AVEC L'HOMME: new work from artist tom webb
“A lot of people are surprised it’s someone in the UK making this sort of art.”
An elegantly tattooed englishman in a wide-brimmed fedora, artist Tom Webb lives just outside of Oxford, yet the imagery of his art is deeply rooted in the American Southwest.
Hermitic teepees, distant deserts, world-weary wanderers -- these are his subjects, surrounded by emptiness, left unfinished, or bisected by planes of blank space.
Symbolic and figurative in ethos, fresh and free in execution, Webb makes work the eye can roam in. I see myself in the companionless travelers he often depicts - so eager, so anxious -- aiming always to be somewhere else.
This is why I had called at 6am -- to talk about American folk art, the lonesome west, and what we love innately about both.
"Growing up my grandfather lived next door -- and he had a lot of Native American photographs and pieces, just loads of vintage Americana, he was the only one around who owned American cars. I would go over and just spend ages at his house, sittin’ with him watchin’ westerns and playin’ with his guns."
“I’ve always really loved the idea of the romantic landscape -- of the West. If you ever visit London, you’ll see it’s quite different. I like the idea of the endless landscape, of endless possibilities.”
"So when did you decide you’d move here, to the United States?”
“I decided when I was like 7 years old or something. I always knew I would get there. It’s quite nice to be on the cusp of one of my biggest ambitions. I’m really hoping to move out to LA at the beginning of the year. Rene and I have a lot we want to work on.”
Rene is Rene Holguin of RTH, who had invited Webb out to his LA trading post for a residency early in 2013. RTH2, Holguin's second act, has opened just two doors down, with an entrance flanked by two conversing diptychs. Both are Webb’s work.
“Why America? What was that initial pull -- before your grandfather, before Rene?”
“Part of it is me and what I like. The American way of making art -- It’s quite natural. It seems to be kinda wholesome and naive in a way. Natural and unaffected. I like that.”
“As opposed to art in England being made in a way that is jaded and disingenuous ?”
“Well the English , they aren’t necessarily known for their positivity you know. It’s different here. It’s grey and crowded.
“So how did you meet Rene then? I can’t think of two places farther apart in personality and climate than Los Angeles and London.”
“Rene and I met in London by off-chance. While he was in London --I can't remember why he was here, but he was here -- he happened to see the wall mural I had done in Hackney.”
“Did he know the mural was your work? Did he know you?”
“No, not at all. Rene was with a friend of mine who said he could introduce the two of us. We then met for about an hour and we both just stayed open to the idea of collaborating. Then they went to Arcosanti and asked me to make a fabric piece for that.”
An experimental eco village, Arcosanti was created by Paolo Soleri in the 1970’s. The compound is located 70 miles outside of Phoenix, surrounded by furrowed desert valleys. Based upon Soleri’s ideas of a landscape-driven utopia, Arcosanti’s architecture is both dramatic and organic. If looking for off-the-grid,high-concept inspiration, Soleri's living dreamscape is the trip.
A combination of banner, poncho, and shawl, the woven piece Webb created for such a summit is titled ‘You and I' and its composition mirrors that of the Hackney wall mural Holguin had originally been drawn to. It was the first piece Webb created for RTH.
“What was that like, getting to California and collaborating with Rene?”
“We were never too tight on what it would be. I am pretty confident of who I am as an artist, and pretty confident about why I make art and how I like to make art, but also very trusting of Rene. I think Rene feels similarly. He allowed me to kind of play. So I would work on things -- make stuff, show him -- and he was very good at letting me do that, while giving me feedback on what he wanted to see. What Rene is doing -- it is art. He is an artist.
His way of putting something together -- it is very novel and it is very natural. It just comes out of him like it’s a part of him. It has something to it which is very unaffected, and I quite like that. I always like people with whom whatever they do just comes out of them, is very natural for them -- is a part of them.”
“Honest work is powerful when present.”
“There’s a lot of power in what’s not there. Imbuing a physical object with emotion -- that’s a very interesting process to me. Taking your feelings, putting them into a work, and then letting that work converse with the viewer, who is then moved emotionally. It’s quite amazing when that happens.”
“It’s amazing it can happen at all."
see more work from Tom Webb here, on his website tomjeanwebb.comand if in LA stop by RTH537 + 529 la cienega blvd west hollywood