Tom Howse’s paintings ask us to let go our “ego-driven self-destruction” and embrace the universe as a whole
The London-based artist explores our evolution as a species in his bold paintings and discusses why he likes to think about us humans as “over-evolved monkeys.”
- Jyni Ong
- 14 February 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Tom Howse vividly remembers one memory from his childhood that has had a big impact on his creative practice today. It was in France while on holiday with his family, when he went to Ferdinand Cheval’s Le Palais Ideal – something that will “stay with me forever,” he tells It’s Nice That of this poignant recollection. Art Brut and Outsider Art provided the young Tom with lots of food for thought.
When he got a bit older, during his teenage years to be precise, he often visited the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where he would observe the past winners of the John Moores Painting Prize – something else that also continues to stimulate inspiration today. But it was Tom’s early love of Outsider Art that proves evident in his work today. The naive style and the primitive forms applied with a flat, two-dimensional painting style are reminiscent of the highly expressive genre.
He further explains of his creative process: “I do a lot of drawing to stay, but I don’t always follow one drawing perfectly when it comes to painting.” Sometimes, he picks out the best bits from a number of drawings then merges them together. Drawing is central to his final paintings as when he paints, he is more interested in the depiction of compositional form and structure rather than tone or light. For Tom, it is “the value of the lines in the drawings that are often the most powerful aspect.”
Now, he looks to a wide array of primitive styles throughout the history of world to influence his practice. It could be anything from Outsider Art, Roman mosaics, narrative quilts or indigenous crafts and cave paintings. “I love how these works don’t focus on how accurately the ideas are represented, but it’s the symbolic relevance which is more crucial,” adds Tom. “Their drive is so much more sincere, and it describes a human condition to depict existence, there is no other superfluous meaning at lay, just the drive a person has to document their life. I find moments like that so touching and honest, for me, this beats any other reason for the work.” So in studying these influences, Tom has developed a unique visual language amplifying the personality of his characters and the atmosphere of the scene.
In essence, Tom’s work is existential. Through his highly imaginative compositions, he explores “why the universe is the way it is,” and fundamentally, why we are the way we are. Hinting to our evolutionary make up, our biological resilience and our psychological traits, Tom is endlessly curious. “But usually,” he goes on to say, “anything that chooses to indulge in the more fantastical or surreal explanations of our universe excites me.” Cherry picking from these various interests, Tom seeks out the best bits before “squeezing them together” in an artistic amalgamation. It’s a process which is entirely absorbing for the painter. With intuition leading his senses, Tom’s paintings seem to flow out of him in a mix of immediacy and contemplation.
Recently, he’s been thinking a lot about prehistory and the evolution of species, which has as a result trickled down into his paintings. “I like thinking about us as over-evolved monkeys who are the current results of hundreds of millions of years of evolution,” he adds. Painting a primordial landscape with black volcanic soil, he illustrates ancient plants and trees as a way to “reconnect modern man with the story of its long past, and try to bring some perspective on our modern world.” Taking us back to a time before our technological comas, Tom is “reimagining humans without all of this and focusing on our existence as momentary and irrelevant.” He finally ends with, “By reevaluating our position as pointless, we can free ourselves from our anxieties and ego driven self-destruction and begin to focus on our beautiful, magnificence universe as a whole.”
Tom Howse: Reptiloid, 2019, acrylic on jute, 30 x 25cm
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.