Thomas Yeomans: Ecstatic Awe
Thomas Yeomans is an artist working primarily in moving image.
Having studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art, Thomas now lives and works in London. Drawing broadly from pop culture, advertising, and the darker recesses of the internet, his elegant and unsettling work has earned him solo shows in London and Manchester, along with countless group exhibitions across Europe over the past four years. Last week we spoke to Thomas about the influences and ideas behind his compelling videos.
You graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2012- how has it been living and working as an artist since leaving?
In a few respects it’s been really shit- having no money or working a lot for very little money. But in so many other respects it’s been so amazing. I’ve met some really exciting people and been able to show in some really exciting places around the world. We’d all love to have more money and more time but right now I get to make and show my work and that’s the best thing I could have hoped for since graduating.
I noticed from the bio on your website that you were on the MA Painting course at the RCA but the work you make is predominantly film-based now- how did that come about?
I think I was trying to be too clever with the paintings I was making. I was copying Ikea and John Lewis print patterns- appropriating abstract shapes and colours that have mass appeal- generic but desirable. The paintings just looked gross. I realised I was interested in mimicking lots of visual languages that exist to compel their audience in one way or another. I wanted to better understand ideas like persuasion, appeal and desire. At some point I felt there was more fertile ground in appropriating moving image to explore this. With ‘Painting’ written over the entrance to the building I felt I could understand my practice better as image-based; whether as paint on canvas or projection on a wall. I think my videos are really painterly.
Can you tell us about the main ideas you try to express in your work?
I suppose ultimately I’m expressing my feelings. That I’m in ecstatic awe of the baroque pictures I take from mainstream culture but also deeply troubled by and cynical of the physical impact and emotional manipulation they can exert on us.
You co-opt a lot of corporate aesthetics in your videos- stock footage and the tropes of aspirational advertising for example. What draws you to this kind of imagery?
The efficacy of a medium to persuade a recipient into changing their behaviour fascinates me. An ideographic animation, a sentimental piece of music or some footage that at first seems generic but when recontextualised appears sinister – these are the tools of corporate capitalist visual ideology that persuade us to buy into non-physical goods or services. Broadband, TV, phone contracts and so on. I don’t think my work subverts these strategies, as I’m sure we’re all aware of their power over us. But I do seek to divert these tropes into new meanings in order to create a slippage or space in which to better consider their power.
In a lot of your work you seem to be dealing with, or talking about triteness. Is it always about critique or is there something more reverent at play too- reasserting overlooked value or meaning in a cliché by changing its context maybe?
Both. It’s in my contrary nature to receive something with reverence and immediately find it disgraced as a result. When something becomes cliché or trite we tend to feel we have control over it- we recognise it’s machinations and almost laugh it off. But perhaps that’s exactly what needs mining- the material that has become so assimilated into mass consciousness we no longer accept its power. Like shampoo adverts that haven’t changed since the 80s.
There’s also a lot of quite menacing imagery referencing internet culture in some of your videos. Often its presented with a very aggressive, rapid-fire style of editing. What kind of relationship do you have with the internet as an artist?
I have a very obsessive relationship with the internet. Most of my studio time is spent browsing. I see the internet as providing a post-cinematic landscape of co-authorship across multiple platforms, multiple devices, multiple timelines and multiple places. The fragmented narratives that can be constructed online in real time is endless, immediate and- yes- rapid. By taking video and sound from the web and re-stitching it together into fast paced works I feel I’m emulating a common place, mass activity of parody, appropriation and collage that previously existed as a strategy of the avant-garde.
Which artists or artworks have inspired you the most?
I think artists like Jon Rafman, Amalia Ulman and Petra Cortright are doing interesting things. I love everything Diplo touches right now and can’t wait to see Rihanna at Wembley in June. I think she’ll always inspire me the most.
Lastly do you having any forthcoming exhibitions or current projects you’re working on?
I’m excited to have just been asked to participate in a live broadcast of video art through a TV Channel being launched in New York in February. I’ve always wanted to be on TV.