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Plein air Painting and Drawing

Teaching

Tom. J. Byrne

Young Mi Lamine, interviewed me in March 2009.
Here's a section of the transcript.
 
 
 
 
 
 
YML
Where does your inspiration come from?
Tom J Byrne:
I get a lot of information just from closing my eyes. Lot's of visual images relating to things I experience. When I meditate my brain often fills up with images and quite often I have difficulty switching off these ideas. So that's basically where it is.
YML
So, um, what's... in what way does... I mean when you are meditating and thinking about models, images, how do you transform it into concrete paintings or ideas?
Tom J Byrne:
Ah that is the hardest thing, it's really is difficult to do that. One of the reasons that I came to France was to study how to make paintings the way the old masters used to. Few artists know how to formulate their own paints or compose using light and complex combinations of idea layers. I found two or three people here in Paris who use the old techniques and who work the way Italian Renaissance artists worked and even teach the techniques of the Greek painters who worked in the Egyptians tombs. These techniques are very old and have proven their value and sturdiness over time.
There's an awful lot of information which is lost and I came here looking for this. Now I can approach a painting with a lot more confidence, knowing that I will be able to paint whatever I imagine. Of course this isn't always possible because sometimes I imagine things that, although they are quite interesting structurally, don't always make good paintings.
YML
Okay. Um, so could your… so you are a painter, figurative painter, will you envisage to do your art on another medium?
Tom J Byrne
Oh yes, I love sculpture. I love to work with clay and I could easily imagine myself working with clay or working with the media that disintegrate, things like outdoor sculpture where the media itself will, over time, decay. I think that that is a beautiful way to create sculpture, that it doesn’t cause any damage and it respects the natural things around it. Too many people want to be remembered and to want to be remembered is cruel to nature. There are so many things which we don’t understand and don’t respect. We force them to do things against their natural tendencies, either they are incredibly permanent, which we consider to be useful or we ignore them and it’s often the things which we ignore that are the more beautiful. Those are often transient things.
YML
((laughs)) What does being an artist mean to you?
 
Tom J Byrne:
It’s… I don’t really have a choice I have to be an artist because if I don’t I become, either sick or… I become very obsessive about things that are not important. So, if I don’t have… if I don’t work to create things I will become, not so much depressed as unhappy and unlucky. I don’t feel connected to things around me and I become a little bit, what’s the word, disjointed.
YML
So it’s a physiological need for you to…
 
Tom J Byrne:
It’s very definitely a very big need for me, yes. I'm like a person who, if I had… if I didn’t have this I would probably be considered mentally ill but I'm not mentally ill. It would be the same as an athlete who’s not allowed to run, and I have to… I have to be able to do this.
YML
To express yourself?
Tom J Byrne:
To do what comes naturally to me, yes, to express myself.
YML
Do you know that it’s kind of rare that people usually who are working in offices can really be happy about their work? So you are privileged in a way.
Tom J Byrne:
I'm very privileged but it’s also very risky and very scary to be an artist. A lot of the people who are in offices can be creative and they have amazing potential but they lack the bravery to commit themselves to this kind of life.
YML
Uh huh so you had a lot of energy and believed in yourself when you started to be an artist, or when you decided to become an artist?
Tom J Byrne:
Oh yes I believe that absolutely everything is possible and that a person can achieve absolutely anything.
YML
When did your art become successful?
Tom J Byrne:
Um, I still haven’t become successful ((laughs)). In what sense do you mean successful?
YML
I don’t know, recognised, er, that… I think you already have a few articles in an art newspaper or….
Tom J Byrne:
Yes but, um….
YML
Do you have critics that you know and give good critiques about you?
Tom J Byrne:
Yes, I know journalists and critics… who like my work, some are very highly recognised in the world of art… who would recommend me to somebody else, which I suppose is one measurement of success.
 
YML
Uh huh. But I mean compared to other artists you can live, from your art?
Tom J Byrne:
Yes.
YML
So as you said it’s very challenging and difficult so…
Tom J Byrne:
It is yes.
YML
So it’s kind of success.
Tom J Byrne:
Yes it is success, yes. That's true yes.
YML
Okay, and do you have a message I think I told you when you wrote it… yes… do you have, sorry, a message you tend to express in your art works and you were talking about humanity is connected to the earth and, um, on the website as well that, er, you’re becoming more… I mean moving from maybe the nude to landscape am I correct?
Tom J Byrne:
I'm beginning to combine both the nude and the landscape in my work. My work is becoming something that I don’t have a name for and there are pieces that I've never put on my website, because they’re still in process but they are more involving the earth and symbolism and the human being and nudes, it’s very hard to describe, you can see it in the painting called Earth’s Cry and there's another one called The Tree of Life but the Tree of Life is just the beginning of that combination. There are other, symbolic paintings on the way.
YML
Oh great. A difficult question now, what is art for you?
Tom J Byrne:
Ah this is a question that I've answered before ((laughs)) ((he referred the questionnaire))
YML
((laughs))
Tom J Byrne:
There's two sides, one for me art is putting myself in contact with the energy that inspires people, the energy, for me is something outside of the person. It’s everywhere but it’s outside of the ego and for the person who sees art and who actually experiences it, when an artist really goes into that state of energy, of creation, and somebody else sees the painting they recognise this thing that the person has… the artist has been through because it’s somehow echoing in the painting. I don’t know how it’s in the painting but it’s in the painting and the person who looks at it goes into this state of… of awareness that is particular to creativity and for a period of time they stay in that state, and for some people it’s the only time that they ever go into that state. For people that are in that state a lot of the time, perhaps musicians or people who are brilliant mathematicians, when they see good art they know what they’re seeing and they go into that state and if they keep it around them it’s almost a permanent thing. It’s wonderful, it’s like a tuning fork. Actually that's it, it’s like a tuning fork when they have the vibration set to the correct degree it just continually vibrates and affects everything around it. Does that make sense?
YML
Oh yeah, yeah, sure. So for you good art is when, if you were the artist or the artwork are, um, on the same waves, continual process of exchange of energy?
Tom J Byrne:
Yes, when there's an exchange of energy but when the art brings the… the viewer to a different energy, to a better energy.
YML
Okay. Do you think that, um, that… is it up to the viewer to understand what the artist means, or meant, or is it to the artist to drive or bring the viewer to… to another dimension?
Tom J Byrne:
I think that there's an over-intellectualisation of art which intimidates most people and prevents those who might, from becoming artists. It seems to confuse the target or make it seem as though the bar so high that surmounting is impossible. It's true that it's a step by step process requiring years of dedication but the steps on the way are as important as the pinacle. Often, early works of most artists don't compare to the final masterpieces but those early works are highly sought out.
If the art piece doesn’t connect with a person energetically then there are different things that are not being engaged. Engagement speaks as much for the viewer as the artist and different kinds of art, effect different kinds of people but there are paintings that engage everyone. Paintings which grow in meaning as the person grows in understanding. That's one distinction that makes art, art. There are lots of levels to it and lots of different kinds of artists produce things that express these different levels in different ways.
YML
Okay, um, yeah I totally agree with you because I think that's more or less the idea I would like to develop in the research, er, but someone just challenged me saying it’s up to the viewer to feel it and I think, yes there are some people who haven’t been educated or told any kind of art form so they are exactly as they were blind and then you show them something that they cannot look inside of them or to understand really what is shown.
YML
Okay, um, who is pricing your works? Are you the one who is deciding about the price or is it combined with the gallery?
Tom J Byrne:
It’s combined with the gallery.
YML
Um, are you sensitive about the art critics?
Tom J Byrne:
Um, yes ((laughs)) but I wouldn’t change to suit an art critic. I would be sensitive, yes. I wouldn’t be easily be offended, but I've read a lot of things that people have said about very great artists which weren't… which were inaccurate so I might not take them seriously but, I would still be sensitive to a degree and I would take them somewhat seriously but not too seriously.
YML
Okay but, um, do you think that for example when you have an art show and that evening, you've got maybe 15 shows in that week, the same art critic is requested to see them all ((laughs)) is it not that the… I mean it’s important to you of course but then is it not the role of the gallery maybe to… well of course the work, the artwork itself is the base and important, but to make sure that, um, the art critics will remember you better than any other 15 artists that he will see that week?
Tom J Byrne:
Mm, well if the work isn’t going to make them remember me then I wouldn’t really want them to remember me ((laughs))
 
This interview was part of a research study by Young Mi.