Tom Glynn is a rare breed: an artist who can move effortlessly between artforms, materials, scales and registers, equally adept at making miniature paintings and monumental sculptures. And yet all of his work is unmistakably English in mood. His images are populated by the country’s Neolithic monuments and pastoral landscapes, and informed by the many artists who inhabited those places before him. Glynn is driven by the same Romantic spirit that motivated Palmer and Turner, Nash and Piper, Wallis, Lanyon and Hockney, but his art is never anything but his own. It is, after all, underpinned by an urge that has coursed through his veins since he first stepped foot in a sandpit.Dr. James Fox | British Art Historian & Broadcaster
Can you tell our readers about your childhood, family, and the environment you grew up in? Were you an artistic child?
I grew up in Crawley, West Sussex, a New Town that was essentially designed from scratch as an over-spill town for those citizens wanting to leave London. My devoted mum grew up in Morden, south west London, in the Royal Borough of Kingston, within a family of six, two brothers and one sister with two very supportive parents. My grandmother passed away while I was still a baby so I don’t remember her, and I was only 10 when I lost my grandfather.
Since as early as I can remember, I always had a special bond with my mum who from the inception was always so loving. On occasions when I was unwell and unable to go exploring, my mum would provide me with art materials and on a few occasions a solid loaf of salt wrapped in a thick greaseproof paper that prevented moisture from penetrating and I would carve into the salt block with domestic cutlery, forming tunnels, canals and numerous openings, turning the salt-loaf into a sculpture. It was my special relationship and connection with my mother that inspired me to pursue a life-long devotion and love of the visual arts.
Growing up and all through my early days at school I was forever drawing on scraps of paper – copying Huckleberry Hound and Boo-Boo from the wallpaper in my bedroom, painting, making objects, fashioning plasticine animals and making models of theatrical sets and theatres. It was my adorable mum who encouraged me and supported me throughout.
What inspired you to become a professional artist?
It was my mum that inspired me to become an artist as she also had a special love for the visual arts and she always did everything she could to support and encourage me, providing materials, books and pocket money, which I would regularly spend on scraps of wood purchased from the local ironmongery. Consequently, Tatlin-like wooden structures would emerge on the kitchen floor and stay there for weeks on end – it was much later of course that I discovered the constructivist sculptures and structures of Vladimir Tatlin.
My teachers through primary and secondary education also provided much encouragement and I vehemently pursued the visual arts at this time, achieving top A-level grades in Painting, Sculpture, History of Art and Theatre Studies. Having met the Post-War sculptor Robert Adams at his extensive complex of studios close to Much Hadham, Herefordshire, (where Henry Moore lived and worked) – who was an assistant to Moore – was also a significant inspiration. It was my influential art teacher at senior school that took me to meet Adams, as he had worked as an assistant to him and knew him well. Adams liked my sculptures I took to show him and from that moment on I also wanted to be an artist and my journey was set. I became devoted to studying at Art School.
Following my studies at A-level in the sixth form locally, I was accepted into Farnham School of Art, (known as WSCAD which then became the University of the Arts), as a direct entrant. In those days it was necessary to have first completed either a one or two year Foundation Course before progressing to degree level, but as my senior school had exceptional facilities and teaching in the visual arts, the art department had art foundation status, and this is why I was able to enter art school at the age of 18.
How would you describe your art style and how long did it take you to master it?
My style has clearly evolved over many decades, and while there has always been an emphasis on sculpture and a three-dimensional aspect, this has also significantly influenced my painting too. My major study and favourite discipline at art school from the outset was unequivocally sculpture. As a young boy I was fascinated by objects and loved taking things apart and rebuilding them.
I believe this influenced my early sculptures, as I became enthralled by the work of Louise Nevelson and the emphasis was construction – building objects and free-standing pieces made by applying, attaching and joining multiple pieces together and often assembling found objects, rather than sculpting from a block of stone or slab of clay – the process of adding and assembling, rather than carving and taking away. So while I could associate with the constructivists, using the technique of assemblage and construction, this became my regular practice, which for me became the norm and the style of my work.
I made many pieces that brought together cast forms in plaster, attached to constructed wooden structures and this is when I discovered a dialogue between wood and plaster. The two elements were in conversation and complemented each other – (I became fascinated at this point by the British artist, Peter Startup, who was then Head of Sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art). I made moulds to form plaster objects, often having corrugated surfaces that trapped the dramatic effects of light and shadow, a device I discovered later in the work of the great British Sculptor, William Turnbull, who I later had the privilege of meeting at his home in Camden Square, London.
When I reflect on my style, my paintings, sculptures and assemblages, I can see clearly how fragments from the past in both my own work and from ancient cites around the world have continued to imbibe my work. This is how my style has evolved over many decades. It’s best described as an evolving visual language where the integral elements are comfortable and true when combined together. I create similar visual combinations in all my artistic output, as I often create a sculptural, raised textured surface built up layer upon layer, creating a strong effect of space, depth, distance, time and journey.
Was it difficult to become a full-time artist and what risks, challenges or setbacks did you have to face in your art career?
I have always yearned to be a full-time artist and be able to make a living from my work, however I had a very long and distinguished career as a head of Art in two leading British Independent Schools. As my studio was set up in the late 70’s with the support of two artist grants from Southern Arts, I did manage to continue my artistic practice whilst teaching.
My teaching career organically evolved allowing me to become a Director of Art in my early twenties, which in effect allowed me to secure a financial stability enabling me to continue creating. Many graduates completing a degree or Masters in Art, may find it difficult to immediately become financially secure by selling their work as this can take time; I was overtly aware of this.
It was also my burning desire to teach the subject I love so much. I was initially aware of potential financial constraints though, in becoming a full time artist, so if I was aware of any such risks, it would be this. I was, however, able to become a full-time artist since 2008, when I took early retirement from my long teaching career. Ever since, I have managed to develop an ever increasing clientele.
Were there any significant events during your art career that influenced your artistic development?
I would say that having met such innovative and talented artists and teachers who continually encouraged me at both school and art college – as well as meeting Robert Adams aged 15 – were poignant influences. As I have already mentioned though, my beloved mum is the most significant influence on my path in life and art, who has always supported me and been my inspiration. She always provided such loving, supportive advice and encouragement.
Additionally, meeting the great British sculptor David Nash during the late 1970s and assisting him with his celebrated ‘Ash Dome” – which has now become a masterpiece of global Land Art – as well as staying with him at his home and studio at Blaenau Ffestiniog. I was also inspired by two other significant British artists; William Turnbull and his wife Kim Lim whom I met for several hours, discussing their art and abstraction. So much can be learnt from meeting and discussing artistic practice and visual ideas directly with other artists and these meetings had a profound influence on me.
How long did it take you to achieve financial success as an artist and what lessons did you learn along the way?
Many collectors around the world have acquired my work overtime; sculptures, paintings and assemblages alike.
It takes a long period of time for one’s work to establish its artistic value as well as price point; with any work of art, it is often worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. Naturally, the price will increase with one’s reputation as an artist and becoming known amongst wider circles and especially dealers and galleries. Art also increases in value when resold. At the outset, one should not be tempted to overcharge and as time evolves I have often thought about this in relation to what I would be prepared to pay for my own pieces and at which price point I would be willing to release my work; especially as art is not just a painting or a sculpture but a significant part of the artist too. I have heard other well known artists express “you are buying a part of me”, and I wholeheartedly subscribe to this notion.
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