Sculptor and Installation Artist, New York City
Tom Beale is a sculptor and installation artist living in New York City’s Chelsea Arts District. He is the director and curator of the Honey Space, an alternative art gallery and collaborative studio building, where he also lives and works. Tom graduated from Dartmouth in 2000, where he studied literature, painting, and sculpture. View some more of his works here.
I first met Tom last year at the Life is Art Foundation opening party in Sonoma. He showed me the most wonderful jewel-like sculpture that he made of inlaid shell pieces. Its one of those things that I covet still, and secretly hope it is still available!
When did you first consider yourself to be an artist?
I think that I always thought that art was the most likely thing that I would do, but it wasn’t until a particular creative shift occurred in 1999, when I moved from painting to making sculpture, that I believed that it was something I could do. Some full confidence was born in me then, and I feel that is when I really fully stepped into the skin of being an artist in a mature way.
Where do you source your materials?
The primary source for my materials has become beaches- the edge between water and land. I’ve found that everything is collected there, in one place, and sitting on rocks or sand, the wood is free of bugs and rot- which was not always the case when I collected wood from the forest. I also like the mysterious and mixed up origins of things that come by water. Nonetheless, I do still sometimes find wood on the streets, in dumpsters, and occasionally from other sources. Whatever the source, my materials are practically always at least second-generation – I bring them in after they are through their initial life cycle, when most would consider them “dead” or “waste”.
Describe your process?
I take long walks, where I collect the materials I use in my work. I bring these materials back to my studio, and from them, compose the work. The forms I have generally worked out in my mind before beginning, though they will often change or evolve while I am working on them. I have a process I have developed and refined over the years. I begin with raw branches or shells and process them into irregular, planar units, which are then processed further. The sculptures are slowly assembled, piece by piece, with each unit being custom fit. It is slow, and labor intensive, and often reflects – though doesn’t mimic- the cellular growth and logic of natural forms. It is reductive and then additive and then reductive in the end. Pushing and pulling. There is a high degree of control and attention to detail in the process, but there is also always a degree of randomness and unexpected results that come out through the process. I think of the forms like bodies- just as the human body as an essential, archetypal form, the sculptures have a certain, deliberate, internal logic. And yet they push out in places, and express themselves in ways through this process of assembly, just like how each person comes out different, although we share fundamental formal characteristics.
What do you strive to communicate with your work?
“At essence, I hope the work evokes a sense of awe, of wonder. I’m really interested in how something can feel both strange and familiar at the same moment.
Name a few of your artistic heroes?
Swoon, Peter Schumann (founder and director of Bread & Puppet), Martin Puryear.
What is the best thing about this studio space?
It’s free, it’s in the heart of Chelsea, and I have been given a chance to design and build it- in essence, to set the tenor of the building. In this way I don’t see a huge difference between creating sculpture and designing space – it is a sculpture you move through. It’s a dream come true that I would have never believed possible.
Unearth, at Honey Space
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve done?
There are several. Harlequin, from 2002, is a favorite.
What are some recurring themes that you’ve addressed in your work?
Things that feel familiar but you can’t identify, the relationship of forms to the body, natural logic, the formal expressions of life force (ie. procreation) in nature (sperm, egg, sexual organs, tadpole, etc.)