hire someone to do some of the tasks in making my art. I just wish I had more funding to do so. But, most everything, including the medium and the paints, I have made myself.
Do you work in a studio/space designed specifically for your creativity, or on the spur of the moment/anywhere inspiration strikes?
I generally make my animations in a computer lab. Between rendering and making the compositions, I require two to three computers at the same time to make that work effectively. I will sometimes jot some ideas down and put the pen to paper to work out some questions I might be having, but my work is too messy to do at home. I have a 14’x14’ studio with tables, lots of light, and I have a really beautiful oak studio easel that I found on craigslist for 150 dollars. I have rarely used it, because I work flat with the cellular paintings. But, it looks very professional.
Is it important for you to have a creative, inspiring environment?
I move around a lot and think there is something that can be inspiring about many different environments. I think it’s important for the individual to find something that interests him or her, and then explore and investigate those things a little further.
Do you plan thoroughly for projects, or go with the flow?
I love to “go with the flow” when I’m playing around in the studio or conducting experiments. A lot of good things have come from experiments, testing out materials and their interaction with other materials. When I’m working on a project, I always plan things out in advance. I make sketches of the compositions or structures, or I create an outline or storyboard for my narrative work. Then I go from there. My painting process forces me to let go of the control as the combustion process produces different results every time. Sometimes things might change a bit in the process, but I generally reach something very similar to what my initial sketches look like. As long as the intent and concept are still there, and I have been honest, I feel the work is successful.
Do you have a preferred way of cataloguing ideas?
Not really, sometimes I jot things down, or just try and remember them. As complex as some of the work may seem, it’s always based on a simple concept and staying true to those ideas keeps me focused toward that desired outcome.
Do you utilize social media? If so, how?
I love Facebook… perhaps way too much. I find myself commenting on recipes, or baby pictures, and overall probably spend too much time making silly video cards for my friends on their birthday. I don’t go to bars or do a lot outside of my studio, so I guess it’s my way of socializing. I host several blogs, and I run a page called Featherjett Fine Arts on Facebook. It’s a Contemporary Art page where I share bios and images of artists whose work inspires me. It helps me remember them, and I have found it is a good place for my students to look to become inspired as well. I don’t post too regularly on there, but when I see something, I create an album and do some research to find out more about that artist.
What is your typical day like?
The only thing that is typical about my day is that I will have several meals and hopefully a dessert in there at some point. Not that the food I eat is typical, because that’s not true. I am an adventurous eater. But, the time that happens before, after, or in between those meals is ever changing. Generally, there is some class time happening, some Internet time, and of course studio time on most every day.
Do you have any rituals that help to set your creative time and/or space?
I don’t think so. I just get this urge, and I go to work.
Do you believe art can change the world? If so, how?
Absolutely. I have to have faith in something, because I don’t know what the outcome is or how I will achieve what it is that I am striving for without relying on something bigger than myself. it is not an uncommon feeling for several artists I've spoken with to believe they are sometimes not the actual creator of the work, but the vessel delivering it. And, Art does change the world. From ancient times art informed the history. We didn’t look to history to explain the art, because art is the only thing that has survived from ancient time, much of which there was no writing. Since the dawn of time, artists have been creating places for human purpose, making extraordinary versions of ordinary objects, recording and commemorating events, giving tangible form to emotions, ideas and the unknown, as well as refreshing the public’s vision to see the world In new ways.
Do you believe that connecting with your creativity, or helping others to do so, can positively affect the world?
If so, how? Absolutely. I think everyone has a message or something they wish to convey, and whether that be through visual arts, writing, theater and performance, or social media and sharing recipes, the individual’s message is important and can add to the betterment of other’s lives.
Are you active in your local art community? If so, how do you help and support each other?
I’m not as active as I would like to be. I attend as many shows as I can, and I curate a couple large shows a year. I think it’s really important for me to curate shows for the emerging artist. It’s good for younger artists get a better understanding of the value of their work and how it affects the public.
Do you surround yourself on a daily basis with creative, inspiring people?
I try to. I’m grateful to be part of the Memphis College of Art Faculty. There are so many well-established and experienced creatives in that environment, and they are usually always available to give suggestions or ideas or just help out in some way. I also try and lend any information out to them when I can.
What effect do you want your art to have on the world?
At some point, I feel that I’m going to have to give some sort of presentation to others about my work and my life and how I ended up here. I hope that will enlighten people to the idea that anyone can become a better person and live out their dreams, regardless of their background or current situation. As for the work, I hope that it is beautiful, approachable, and inspiring to some and for those that can get around the concepts I’m presenting, I hope it merits interest and generates possible questions to the preconceived notions into what we consider beautiful.
What music, if any, plays while you work? What are you listening to at this very moment?
My range of music can be wide and varied. I've got some pop, country, rock, jazz, disco, and maybe even some heavy metal. Generally, the more upbeat, the better as music helps keep me going on the longer days. Regardless of whether it’s Pearl Jam or Willie Nelson, I like it loud. It zones out everything around me to where it’s just me and the work and the materials that lie in-between the product and myself.
What is the best advice you've been given?
There are a couple things people have been said that I can really relate to. One is, “there is no victory without a fight.” And the other is, “Talent comes and goes, but commitment is something that has to be earned.” That being said, the student, or artist, that shows up consistently and puts in their best efforts will reap the better result in the long run than the individual that may have a stronger inclination or capacity for that type of work. Basically, it doesn't matter how much talent you have, there are many other things involved—including technique, dedication, commitment, and longevity.
Also, there is a Brian Eno quote that I like more than any other about viewing and understanding art that entirely sums it up for me.
"Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. (Roy Ascott's phrase.) That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre's bricks or Andrew Serranos's piss or Little Richard’s 'Long Tall Sally' are art, because we say, 'Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.' ... [W]hat makes a work of art 'good' for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you — so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art." - Brian Eno
Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives?
Pretty much what I just said: It’s not worth the efforts if you aren't in it for the long haul. If you love what you are doing, you will still be able to get to the studio and complete the work when deadlines are intense or the (work) load seems too much. Oh, and get out and show your work, and show it often.
Any questions I did not ask, that you would like to answer?
Yes, I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, and when it’s just below room temperature, it’s at it’s best. Because it’s not too hard or crunchy and the velvety texture really comes through.
Do you have any upcoming projects/collections to share?
I do. I just completed installing my first larger scale solo show at the Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro Tennessee, where I went for my undergraduate degree. I’m scheduled for a video installation at the Bumbershoot Music Festival in downtown Seattle over Labor Day weekend of 2014. And, I’m working on some larger scale installations of paintings at a medical facility in Memphis, Tennessee.
Where can we find your art?
I have a couple sites where people can view my work online. My undergraduate work can be found at www.Thomasgreen.carbonmade.com and my new website has everything post that graduation. The address for that is www.Thomasgreenart.com. I have a few pieces in a gallery on the lower east side of Manhattan for purchase. But, I’m currently not being represented full time by a gallery, and not sure how I feel about that. I’m doing fine, keeping a good inventory, but selling pieces directly through institutions. If that should change, I will add a link to the gallery where my work might be shown.
Thomas Green's collection, "Fire works," is on display at Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro, TN through June 28, 2014.