Interview with Illustrator Tom Berry prior to his latest exhibition in Deptford
The new series of works from illustrator Tom Berry is about looking at the mundane activities of daily life and placing a fantastical twist on them! Silhouetted figures interplaying with modern day totems such as the mobile phone. These are the things that we attach value to, sometimes more than the relationships around us.
We are in the kitchen of Tom’s home in Brockley. Paintings are everywhere, some drying, others awaiting the finishing touches ready for his latest exhibition, ‘Daily Rites’ which is soon to be showing in Deptford. It represents a change in direction. Normally known for his more intricate, detailed generally black and white illustrations, this time Tom has moved to a more graphic, bolder and more simplistic style.
“I’m poking fun at us really” says Tom as he makes the link between the kind of artifacts that people in history might have held a great association with and the sort of things that we hold dear in the modern day. “What I’m trying to expose is the undertones of humans that go underneath. We think we are all civilised and all developed but the same stuff is going on with us now that has been going on with us since the dawn of time.”
As such the works feature scenes from the modern day, going to work, reading a book or doing yoga. Everyday activities that are being intruded on in some way by the distractions of modern living. The need to check a status, to respond to a message or to take a selfie.
You might have already seen some of Tom’s work around! Book lovers will recognise the covers of titles such as ‘Capital‘ by John Lanchester which was recently made into a mini-series and ‘The Roundabout Man‘ by Clare Morrall. His detailed illustrative style has proved popular with publishers needing original designs for their covers.
Growing up in Bristol, Tom was always interested in drawing and in the early 2000’s even dabbled in graffiti for a time and found himself involved in the hip hop scene. Signing as ‘Phester’ it was very much a time of experimentation as well as education. “I think I learnt more about composition and layout by doing letter forms than I did doing art at school” says Tom.
That was on account of the constant sketching in black books, every night and every day, constantly refining, trying out compositions and trying to get the balance on the pages right. There’s also the element of healthy competition that being involved in that particular street culture gave you. “At school there’s an agenda about what you have to do to be good at art. With the hip hop scene, it’s so competitive but in a healthy way.”
The exhibition represents a broadening of Tom’s style! Choosing to strip things back, “what I’ve found is that I hide behind the detail a little bit” he told me. “It doesn’t take any less time to create though.” The detail is replaced by a greater need for accuracy and the introduction of colour into the work also adds another dimension.
“I think an artist should develop” says Tom. “I feel you’ve got to try things to develop and move. And the detail will come back into it but I feel you’ve got to pull the wheel of the car in the other direction and try and go off the road a little bit.”
Tom Berry Gallery