Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Robert Frost, Birches
‚Climbing Black Branches’
As an extension to the exhibition ‚Climbing Black Branches’ curator Jeanette Gunnarsson hosted a live stream interview with the artist Thom Trojanowski. The conversation centred around Trojanowski’s current body of work, which focuses on our relationship to nature, reflects on human impact and creates snap shots that evoke memories of the past. Thom also speaks of his desire to give viewers a sense of hope, reconnecting with nature and stepping away from endless scrolling through digital content and screens.
JG: Your work is in many ways removed from the digital- dealing with close observation, looking at nature. How would you say digital media and social media platforms influence you in your practice? Do you feel your practice is a deliberate reaction and antidote- to the digital?
TT: I’m a total luddite. And I know lots of people say that but really I am, Stevie can vouch for this. I was raised in a large forest in the West Midlands and so from a very early age have been engaging with nature and is still what excites me the most, other than art. Although… they are symbiotic for me. I very much need to feel the earth between my fingers, and experience the pitch black only the heart of a forest can offer. Screens are a necessity in this day and age and I enjoy their benefits as much as anyone. But I’m sure to put my phone down once I’m in a natural environment, or an urban one saying that. As watching the dance of people is just as intriguing and those small flittering interactions between people are easy to miss. Instagram is a bit of fun, and a good way to keep connected with other artists and friends as we live quite remotely. But I don’t hold any precedence in it, in terms of lots of followers equating to “good art”. More than ever now people need to step away from the screen, take a step back and reconnect with nature, to fall back in love with it, and try and bring it back from the brink.
JG: I really like how you think about human impact on the natural world and its processes, could you tell us more about moving away from London, where your studio is, and how the location ties into your work?
TT: Our current studio is based on Bentwaters AirBase on the skirts of Tunstal Forest. The airbase was built by the Americans during the Cold War and got deserted in the 80’s, leaving behind runways, air hangers and skeletons of old fighter jets. This is when a group of artists commandeered the interrogation building and started the co-operative, which is Asylum Studios. It’s become our home and community and is the key to our productivity and well-being. As it’s run as a co-operative the rates are amazingly low - this combined with low house rents in the surrounding area (comparatively to a city) it has allowed us to be in the studio far more than usual. We’re lucky here as its ten-minute drive to the beach and a two-minute drive into the forest but still only an hour and a half drive into East London. We are still social creatures and are keen to catch shows when we can. Being so directly linked to the natural world on a daily basis is tremendously important for my practise currently. It’s who I’ve been my entire life and so to make work about anything else would be a lie, and dishonest work is bad work!
JG: Could you tell us a bit more about your current body of work?
TT: These paintings are to be billboards of awareness, stillness and contemplation with an undercurrent of hope and love. They’re painted thin so to invoke a dream like feeling, like its either a reminiscent memory from the past or a hazy insight into the future laced with warning. I’ve left white boarders on the canvas in the hope to emphasise that snapshot of a memory feeling. Or like a picture in a children’s story book. The overall theme of the body is mans heavy lean on nature, it’s resources and the consequences of it’s buckling. It’s a subject that is of constant discussion between my parents, sisters and I. Both my mother and father are scientists of ecology and zoology.
JG: Your painting “Crash” is a really dynamic, energetic painting- I love those fragmented, torn and broken tree trunk elements - I feel it has an aesthetic relationship with futurism, which is interesting. And then it also has this dystopian, red orange glow - I immediately thought of the devastating and traumatic Australian bush fires at the start of this year. This orange features heavily in these paintings- could you tell us about this painting and about the use of colour in this and the other works?
TT: Yeh, it’s good that you say that. It shows this almost black lightning bolt smashing through the landscape, destroying trees in its path and generally being a force of disruption in an otherwise scenic setting. Two loping figure of man ride this black bolt like a wave. Recently I chaired a panel and attended a climate crisis summit in my local town and one of the lecture given by a professor was the devastating effects too many road systems have on the natural flow of animals between their habitats. I guess this painting echoes that. The bright oranges, reds, pinks in the work are important for that feeling of dystopia, burning, warning. There’s a scene in the recent re-make of Blade Runner where he steps out of his vehicle and the entire landscape is orange, barren, acidic and hazy. It’s the opposite of lush, green and full of life, and that’s the feeling I want. Other than that, these are just colours that are at the forefront of my pallet. I was talking to Stevie about colour recently, and how where you’re from will buy into what you’re drawn to. For example, in Poland lots of bright reds, oranges, pinks, blues and greens are used through out the culture. The house I was raised in was very adorned in traditional folk painted designs encompassing everything from stairs to furniture to crockery.
JG: I’m intrigued by the inclusion of text in your paintings- I wondered about “Argynis Adippe” and “Betulaceae” which is the classification of the birch family. Have you always included text in your work?
TT: Text has always leaked into my work, rightly or wrongly. Sometimes an image just won’t do! And for sure I hold the importance of the written word up against any other form of art. “Argynis Adippe” is the Latin name for High Brown Fritillary which is the butterfly in the painting. A butterfly on the U.K. red list and is suffering due to loss of habitat. I included its Latin name as just a bit of an in-joke with my Dad. His party trick is to be able to name most plant, tree, and animal species by their Latin name. It’s scary, and funny. And pretentious! But that’s never his intention.
JG: I know you were in a band before you became an artist- could you tell us a bit more about music, how do you feel about music influencing your practice- do you listen to anything in particular when you’re making? Do you find playing music important? Do you and your wife Stevie take turns, as you share a studio space? What's on your studio playlist?
TT: Can music be claimed as one of the oldest art forms? Primal screams and stamping of feet- I find it essential to tap into an emotional side of myself, and to help with the rhythm of painting. But on the flip side, I can find silence just as important. Or if the music I’m choosing at the time isn’t right a frustration builds which is when podcasts come in handy. Stevie and I originally met through our shared love of music, and we have a lot of common loved artists, but for sure there are differences, so yes we need to take it in turns. Current playlist includes Girls Of The Internet, Mulatu Astatke, Tony Allen, Billy Boyo, Imagination, Sterolab, Sun Ra, Christine And The Queens, Wolf Müller, Aldous Harding, Nate Morgan, 1 Young Micah to name just a few.
JG: Thank you Thom, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you- I am looking forward to listening to your studio playlist!