Tom Bromwell makes puppets. He gained a First in BA Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and an MA at Dartington/Falmouth. He currently works at The Art Shop and Chapel galleries in Abergavenny.
Clive: So what happened after your BA and MA?
Tom: To all intents and purposes I gave up practicing. I became rather disillusioned with it all. I even closed my website.
Clive: Can you explain further?
Tom: My previous artwork had taken a very intellectual direction, and had increasingly focused on the philosophical and theoretical side of art. However this began to destroy the pleasure in it for me. So I found work in other areas of the arts, including research and administration. I’m about to start a PHD in the History of Art as a result of my research work on Apocalyptic visions and interwar art.
The Blackened One
Clive: The artist Philippa Robbins showed me photographs of glove-puppets you’d made, which is how I came to contact you. How did this interest come about?
Tom: I’ve only started making puppets in the past year, prompted by Pauline Griffiths of the Art Shop Gallery, and I’ve found it’s brought back my enjoyment in making. I’ve always had a strong interest in theatre, though I struggled to reconcile it with my past practice. Perhaps I was too self-conscious. But somehow, and unexpectedly, the puppets have bridged the gap. I’m continuing to make them, and finding my ideas are developing as I gain greater familiarity with the processes. I’ve been giving puppet performances for children in the Art Shop & Chapel.
Clive: Paul Klee made glove-puppets for his son Felix, and together they gave performances. The Klee puppets are quite roughly made, but each has an undeniable presence.
Tom: I see my puppets as riffing on archetypal characters and forms, and yes they are inspired by the sense of wonder I experienced on first seeing Klee’s puppets. His coarse technique combined with found objects accentuated the personality of his creations. Had they been refined and highly finished, I think the immediacy of them would have been lost. They would have been more anonymous and forbidding – and less a product of imagination. Yet made as they are, they revel in their status as crafted objects.
Clive: You use one of your puppets, Abel, as your Facebook profile image. Is it a self-portrait?
Tom: I’ve avoided using images of myself for online profiles for a number of years. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with them. The Facebook puppet is the one I most identify with, the one onto which I’ve projected some of my uncertainties and insecurities. The simple design is inspired by the sense of bewilderment I think we’ve all known on occasion.
Clive: I’m interested in the names of your puppet characters. Tell me about them, and why you chose them.
Tom: Abel and Rebecca are old-testament names, and the characters represent facets of my personality. Abel embodies my more negative, paranoid side. He’s oblivious to his destiny in the bible to be a ‘victim’, and just puts his head down to get on with his work, only to end up being murdered by his brother. Lets be honest, Abel is basically there just to move the plot along! I think my sense of being an innocent cog is best represented by him! Rebecca on the other hand is both strength and kindness – things that I aspire to.
Other names have their origin in bits of philosophy. The Trickster (aka The Nameless One) is a bit of a wordsmith. Semiotics and Derrida’s concept of différance played a part developing the character. His name changes from performance to performance (his name really does differ and defer!), suggesting the characters’ awareness to how arbitrary names and definitions really are.
Polt is an abridgement of Poltergeist, but it also conveys something else in the sound of the word. The plosive sound is almost onomatopoeic. Like a hard blow, it sounds forceful. The name and the puppet, with it’s shocked expression, seem to fit each other perfectly. And while Polt might sound po-faced, he’s not really so bad!
Clive: Tom, tell me about the performances. How do you prepare for them?
Tom: The performances can be underpinned by science, philosophy or suchlike, and the stories often focus on a single aspect of one of the characters. I am not the sort of person who normally does things spontaneously, so I usually aim for an underlying structure from which I can play with ideas or materials. I encourage audience interaction to explore the potential embodied in the narrative.
I shall post information of Tom’s next performances at the Chapel Gallery when I have the dates
I’ve been having a spot of trouble at WordPress edit today, and have had to post this piece for a second time, losing in the process one of the comments. Luckily I’d saved it, and have pasted it below, together with my reply.
From Cosima Lukashevich:
Submitted on 2015/08/26 at 5:34 am
Its fascinating to me to hear how and why artist make. It seems that one can get lost in the maze of the thinking mind, and that path cycles round and round. So to physically make, to create, is a relief and a positive direction outward. The living energy of creativity bursts forward… in Tom’s puppets… towards the lively arts of theatre in ‘character forms’. (aka puppets.)
His puppets are only half of the story. It would be very interesting to see a performance of them!
From Clive Hicks-Jenkins:
Submitted on 2015/08/26 at 5:59 am | In reply to Cosima Lukashevich.
Hello Cosima. Yes, it is indeed interesting that a performance art has facilitated Tom rediscovering his pleasure in the act of making he’d somehow lost after his MA and BA. It was perceptive of Pauline Griffiths to point him in the direction of making puppets. And yes, I’d agree that this is only half the story. Puppets need to be seen in action. Tom’s are brimming with potential.
Yes, having met Tom a few times at The Art Shop I can confirm that he is far more handsome than his Abel avatar! Pauline is a really encouraging and inspiring person – and her two galleries in Abergavenny are a real treat to visit. It’s great to see puppets on the Artlog again – the Puppet Challenge was a great inspiration to lots of us and really affected my own practice in a positive way. Looking forward to seeing more of Tom’s work!
Really interesting interview, and wonderful puppets to see – I bought a few old Punch and Judy puppets at a toy and model fair with a view to seeing how expressive they could be, when handled, notwithstanding their plain ‘outfits’ and rubbery, moulded heads … puppetry, and puppet theatre, really interests me, and I’m just starting to find out more about its history. I got my BA (art history/visual arts practice) as a mature student, looking to continue my studies, and then had a change of heart.
The puppets certainly do personify different aspects of a personality, and beautifully and originally so. I find it interesting also how an art course can actually do the opposite of bringing out a person’s creative spirit, even though it might not be obvious at the time, as that person is still producing work. It’s as if somewhere inside, the creative spirit says enough of that, and stops, and shuts down. I think I have experienced this. And so, the suggestion to make puppets eventually provides a new output through a different door, so to speak. I echo what Cosima says on this process, and would also love to see or hear about Tom’s puppet shows.
The other thing I find interesting is how the internet blog provides a space and platform for a alternate persona, and the puppet, in all it’s manifestations becomes a figurehead for aspects of a new form of identity online. I think Tom’s words “riffing on archetypes” sums it up rather well, and his puppets really do have a voice of their own.
Very interesting conversation. The puppets as well…. maybe it’s the bad eye, but I first saw a claw emerging from a volcanic shape when I met the Harbinger. Took me a moment to see the shape of his head. And Polt reminded me strangely of a certain kind of white eraser that was sold to school kids in my childhood, and his little fez-hat of a pencil stub. Perhaps he reminds me a little bit of Klee’s Dr. Death puppet? They are evocative and made odd connections.
It takes so very little for a child to pretend a thing is alive and take pleasure in storytelling. The more minimal ones remind me of that basic idea, of my own childhood.
I can see how he would interest you, not just because of puppets… That pattern of weariness with an art form, retreat, and emergence into a new area has an analogue with you and theatre and seven years as a hermit and painting.
What a great commentary; the wait has been worth it.
Thank you. Both
By the way:
Maybe Tom Bromwell feels himself to be like an Abel, all humble and insecure, but he definitely does not look like one. He looks more like a proud Lion King, to me…