**Plus bonus interview with exhibition curator Megan Holden!**
“Room 208” (or) “Mother Please!” by Tom Norton
Our meeting started out with a smile and a hug. Artist and musician Tom Norton, the People’s Choice winner of the “Origins of Fear” exhibit is a kind, funny, deeply considerate, “live in the now” kind of guy. He believes that, “the last check you write should be to the funeral home, and it should bounce.”
A true Spokanite, Tom grew up near the Garland district and says his love of music started in first grade, when the nuns at St. Xavier asked him to play piano for them. He continued playing at G Prep where occasionally his talent bought him some leeway, getting him out of class, and sometimes out of trouble!
Always looking for the silver lining in things, Tom is still a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to his paintings. He believes that “Less is more” and admits to having painted over finished works when he felt that he’d tweaked them too much. As a writer, I understand that need to edit, re-do, edit again. I believe it is a condition endemic to the artists heart.
Now celebrating seven years of sobriety, (WTG Tom!!!) this self proclaimed “reformed” bad boy is putting his talent for art and music to good use and in turn, making the world a better place. Keep reading to learn more about this fun and fascinating man.
Q: Congratulations! You are the People’s Choice winner at the Little Dog Art Gallery’s “Origins of Fear” exhibit. Your piece, “Room 208 / Mother Please” is apparently creepy and haunting enough to have chilled the most spines. Please tell us what inspired it? Did you make it specifically for this show or had you finished it prior to the open call?
A: Thank you! “Room 208” began as a quick sketch of a face, which I immediately didn’t care for :), so I painted black hair over the face. A straight jacket came to mind – don’t know why, and so it “began”.
I began to think about my mom and her many, many dark years suffering from bi-polar depression. She was treated for this throughout her life, before anti-depressants and therapies evolved into what they are these days. I grew up watching her, not understanding what was happening – only being told to be quiet and kind to her – that she was “ill” and that we needed to do everything we could to make her days easier. Shock treatments, massive amounts of prescribed drugs, and the fallout from these things: nightmares, isolation, realizing that our family was not like the happy families on television – it was tough. Mom could be extremely manic and in no control of what was going on inside herself one day, and then sweet, gentle and wonderful the next, so these thoughts had some things to do with this painting.
It’s not about my mom though. It’s about isolation, and controlled environments. About being kept away from the world. And no, I did not create it for this exhibit. It was completed before the call, and just seemed to be a good fit to me as an entry. I wrote a quick story to go along with the painting . . .
“Mother says that she cannot protect herself from the world around her . . . and me. Mother please. She built a door for me. Then she sealed it closed. She sees me in my room. She put a ladder there today. I fear the world. I dream of better days instead. I must not try to leave. Mother please. . .”
Q: Is this a genre you usually work in, or was this a step outside of your comfort zone? Also, what would you call your style of art?
A: This was way outside my comfort zone or normal work genre. I don’t have, nor do I want a specific style of art. I go day by day, and ideas come to me, or scribbles turn into something. Most of my work ends up being “lighter”, more whimsical, more fun. Some of my art is dark though, and it’s rare that I show it, or even finish it in one pass. One day I’d like to do an exhibit of my darker art, but I fear that I may be locked up if I do!
Q: How long did it take you to finish this piece? What materials did you use?
A: I started this one at Mt. Baker Blues Festival. I was performing there with The Bobby Patterson Band. I play keyboards. I finished it a few weeks later, so I guess about a month to complete. It was done with acrylics and charcoal on wood panel.
Q: Did any of the other pieces at the exhibit creep you out?
A: Yes, I don’t like spiders, but the spider mobile fascinated me. I stared at it for a long time. They were just so beautiful I was mesmerized.
Q: How long have you been painting, and how did you learn your craft?
A: I’ve loved art since I was a young boy. Always doodling, always amazed by the artists in this world. I am primarily self-taught. I was invited to take some art classes at GU when I was in high school. I wish I would have studied art and learned more techniques back then, but I decided to be a rock star instead 🙂 and the music business consumed me for a long time. My art took a back seat, and it wasn’t until 2009 that I revisited that passion.
Q: As an artist, what do you do to find inspiration? (Hot yoga, spelunking, e-books?)
A: Everything inspires me. I love galleries. I love people. I love dogs. I didn’t paint for over 20 years. Then I retired, sort of. Now I can’t stop getting inspired!
Q: Do you make a living with your art or are you moonlighting from a more “muggle-ish” job?
A: No, I don’t make a living with my art. I sell a few pieces here and there. I’m supposedly retired, but my music and art keep me very focused, very busy. I don’t want to be that old man who sits in a chair and looks out the window.
Q: After checking your facebook page, it looks like you are both a Seahawks fan and an animal lover. Is that correct?
A: That’s right. I am a long time Seahawks fan! I love Seattle. I miss living there. And I love animals. Football players are animals too ;). I love my two dogs, Max and Sophie. I don’t care much for cats. They don’t like me.
Q: If you could travel to any place / time for your art, where would you go and why?
A: France and Italy in the present. I love the new emerging art, and I love the old masters. I was in Europe last March. Paris is amazing. I could spend a lot of time there, painting, learning, eating. . .
Q:Who are some of your favorite artists, in any genre, and how have they affected your artistic expression?
A: Dali, Picasso, Gahan Wilson, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Pollock, David Choe, Os Gemeos, andy and all true graffiti artists. The radical differences in these artist and styles of art have “infected me” for many years.
Q: Do you have any causes / charities you support that you’d like to share?
A: I’m currently supporting getting Trump to go away and never be seen again. (D’oh!) And I feed the homeless sometimes. I support 2nd Harvest and Salvation Army along with a few others, but I need to do more to truly support those in need. I need to make the time to do that.
Q: Where can we go next to see or hear more of your work?
A: I’m exhibiting at Left Bank Wine Bar again for the month of November. I love that place. I sell art there! People come, drink wind and beer, and sometimes they see and like my art! I like showing in wine bars. I don’t drink anymore, but I enjoy seeing people drink and have fun and then buy my art.
If you are not into wine bars but want to check out Tom’s work, you can visit his website Tom Norton Art .
Or, if you are more interested in music, you can find him most Sundays playing with Voodoo Church at Cheap Shots.
Q: So final and possibly most telling question. Tom, do you prefer Star Trek, Star Wars, or Dancing with the Stars?
A: I prefer Star Trek. I enjoy the cheesy first episodes, the evolution of Spock, and its more optimistic view.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Tom preferred Star Trek. He is constantly looking for the good in life, in people, in art and music. His kindness and wit made this interview completely enjoyable.
Of course none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for Kay West at the the Little Dog Art Gallery and her chosen curator for the “Origins of Fear” exhibit, Megan Holden. A fine line illustrator, graphic designer, and jewelry maker, I got to sit down with Megan a few days ago and ask her about herself and the exhibit.
Unsure about what to expect upon meeting her, the first thing I noticed about Ms. Holden, beyond her gorgeous auburn hair, was her awesome Led Zeppelin shirt and amazingly detailed fingernails painted with skeleton parts on a black back ground. Pretty much everything about her oozed quiet confidence and fun loving friendliness. I was instantly put at ease, and drawn in.
Pun not intended, Ms. Holden’s drawings are intensely detailed, lively and full of motion, it is easy to get lost in them. A feast for the eyes, and her jewelry is just as lovely. You can see for yourself by visiting her facebook art page Poseidon’s Consort or her jewelry page JewelryDesignedByMegan.
When I asked her how long she’d been a curator, the surprise answer was this had been her first foray into curating! Apparently, she’s known Kay for a while, having met at the New Moon Art Gallery , when they both had pieces there. Kay asked her to curate the show and, despite never having done it before, Megan jumped in with both feet and created an amazing exhibit.
She had two criteria for choosing pieces from the many entries the open call brought in: 1) Did the artist follow submission guidelines? No cutting corners or dodging procedure allowed. 2) Did the piece generate a feeling of fear or a perception of danger in some way? Did it dredge up memories of past fear?
I asked how she came up with the theme of the exhibit. Her response was thought provoking. “I was raised watching Hitchcock films and although it was initially inspired by October and the heightened sense of tension created in Hitchcock movies, I came up with the subject matter by wanting to further explore the fears that lie deep within us. It was about tapping into things like fear of loss, fear of commitment and things that affect daily decisions or shape our character. I like to see how fear of all kinds either promotes or inhibits growth. It is a shared experience everyone can relate to on some level.”
I think we can all agree, we’ve all had some sort of fear response to unusual situations, shocking surprises, and those things that go bump in the night, right? Thankfully, Ms. Holden wasn’t afraid of the unknown and agreed to curate the “Origins of Fear”.
Once selected, the artists works spent a month in the Little Dog being admired and voted on. Tom’s “Room 208 / Mother Please” ended up being the most popular / creepy. Second place went to a lovely gal previously interviewed for this blog, Kim Long! Her submission (below) is called “Surrender the Heart” or “Spirit of the Birch”.
Congratulations to Tom and Kim for winning the most votes, and to Megan for organizing a terrific exhibit!