Love Notes from the West presents new work by Tom Savage, consisting of four large and three medium format paintings that radiate energy in the light filled space of the TWFINEART gallery.
Born in 1953, Savage draws inspiration from post-war American abstract expressionism and the Surrealist method of automatism that spread throughout art schools in his youth. Savage connects with the “free thinking, just do it” approach of automatism which attempts to tap into the unconscious mind, resulting in work that is pure expression free from conscious control. He embraces spontaneity in the painting processes, often making a first, tentative mark on the canvas before adding layer after layer, letting the work take shape organically. Savage states that he likes to be cognizant of what is happening while he is working, constantly making decisions and revisions while he works and drawing on his compositional instinct developed over his more than three decade long career.
Savage lives and works in California and admits that working in such a fast-paced and rapidly churning cultural landscape is both inspiring and challenging. He prefers to steer clear of the trendy art scene in Los Angeles and instead has focused on developing a unique artistic vocabulary. The works in Love Notes From the West are frantic, chaotic and colourful; filled with many simultaneous elements competing for the viewer’s attention. The multilayered nature of the paintings creates an atmosphere like that of a bustling city with multiple simultaneous narratives.
One large work Highway Drama conveys a frantic, chaotic feeling. Hazy semi-transparent sprays of colour evoke the textures of a well-worn city wall, layered over time with advertising posters and partially removed graffiti. Thicker, seemingly random splotches of white, red and yellow punctuate and transcend through the layers of the painting. There is an interesting play between the multiple symbols and narratives that exist all at once in Savage’s paintings and the visual expression of these elements across the background, middle ground and foreground. Even elements of the ‘history’ in the background of the work are brought to the front at points, blurring the lines of a linear or single perspective narrative. Savage uses open-ended abstract symbols to allow the audience the freedom to apply their own meanings and associations to the works. Is saying this, the symbols evident in Highway Drama evoke varying associations from naive childhood scrawlings right though to the drawings of Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky.
HIGHWAY DRAMA, 2017. TOM SAVAGE. 215cm (H) x 183cm (W)
A signature of Savage’s paintings is his use of drawing, which he describes as being like an armature for his work. He recalls his fascination with drawing in art school where, while learning to paint still lifes, he would become frustrated by doing a preparatory drawing only to eventually cover it up. He enjoyed seeing the way the oil paint would drip into the pencil or charcoal, creating spontaneity through the running paint. In this way he plays with the traditional rules of painting, breaking down hierarchies between sketching and the more ‘finalised’ paint medium.
Another work X-Ray Thoughts contains layer upon layer of more abstract expressionistic mark marking and a surprisingly playful use of bright greens, pinks and reds that make the work hum with energy. There is a sense of mayhem to this work resulting from the cacophony of textures and colours that combine to create an atmosphere that seems to shift through every layer. Savage’s works in this show in particular manage to possess a grittiness of texture while using eye catching colours that cut through the haze and washes without overpowering them.
X-RAY THOUGHTS, 2017. TOM SAVAGE. 215cm (H) x 183cm (W)
Tamp It Up Solid takes a lighter, less intense approach playing with the empty space of the raw canvas. The more individually distinguishable lines and forms create the impression that the viewer is following a thought process, perhaps a series of diagrams or a plan. The lighter energy of this work and the diagrammatic type scrawlings are reminiscent of the drawings of Cy Twombly. These gestural sketchings create a frantic sense of movement, jumping about the canvas. Savage’s disruption of the traditional painting process- compositional planning, drawing, under painting, and a final resolved work is again disrupted through his proclivity towards the seductive rawness of surfaces. The raw, unfinished look has become part of Savage’s vocabulary as an artist. He likes the way it suggests that the ideas and narratives in the painting are unresolved, leaving the audience free to create their own ever-changing narrative.
TAMP IT UP SOLID, 2017. TOM SAVAGE. 215cm (H) x 183cm (W)
Savage is hesitant to make specific decisions about what a work is about and prefers just to let it happen rather than conceptualising and making didactic explanations. He unashamedly admits that he enjoys it when people say they like his work, attributing artist’s sheepishness around praise to a fear that the wrong people are going to like it, like the way musicians are berated for “selling out” when teenage girls enjoy their music. Savage says that over his time as a painter, most of all he has learnt to be honest to the truth of his work. He tries to cut through the “concise, lubricated ways of saying things to get you impressed” and instead values the honesty of a gut reaction, of which these works certainly pack a punch.
* All quotes from interview with the artist 13th June, 2017 at TWFINEART Fortitude Valley.
WRITTEN BY: SARAH THOMSON