Dark and creepy illustrations of Mr Mead aka Tom Mead remind me of some terrible childhood dreams and bring back those chilling moments. Once I thought his figures were like members of an alien junta plotting against the humanity, making some sinister plans and sending us haunting signs. These bony beasts with their hollow eyes are deeply symbolic to our fears and hatred for all that is inexplicable and intrigued. Mead’s work is so baffling that at first I found his characters personifying humans in distress and unease. A bit more detailed study of them convinced me them to be the elements of our inner world. I am not sure what will they appear to me if I return to them after a long while. That’s the power of art Mead creates. Of course, the artist has his own set of explanation for his art:
Hello Mr Mead, first of all tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born in South England near London but my parents quickly moved to the greener pastures of sunny (quiet) Cornwall in the south west where my family is originally from. Nowadays I live in Bristol and work in Jamaica street studios which is a great inspirational studio to work at.
The things I like doing most pretty much centre around creativity. Films, reading, drawing making stuff out of clay and constantly listening to music seems to be my regular pastime…
When did you develop a passion for art?
I have always had an interest in art; it’s hard to say when it started really as I have always done it. I guess there are many milestones, mostly boring educational stuff. But the one thing that definitely sticks in my mind is getting given the ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ on video by my sister in 1994 when I was a kid. I think up to that point I was always an obsessive artist, but that’s the moment when I understood what style was and that I wanted to be a part of that.
Another thing was the ‘Deptford mice’ trilogy book series and ‘Redwall’ books, these I read when I was young and I think without these I would be a different artist.
My art means everything to me. It is me, so if I hate it one day I hate myself that day. On the other hand a great drawing day will change my mood and outlook on my existence completely. When it goes well it gives me purpose, a meaning to all the toil and inner torment that i put myself through day in day out. The work I do maybe surreal to some (occasionally) but I use it as an outlet to express things that I have no idea how to put into words. For example I wanted to do a drawing to represent the birth of my nephew, but I didn’t want it to be obvious or clichéd so I did a surreal interpretation of that feeling. This helps me feel a bit more connected to the world and what’s around me instead of diving into the surreal universe and not looking back…
The direct effect of my work on my personal life is that I work a lot, I would feel wrong not to be doing that as I am a workaholic. Nothing is ever good enough either, so this feeling of wanting to improve will never end…!
I think that’s more through indecision and experimentation rather than pre planning! I enjoy drawing the most, getting sucked into a drawing that’s going well is second to none. It has always been my main passion, and the more I do it the more I feel I understand it, which is an amazing feeling. Sculpture has just come into my life recently, and that’s highly therapeutic. I do that as a ‘downtime’ act though when not drawing!
How do you create your art pieces and how much time does it usually take?
It varies dramatically, but usually I try and get all pieces finished in less than 2-3 weeks. I do this so that I can get a vague understanding of how much to charge for it if selling it and also it makes me work faster with tighter deadlines! This idea was pretty hard when I was doing the 6 feet pieces, but I still managed it just about! Nowadays the drawings are much more planned so I have scaled down so that my arm doesn’t fall off by the time I am 50…!
Mostly these are things that I cannot express in real life. The idea of permanent solitude terrifies me, so that (whether pro planned or not) is certainly a running theme with my characters.
They are all basically what I want to never be, sad, alone and crying in the dark. They are all misfits and freaks who have been either cast out of whatever society they could have fit into or never even ventured in the first place. I really like exploring the inner turmoil of the mind as well, and recently have been doing a lot more images where dreams become physical objects and the mind is seemingly spilling out of the character / victim. My characters were once described by a good friend of mine as ‘dead husks’ and I think that sums them up quite well- dead, miserable husks of forgotten humanity that I am just the puppet master of…
Most things do! I am an intense worrier, so there isn’t a project or technique that I have explored that hasn’t had an intense challenge to it. Also getting your actual ideas out onto paper exactly how they look in your head is something that I think every single artist and creative head battles with daily. The day I get out the creative demons from my head how I want them to look I will be a happy man (but don’t worry that doesn’t mean I will start using colour…!).
How did you arrive at your iconic signature style?
I don’t think I did, it’s just how I have always drawn. I have got much darker over the years through the random goings on in my life, and that part I certainly embrace. In fact sometimes I surprise myself with what comes out of my head, I could even say that I learn from it…! I am very flattered when people say I have a distinct style, and very pleased that this part of my career hasn’t caused too much of a challenge, it leaves more room for me to worry about the content of the images instead…!
I mainly use tiny fine line pens. I really like using dip pen these days as well, as you can get some really interesting marks. Recently I just bought a ‘glass dip pen’ from Berlin, it’s amazing and has spirals cut into it that hold the ink for longer so the pen flows for ages, which is really useful!
I also use acrylic paint and have started experimenting with tone and glass panel layering… much more soon!
Tell us about your achievements… publications, exhibitions etc:
I made the front cover of Bristol magazine once!? Achievement wise I honestly think its just being able to stay alive this long as a full time artist. Living off print and original sales is a miracle, it’s not something I recommend as it certainly makes you lose touch with the rest of humanity, but who needs them anyway 😉
I don’t like a lot of it, but when I do like it I love it. I think people over analyze it to death though and sometimes it’s just better to go by aesthetics rather than anything else, people can read into things whatever they wish, and they will never agree. Art is a totally subjective beast and you’re never going to please everyone, so just bang your own drum and ignore everyone else. Trust me it will make you feel much better.
Tell us about your future plans, projects… ambitions:
Currently I am working on my first book which is being published next year by NYC based publishing house Workman press. This comes out in Halloween 2015 so I plan to have an exhibition launch for that somewhere in London. I am also hoping to go to Canada to work with the amazing mural based collective ‘En Masse’ to do a few large scale projects out there. As well as that I plan to do a 3 or 4 month residency in Berlin and I am releasing some laser cut skateboard designs, more prints, originals and much more…
I have had the same book for the past 9 years that I now refer to as my ‘Bible’. It is Koji Morimoto’s scrapbook, and it is the work of a mad genius that I always have nearby. Also Shaun Tan is a constant source of inspiration both as an artist and the inspirational words he speaks- to be that original is an incredible inspiration to me. As well as those I regularly frequent the Hi Fructose magazine blog, as this is the highest quality content of the kind of work I love. Also sugar, coffee, new music and beautifully read audiobooks.