Artistic License: Tom Climent

Penny McCormick talks to Irish artist TOM CLIMENT about his inspirations, muses and how he works ahead of his exhibition at SOLOMON FINE ART … 


Cork-based artist Tom Climent’s latest exhibition “Aspect” combines the abstract and geometric, with ancient Irish burial mounds, ringforts and mountain vistas part of his inspiration. Having originally trained as an engineer, Climent studied at Crawford College of Art, going on to win the Victor Treacy Award and the Tony O’Malley Award. “Aspect” opens at Solomon Fine Art tomorrow, May 10.

When did you start working on Aspect and what was the inspiration behind it?

When I’m offered an exhibition, I’ll select from the paintings that are finished, the ones that work best together and suit the gallery space. This series though is relatively new, and I started them around 18 months ago or so. They are softer and more organic than my last series. My previous work was more geometric in nature. “Aspect” offers up a bridge between both real and imaginary worlds. While the paintings in “Aspect” still continue to touch on both abstraction and representation, the geometric shapes start to suggest more natural structures. The work suggests a narrative but never actually reveals what that might be. The paintings also investigate materiality and aesthetics. The layers and the mobility of the paint and textures become a witness to the thought process of their making.

Are you inspired by the scenery around Cork or other places in Ireland?

The work isn’t based on any actual place but I feel it is reflective of the experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve been to. I see the paintings as existing at a meeting point between the seen and unseen, between the physical and the emotional and the mental and the spiritual. The way I work is quite intuitive, I allow whatever experiences I have and places I’ve been to find their own way into the work. I trust that the work I make at a particular time reflects me at that time. I don’t force the work in any particular way, I allow it to be formed. I feel as if I’m in a relationship with the painting, it guides me as much as I control it.

I collect images that can guide me as I’m working. Some are photographs I’ve taken myself, others I’ve found online or in books or magazines. These vary from series to series. They in themselves mightn’t be reflected in the finished pieces, but they help to provide shape and structure as I’m working on the paintings.

Your use of colour is a feature of your work – do you have any muses or mentors? 

My sense of colour and use of it has evolved and developed over the years; it’s quite spontaneous now and intuitive. But I was always drawn to, and wanted to use, strong colour in my work. Initially I used chiaroscuro to achieve a dramatic tension in the paintings. My palette has lightened and become brighter over the years. I’ve lived in Spain and used to spend summers there as a child, I think the bright light there has definitely impacted on my use of colour. Matisse is an artist I look at a lot, especially his book “Notes of a Painter” which reveals his life-long goal in his art was to express his response to what he was seeing, rather than merely copying it. Fauvism, The Blue Rider Group, Cezanne, Paul Klee, Kandinsky were all artists and movements that influenced me as an artist early on. The use of colour in their work was something I tried to study and hopefully learn from.

Where and how do you work?

I’ve been working from a studio in Cork City for nearly 25 years. It’s the same studio I’ve had since leaving college in 1995.

At the beginning of a new series of paintings I can’t really see what they are supposed be. It’s by painting them that they become clearer. Over time the work takes on a life of its own, and moves forward under its own weight.

I see this new series as being grounded in landscape. Some of my previous exhibitions were called A Place Found, Season Map, Latitudes and Quadrants. The work is about searching for something, for some place. Valleys, mountains, fields seen from above, are all elements in my paintings. I think as well this idea of a journey, of searching for something, for me relates to the act of painting itself. Painting is the means by which I search. The paintings themselves are the by-products of this search.

Once I have the geometric structure in place, I paint flat on the floor. I apply layers of very transparent paint with turpentine, I allow the paint to drip and the colours to bleed into each other. The accidents and chance elements that come out of this process guides the painting forward. The shapes and narratives that come out of the combination of structure and chance determine what the painting will be.

The surfaces are an integral part of the paintings in “Aspect”. I want them to tell a story in themselves as well. They are the history of the painting. When I start a piece I first paint the whole surface one colour, this becomes, as in music, the key note of the painting. With this new series I’ve been using abstract geometric shapes and structures, almost like grids, to provide a foundation for the paint. I then start to shape them into something more recognisable, I don’t think the work I do is wholly abstract. I want there to be some way into them, some element or narrative that the viewer can relate to. I hope that the paintings are open enough that people can attach their own experiences and history to them.

Need to Know: “Aspect” is on until Saturday June 2 at Solomon Fine Art, Balfe Street, Dublin 2.

Penny McCormick

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