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Art Comp winner Thomas WH Compton talks creativity, process and authenticity.   

This week we chat with Art Comp winner Thomas WH Compton about his influences, process and thoughts behind being a printmaker. Thomas is an illustrator based in Plymouth who’s work playfully deals with modern themes of social connection and technology through the lens of printmaking.

Thomas’s pop culture reference point for the comp was 1973’s The Wicker Man, a film which might include some pagans (no spoilers alright?).

In his work, Thomas presents a multi-layered and textured study of the film, with his use of composition and process exploration echoing his interests and skills as a printmaker. Check out our interview with him below.

Thanks for chatting with us Tom, what go you into drawing? 

I got into drawing because my mum said I was really good at it. I haven’t looked back. I’m interested in repurposing historical art forms like printmaking and their associated narratives, and framing them against modern social issues. My work often has a social commentary angle to it, as well as an artistically geographical specificity to where I grew up, and how I was raised; in the countryside. William Hogarth’s Moralising Art is highly influential.

You recently won our Art Comp, (cheers for that by the way!) What lead you to choose The Wicker Man? (SPOILER WARNING) 

As a piece of Pop Culture, it’s great! I’d been reading into a lot of British folklore, mythology, and paganism for another project, so it tied in quite nicely. It perfectly represents fantasist perceptions of pagan society at the time as a backwards people, willing to sacrifice children and practice open promiscuity. The director, Robin Hardy’s protagonist, Sgt.Howie, is presented as the straight man to this, embodying Christian values, and personifying public incredulity. As a point of irony, the Summerisle citizens knowingly play on Howie’s religious intolerance and actions to guide him to his eventual demise (sorry for the spoiler!). 

The Wicker Man serves as both social commentary on hegemonic belief systems, and as a wicked satiation of our most fantastical perceptions on paganism. I considered Trainspotting and This Is England as alternatives. They both have strong narratives that explore social issues.

SCRT likes the idea of demystifying process and art education - any thoughts or advice you could share to other creative types? 

I think it’s important to stick to themes and ideas you’re interested in, and not cater to what you think people want. More often than not, people are engaged with things you find fascinating. It’s more authentic. This goes for process as well. Developing my visual language from a place of genuine interest has been the most rewarding aspect of my practice. 

How would you describe the role of a ‘printmaker’ to someone who isn’t as familiar? 

The role of ‘printmaker’ can have a different definition depending on who you ask; there are wildly experimental printmakers who go in with no plan, and to-the-book printmakers who see it purely as a function. Then there’s everyone in between. I view the activity of printmaking as an accessory to my illustration practice in its capacity to influence the aesthetic and narrative of my work.

Printmaking seems a quite particular and strict process, am I wrong about this? Do you find the restrictions help in any way with your image making?

Yes you’re right, the technical processes of printing can be quite strict, insofar as you have to prepare your equipment correctly in order to print (Patience is a virtue needed unfortunately in the pursuit of printmaking). There are certain restrictions in the fact that you are preparing specific imagery to be embedded onto your silkscreen or plate. The interest comes into play when you are more liberal and random with how you produce prints. Overlays, stencils, and the manipulation of the technicalities to come out with unexpected results can completely change how you view image-making. To this day, one of the prints I find the most interesting was an overlay print of two designs that I hadn’t planned. It seems at odds that a technical process is the most exciting at its most random and unexpected.

Illustration nowadays is seen as quite a transient process - work either existing in a limited print space in a publication or entirely digitally, how do you find using the printmaking process changes the meaning of your work?

Part of the reason I got into printmaking was that I had been creating artwork almost exclusively on the computer. Having drawn and painted all my early life, I had suddenly given it up. I didn’t know why, and it lost its soul for me a bit. I think printmaking adds a tangibility factor, even on-screen. People somehow resonate more with a physical craft if they can see it as something to hold, as opposed to something that’s solely digital. Taking illustration work into a print space makes it perceptibly more valuable.

In your work you deal with some pressing themes of the digital information age, social media overuse, information overload, disinformation - topics that we’ve also looked at in our recent collection Left Behind, what have you found from this approach? 

A theme for a new grouping of images I’m actively creating entitled Old/New Britain will try to reframe contemporary social issues facing Britain utilising the art forms associated with an older Britain. A train of thought will come up, and creating an image for the concept is like getting rid of an itch. A sort of visualisation to try and capture the idea, and its discourse. It also helps me understand myself, and my environment better.

What do you do to stay creative? 

Never assume that you know everything about anything. The more you learn, the more you understand that you know very little. People can introduce, and throw you into new realms of creativity, if you’re open to it. Take a step back, try something new, and mix it up. 

Favourite Film?

Children of Men (my serious answer) Mean Girls (my secret answer)

Dream client/collab?

I would love to create screen-printed textile designs to upholster a chair. Case Studyo and Unique Board also make amazing art objects.

Finally, any artists or designers we should know about?

William Hogarth

Giorgio de Chirico

Gustave Doré

Clive Hicks-Jenkins