Interviewed in April of 2014
Hometown: Beverly, MA
Current town: Beverly, MA
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1.) Tom, tell us a little bit about where you’re from or where you grew up… and how that influences the type of multifaceted art you find yourself making?
My hometown is Rockland Ma. It is a blue collar commuter town. It was the kind of place where everyone leaves town to go to work. It leaves a vacuum. You had to go elsewhere for art, culture and music. I have to thank the world of Star Wars. It was my escape from the that little town. I was a lonely kid and Star Wars was my everything. It inspired me, healed me and I learned a lot from Yoda who lived in the briar bush in my backyard. Making art made me special to the rest of the world. Not everyone could do it. Art was the currency that allowed me into places that I otherwise wasn’t allowed to go. This feels a lot like therapy how much is this session going to cost me?
2.) Was there a specific moment you realized art was the direction for you? For some they know at a very early age, others change directions throughout their life or discover their passion for art much later.
I made art from an early age. I guess we all do. There comes an age where art goes from just the action of picture making and becomes something more complex. Making art became a need for me a way of fulfilling creative desires.
As a pre-teen I made beautiful car model kits. I had a dozen or so on my shelf. Then I saw the mad max movie with all the cool chopped up cars. I spent the next year tearing them apart and putting bullet holes in them and adding machine guns. The cars I had spent hours making as detailed and clean as I could I destroyed with just as much joy.
I didn’t take art in high school. I was too intimidated by the whole thing. I didn’t think I was good enough. I planned to go back to it and take a few classes in college. The first day of college I went to the student union to pick my classes. I went into the big hall filled with tables and long lines with kids waiting to sign up. You had to either declare a major or go into the undeclared line. The undeclared line was like a hundred kids long. I looked over at the art major table and there was no one there. I went over and became an art major. It was a split second decision that changed my life forever. I guess being lazy is good for something.
3.) You seem to have an immensely diverse range of mediums you utilize when you’re creating. From common household items to re-imagined antique photos to custom cake toppers; is there any media you are intimidated by or can’t actually work in? What’s your kryptonite? If any.
I will try anything. I am more comfortable working in 3-D. I have always had trouble working in oil paint. I guess it’s all the rules that oil painting has associated with it. How to mix what to mix how to blend. I also don’t make realistic art that is how oil is used in some cases. For me the fun is in the breaking of the rules. The combinations of media and the surprises you get. I also hated my oil painting teacher back in college so that might have something to do with it. He was a pompous jerk. I think I will save oil painting for when I’m an old man. Something for me to look forward to.
4.) Knowing your work is so varied, what medium is your absolute sweet spot?? Do you have a favorite that you seem to always return to? Or are you just good at everything?
AAAAhhhh shucks. I ain’t good at everything. Just most things. I love the larger scale 3-d objects. That is where I can bring together my love of sculpture and painting. Sculpting an object making a tactile thing out of stuff is a lot of fun for me. The metal robots I make came from my love of early tin toys. I wanted them so bad but didn’t have the money to buy them. I started making them out of love for those wonderful toys that I could not afford.
I guess my sweet spot is found object sculpture. Combining related or unrelated materials to form a new structure. I often rip apart old work that has been laying around and use it in new work.
5.) Your workplace or studio: "complete and total disaster" or "super organized?"
My studio is a mess. Take a look at Albert Einstein’s desk from the day he died. It was a bloody mess by anyone's standard. He was a very creative and brilliant person. His job was to bring order to chaos. That's my job as well . If all my stuff is in closed boxes all neatly put away where does the inspiration come from?
Disaster is the mother of creativity and organization is it’s jerky little brother.
6.) Any music while working? - What are you listening to now that is pushing you or inspiring you?
Yes, always music while I work. I listen to many kinds of music while I work. I love rock, folk, punk, ska and industrial with a splash of country. I was doing a piece for a Johnny Cash show recently. I would say that 85% of the time I was working on that piece I was listening to Cash. I had to take some breaks however. No offense Mr. Cash but you can get a feller down in the dumps sometimes.
If I am working on an emotional piece it can be shaped by the music. Also If I am making a hundred paper flowers for a cake topper you have to keep the spirits up with some up beat music.
7.) With such a unique ability to work two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally, is it ever difficult to narrow down or simplify ideas when it appears you have a limitless spectrum of ways to convey your ideas?
I will always think of a way to make any work a sculpture first. Making sculpture for galleries for example although very rewarding can come with unique challenges. It comes down to how the piece is to be used or displayed. As a sculptor I always have to think how my work will fit into a gallery show or coffee shop. You painters have it so easy. You put a wire on the back and hang it on a nail. I always have to think how the piece will fit. I have come across some sculpture discrimination in my time. Some galleries don’t want to display it or just don’t know how to. The sculpted guitar I made for a Johnny Cash show was made to be hung on the wall or displayed on a pedestal. Thank god Adam Miller at the Visionspace Gallery ( in downtown Lynn Ma) ( shameless promotion) knew how to handle my sculpture. You can’t just drop off a piece and hope the gallery person can and will do the right thing. It is your job to make sure it happens by making these options available to them. I had a big show last April at a Mattatuck Art Museum in Connecticut. I made a bunch of space themed robots for the rooftop gallery they had there. They were to spend 6 months on a roof out in the sun and rain. I had to make sure they were painted properly and made for a summer in the elements. It was a blast and a highlight of my life. They worked hard and closely with me to ensure success and it was.
8.) Regardless of subject matter in your work, there always seems to be one constant; and that’s a great sense of humor.
Is that something you intentionally inject into your work or do you think it’s just a natural part of what you do? Maybe a little of both?
Thanks for saying that. Any little fat kids biggest weapon is his sense of humor. It was an essential tool for defense, offense, and just plain survival. I wasn’t a class clown. I didn’t have the confidence for that. I just swung my comedy sword at the bad guys and hopes they would laugh or just leave me alone. Comedy has always been important me. I am a huge fan of absurdist humor. I was allowed to watch Monty Pythons Flying Circus and stay up late watching Saturday Night Live at a very young age. I recognized the power of laughter from shows like those. I would memorize skits from python and perform them for my parents to make them laugh. One of my fondest memories from childhood is walking past a picket line to see Monty Pythons Life of Brian at the theater . Holding my mom’s hand actually stepping between men and women holding picket signs telling me I was going to hell for seeing the movie. That was a powerful event for me. I was 11 and very young to be seeing a movie like that. I can remember thinking how important comedy was for all the trouble my parents went to for me to see it.
9.) Give us your dream client or project; Absolutely anything can become a reality. What do you got?
I am going to be a smart ass for a minute. I would love to work for a huge company like Coke. It would be fun to work on a huge project for them and after I was done I would bitch about how they were hard to work with didn’t fulfill me creatively. I would do this while wiping my tears with hundred dollar bills. A guy can dream can’t he?
Also there is a huge flat rock wall on the highway I drive by every week. It is something that Keith Haring would have loved to paint one of his radiant babies on. It screams for something bold and colorful. If I had a cherry picker and a bunch of paint I would be on the highway right now and then end up in the back of a police cruiser soon after because I can’t outrun state troopers -they have dogs.
10.) Any advice out or secrets to finding success out there as a professional artist? Was there an "aha" moment for you that helped you turn the corner making the leap to being a full-time artist?
If you are deciding to become an artist. whether it be a graphic designer, painter, sculptor or whatever you have to work all the time. I mean work a lot. All the time. If you are not making art then you need to be thinking about it. Keep a sketchbook get it all out of your head. The secret is never give up -NEVER GIVE UP.
Find out what your strengths and get better at them. Being an artist is not a get rich quick game. It is for some. But for most it is not. I decided that fame was not important. Having my art seen and enjoyed by many was. It isn’t about me it is about the work.
I want to be a working artist. Making a living for my family and I. That's it.
11.) What’s been the most challenging part of building a career as an artist? ie; family, $$$, time, inspiration, networking, etc….
Balance is the most challenging part of being a creative person. Time management is the hardest part for me. I love creative time and It is hard to stop for real life stuff. Make a schedule and art time has to be a real and important part of your life.
Social things can be tough for me. It is getting better as time goes on but the first few gallery shows were a panic literally. My art and my ability to make it is the thing that I have total confidence in. Networking is getting better as I get to know more people and galleries. Make it a point to get back to people when they get in touch with you. I try like hell to get back to people who contact me. I can’t tell you how many people blow you off in the art world . Oh and money I need more. Any one want to buy a robot? I know a guy.
12.) Lets get serious for a moment. Who wins in a fight? A robot, a sea monster or Krampus? Three enter, only one can leave. Go.
I love Krampus. He scares the crap out of me. A creature who doles out the punishments of Santa Claus a man of love and peace. You can’t get darker than that.
A sea monster is big and has size on his side but he is out of his element. Unless they are fighting in a giant pool - disadvantage sea monster. The robot is metal and strong and won’t tire of the fight. As much as I want Krampus to win I got to give it to the robot I mean he just won’t stop. Coincidentally those are the major parts of my personality. I am big, squishy, dark, and never give up.
13.) Who is the most underrated artist out there right now that's ready to take over the world? Besides Mike ‘Sherpa’ Doherty.
I have known Mike Doherty for almost 25 years. He is my brother. If you were dying of thirst he would carry a cup of water for 10 miles and if you said “what no ice?” he would go back and get the ice. He is just that kind of guy. I love him. He’s in my DNA. Not to mention a fantastic artist who works like a maniac pushing himself artistically to a higher places. Fan from day one and will always be.
I know a lot of artists who I admire from painters, cartoonists, sculptors and graphic designers. If I had the room I would list all of them here. So I won’t play favorites. I will let you know about a couple of artists that you may of never heard of.
I am a big fan of Melita Curphy. She is also known as Miss Monster. She is a fantastic sculptor and painter. She makes some of the most original monster designs I have ever seen. She is a self promoter like me but she is starting to get her work into retail. Look up her art it is fantastic. Get a piece before demand prices you out.
Another artist I admire is Amanda Louise. She makes these fantastic monster sculptures. She combines clay cloth wood and other materials. They are so original and spooky. It’s kind of a mix of Brian Froud and Tim Burton.
14.) Are there any "golden rules" to acquiring a great nickname? Yes, this is a loaded question.
Nicknames are a weird thing. I guess I don’t have a nickname because I was given a bunch of mean ones when I was a kid. I always wanted a cool one. Anyone have any suggestions? Be kind please. I adopted the name Gammaraybots as my art name years ago. It seemed cool to be known as something besides Tom the robot guy. So I guess all my railing against picking your own nickname is all bullshit. Try not to be full of bullshit kids. That is my best pearl of wisdom to share.
15.) What’s next for you? Any future project or client? Chroma doesn’t count. You’re better than us.
I want to concentrate more on work for galleries. I find the whole process immensely rewarding. If I just sell work online I never get to interact or share with the customer. Standing in a gallery talking to someone about what I was thinking what I was trying to say connects me to that person and many times results in a sale. You can’t create in a vacuum. If you don’t get out and talk to someone you are losing out on the best part of making art. I saw a show not too long ago that kind of kicked me in the ass. The work was on another level. I want my work to go beyond the coffee shop oddity and go to a higher place.**