Artist Spotlight: Tom Berry

Artist Spotlight

Bow Arts hears from Tom Berry about inspirations, his work as an artist educator, and and his upcoming exhibition, One Step at a Time.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your practice.

Painting, drawing and printmaking constitutes most of my work. Like many other artists I find it continually interesting to experiment with colour and depict the human form in different ways. Growing up I was pretty obsessed with MAUS, Manga and 80’s graphic novels about Hindu Mythology. Also hugely into graffiti. I think all of this influence is pretty obvious if you are looking for it. I work quite a bit in education which is important to me, and is a valuable counterpoint to my studio practice.

As part of your work as an Artist Educator, you were recently welcomed into Portway Primary School to create a mural with a group of Year 5 students based on classic fairy tales. Can you tell us about the project and how the group got inspired for it?

The school was quite open in their brief, asking for an outcome similar to other layered laser-cut work that I’ve produced. The fairy tale theme was such a wonderful hook for image making and made it easy to workshop with the students. We looked at different interpretations of well known tales, and I asked them to create images that a viewer would instantly connect to particular stories. We used mostly cut-outs and solid shapes to make our pictures, rather than drawing; this replicates the technique I take when making the mural, and shook the students out of an approach based in linework, encouraging them to think more about colour and composition. It was fun!

Alongside projects as an Artist Educator, you’ve been involved with a lot at Bow Arts. In 2019, you had a solo exhibition at the Nunnery Cafe, and exhibited work in last year’s Bow Open. Can you tell us about finding opportunity as an artist?

Bow Arts are pretty good at supporting the artists they work with and I’ve had really positive experiences exhibiting with them. In general though, it’s a real dilemma because although there seems to be an almost inexhaustible number of opportunities as an artist; open calls, competitions, project tenders. Overwhelmingly these are false opportunities and a diversion. I would say to other artists (and to myself): be clear about what you want to do, and think carefully when you pursue an opportunity. If you decide to go for it, do it with full effort. But calculating if an opportunity is worth pursuing is not an exact science. It’s very tricky. 

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a painting for my upcoming exhibition and digitally re-working some images created in schools on my laptop. One is opposite the other in the studio, and both are vying for my attention!

What does your studio in Catford Dek look like day to day?  

Like most studios – lots of paint, brushes, a cup of coffee, a computer. Varying levels of clutter! 

How has an affordable studio made a difference to your work? 

It has made a huge difference, allowing me to work with techniques that require a studio space and completely changing my practice. Working alongside other creatives, and seeing how they work, use colour, operate a business: this is an education in itself. 

What are you proud of having accomplished as an artist?

I do celebrate my accomplishments but I’m not really ‘proud’ of things – in this context I find it a bit of a weird sentiment. I guess I’m happy to have made beautiful, strange and interesting things, particularly the pieces I made over the last year and the pieces for my current exhibition. If people feel like I feel when I see special paintings, or hear beautiful music – excitement, a little bit of magic, a buzz, then I’m happy with that. 

It’s compelling hearing you challenge the more hungry terms that success or accomplishment can straddle, and then present more sensitive ways forward. What can we be inspired to hope for in a world with more beautiful, strange and interesting things?

I guess if a world contains things which are both beautiful and strange, we are not only satisfied/enchanted but also pushed into the unknown a little. The combination allows for more variation in thought and feeling than simply ‘beautiful’. Isn’t that something to hope for? 

Finally, congratulations on your upcoming exhibition, ‘One Step At A Time’. Can you tell us more about it?

Thank you. The exhibition is something I have been working on sporadically for two years, in response to a very serious road accident my wife was involved in. Some of what she has been through and what we have learnt is depicted through paintings and text. So it’s a unique show for me – not commercial and very personal. I’m really excited for people to visit and to see how it is received. 

Visit ‘One Step At A Time’ at Lewisham Arthouse, 140 Lewisham Way, SE14 6PD from 21 March – 1 April. 

Learn more about Tom and see more of his work on his website or Instagram page.

More about Tom Berry

Tom Berry has worked as a visual artist for over ten years. His practice has broadened both in scope and media during that time, moving from drawing into painting and printmaking. Tom works by hand and off-screen wherever possible, but utilises new technologies like laser cutting when working on larger sculptural pieces for the public realm. 

Tom regularly works with Bow Arts as an Artist Educator, and has made artworks for various organisations including The National Maritime Museum, TFL and the Wellcome Centre.