‘Most of the work I do starts with drawing,’ says Tom Blake about his wide-ranging practice. The drawings are then fragmented and redrawn, and the new compositions incorporated into cyanotypes, hand-etched de-silvered mirrors, mobiles and installations. ‘There’s a balance between concept and formalism, and where those two meet,’ explains the artist.
Each work is developed to stand by itself, but viewers can also trace the movement of motifs through bodies of work. The cyanotypes, for example, are mode by placing bent wire onto a treated surface and then exposing it to light. They are a uniform, matte blue, an effect which is extremely difficult to achieve. ‘I want that background to almost disappear so that there’s an ambiguous depth to the work and the lines start to float within that frame,’ says Blake. The wires used to create those lines sometimes return later, subtly worked into mobiles.
For the Fremantle Biennale recently, Blake presented work in the flooded basement of an old cinema. Light was projected onto the water and refracted up onto a screen. As viewers entered, they witnessed the ripples caused by their presence in the space. Ideas around fluidity were also explored in an exhibition at Firstdraft, Sydney, in 2018.
‘The repetition is key for me,’ says Blake. ‘The compositions and drawings, I’m repeating them many times before I make a work that’s exhibited.’ At its heart, this is a liberating act. Blake’s lines often seem to gesture towards the figure or symbols and letters. By ‘gently breaking things apart and removing elements,’ as he puts it, he is pointing to the way that structures can be disassembled and recomposed, and how meanings can be reconfigured in new contexts.
The works are often grounded in physical experience: ‘Sometimes may works will start with a looping video of a particular moment. For instance, the moment the plane comes between the sun and the bedroom and casts a shadow across our sheets.’
Now based in Sydney, the West Australian artist has held prior solo exhibitions at Moana in Perth and c3 in Melbourne. He exhibited at Spring 1883 with Tributary Projects last year and has also had work in the Fisher’s Ghost Art Prize, Blake Prize and Woollhara Small Sculpture Prize. Completing a 2017 residency and solo exhibition at Tenjinyama Art Studio in Japan, Blake is currently a studio artist at Parramatta Artists’ Studios.