Tom Gilmour is a young artist from London who blows you away with his black and white patterns and illustrations filled with symbols. For his new exhibition at the parisian gallery Maison 15/75, Tom Gilmour displays a collection of woodcuts, a crossover between sacred and folk art. Derm-Ink had the opportunity to ask him some questions about tattoo, a passion that strongly influences his artwork.
Have you always been drawing?
I have always drawn from an early age. First, I wanted to be an architect, after 3 years of study I thought it was not for me. Then I thought maybe I’ll do graphic design, but I didn’t enjoy spending all day in front of my computer and doing work for other people.
So I always drew but, I’ve never realised I was going do that full time. The way I actually got into it was really weird. I was working for a travel agency, designing brochures like : here’s a sunset, here’s some writing, and all over again! One day I decided to leave.
I moved to London and worked in an artshop. I really got back into my drawings. I was thinking I’d like to do t.shirts for people but no one knew who I was, so I started to design t.shirts for my friends bands.
Every night, I was drawing until like 5 in the morning and then going to work.
After about 3 mounths, I had enough money from all the t.shirts to live and I could stop working into the artshop. It’s been 5 years now of drawing everyday pretty much.
It’s seems that you have always been passionate by drawing?
Yes, and it’ was also really weird because I’ve been playing drums in bands for about 14 years. Every time I had a gig, I was more exciting about doing the flyer than playing to the gig!
So first, drawing was a hobby, and then you realised it was what you wanted to do for a living?
Yes, exactly! And I feel it’s a nicer life style too. As much as I enjoyed playing in a band and being on tour, I prefer to be on my own. For drawings, I can plan my day as I want to. Also, I work better alone. I think as I’m doing a lot of patterns and symetrical things, I need full concentration.
Last time you told me that you were going to learn tattooing. So is it effective?
Well, I can tell the whole story…
I love tattoos and my artwork is inspired by this style. If I wanted to tattoo, if I wanted it enough, I’ll have to skip all the exhibitions, no artwork and just start from the beginning. It will be like 5 years until I will actually be able to tattoo like I draw today. So I’m waiting for the opportunity.
Two years ago, I was in France to see Guy le Tatooer in Toulouse, for 3 days of tattoos. I brought him some prints and the first thing he said to me was «You’ve got to tattoo!»
I was so surprised and happy because if someone like Guy Le Tatooer is saying this then it’s means a lot to me! It’s like written in stone…
He said that AKA Berlin was opening a London shop and it will be private for a few months, then he could show me.
So, while he was there, I helped him everyday and I learned a little. I even did a small tattoo on Jon John from AKA.
At the same time I was working on my artwork for an exhibition in Toronto with Mike Giant. I felt I had to make a choice between tattooing and my artwork that I couldn’t turn down. So as much as I love tattooing, I had to put it on hold until the time arises again.
I have so much respect for tattooing, I don’t want to give it a part time job. It needs to be a life, 7 days a week constantly thinking about it. I feel like even the best tattoo artists in the world still learn. It’s the one thing no one is a master at.
So, you have already learned a little bite. Are you able to tattoo? Do you have a machine?
Well, small stuff. I’ve got a machine from a compagny called Iron Bites, a liner and a shader. I’ve also got a second hand custom rotary machine. It’s a very simple machine, like the first type of tattoo machines. If you slow the machine down, it does dots which is how people do dotworks. I mean, a lot of people are doing dots by dots, but this is an inside trick. It’s the kind of shading I felt the most confortable with.
You learned it with Guy le Tatooer?
Yeah, but a bite with Rafel Delalande as well and a bite with Bastien Jean, mainly from watching them for hours. I think I’ve learned the shading from Raf and the outlines from Bastien and basically techniques from Guy, like how to make it’s stay well into skin, etc…
Well, you had great masters! You’re lucky…
Yeah definetly! They are great artists also.
For exemple, one reason I really respect Guy is because he’s got really famous in doing mandalas and animals and all dots shading. And then he said he’s done too many and now he is doing all this indian artwork. At first, people were surprised and a lot of them didn’t like it but, he needs to keep on pushing his art.
Is it the way you feel about your artwork too?
Well, I remember when I first started drawing, I thought I’ll never draw a skull. I didn’t want to be another guy who draw a skull. And then I realised drawing a skull is almost like the blueprint of an artist. If you have 10 artists drawing a skull, they will be all different. It’s almost like showing what you can do, the outlines, the shading… It’s really important.
So I’ve drawn a lot of skulls by now, I’m back out of it! (laughs)
But I’ve always loved patterns and sometimes, I think I should do something else. However, I feel I have to do what is right and the thing that makes me happy. This is the way I’m doing better work, just for the sake of it.
There is a lot of symbolism in your artwork. Even if we don’t always know where it comes from, we can feel it’s a mix from different influences. Where do you get your inspirations?
In everything I do, I always try to make it timeless and ask myself, «in hundred years how it will look like, really dated?» I want the artwork to keep all is power, like classic patterns.
I have two main inspirations : traditionnal asian art, like tibetan or thaï patterns and traditional american folk art, even native american art. There are my two main influences and I mix them together.
I have a theory that if you look at an old artwork, like a thousand or I don’t how many years old and it still holds up now then they’ve got the formula. I never want to copy, I still want to evolve it.
What the story behind your exhibition, « Sacred Folklore »?
Almost exalctly that. It’s the mix between sacred art like temple decorations, pieces of art work that held on high estime. For exemple, the cross is a classic symbol, precious and so powerful. It’s been around for ever. And, the folklore, popular art which is from the people. I used wood because I wanted it to look like old relics. Even the prints are on grey paper rather than white paper. To give this old way of making things.
It seems you’re using a lot of different religious symblols and mixing them…
I have this really strong opinion which I think works on tattoo as well, that meaning is not what it should be about. The reason why this symbols have been around like a thousand years is because it’s pleasing. A mandala is pleasing the person because it’s just balanced.
So rather than having something that is all about the meaning it’s more about art for art sake. For tattoos, you should respect the artwork rather than going all about the idea. The ideas are always there don’t worry!
So your art is more about the visual impact, about the design rather than seeking a meaning? Do you have a message behind it?
Not always. When I’ve first started I thought everything needed a story. Now, I won’t compromise a design for the idea.
What about the black?
Very simple : I think in black and white. When I work with colors it’s like, I’m compromising the design. Black is timeless also. Sometimes, I think «this will look cool with a bit of red», at the end it’s cool for now, but in 10 years or even 6 mounths, is it cool? It doesn’t need colors. That’s my personnal approach.
The color also gives you certain emotions. For exemple, a wolf with red eyes looks agressive and with yellow eyes, sad. With black and white you make your own opinion.
What about your first tattoo?
My first tattoo? (laughs) It’s the red one on my arm from Incubus. He’s a singer who makes artwork and poetry. He was like the first person I saw with tattoos. I was 19 and I started getting more and more into tattoo. So I just got one of his pieces tattooed on my arm in red ink in America.
The funny thing about it, may be 6 mounths ago I got a part covered up by Guy and I have a coming art show in Palm Spring with the guy! So it’s a bite weird!
Now, when I looked at his artwork I don’t have the same feeling. I’ve worked so hard on mine that I became obsessed by symetry and patterns! It has to be amazing or nothing! (laughs)
For their first tattoo, most people do mistakes… Are you for covering old tattoos?
I think that there are always some tattoos you want to cover, but tattoos should be more like a scratch book or a note book.When you look at it, it looks like you. If you get rid of it and get new ones all the time, it’s not you anymore. You need to keep the stories.
It’s a bite the thing about tattoos, when you get it, it’s for life. Do you know why you get tattoos?
There is this one thing that somebody said to me, «everybody dies but not everybody lives»
I always use it for myself. I don’t want to have regrets and to be like «I always wanted to write a poem but I never did» or «I always wanted a tattoo but I never did»
I want to be able to say «I did write a poem!» ; «I did get a tattoo!», and even if they are not perfect I did it!
You can buy the the artworks from the exhibition on the Maison 15/75 web shop