B. Thom draws his inspiration from quilts, horror movies, bumper stickers, Japanese ideograms and ancient masks. His motives and symbols collide on the canvas, bursting into a broad, meaningful imagery. When we met for this interview, I was lucky to arrive at the studio before he did, allowing me to snoop around without commentary or guidance. The view was great, and I used the binoculars on his windowsill to spy on the street below until I saw him coming.
Can we talk about your use of ancient imagery?
It’s about a language of instinctual, impulsive, often functional art, depending on influences. A lot of artists and craftsmen I like are doing such a thing to fulfill a need. There’s all these beautiful quilts that people have made, and they have trouble tracking down who made them because people weren’t signing these blankets. They were making blankets to keep them warm, and make their beds look pretty. The way they tracked down some of them was through the material, for instance, if the pants were from a civil war soldier. I like the idea of the function of art as being aesthetically pleasing, but also serving this real life function of warmth and comfort. It goes back to the way that I work, which is the idea of boiling something down to create something new. Putting these cultures and motivations in a pot and slow cooking them.
Do you mean motifs or words?
Motifs and words can be one in the same. “Sun God” had this nice balance to the text. The “Lover” text is from a film, a classic horror film I love called, “DEMON LOVER.” I took the “demon” down, whittled the text down, and put it on top of this quilt pattern. This is also on top of a drawing I made that I had Xeroxed. I’m stacking up me and my influences on top of each other to create stories.
“Breaking multiple ideas down to their least common denominator, their basic 2D form.”
Is it a story or an enigma?
I’d say both in the sense that it’s like a visual poem. It doesn’t necessarily have a point A and point B; it’s non-linear thought. It’s both abstract and concrete. If I was trying to outwardly express a linear idea, I would be a writer or a filmmaker, but at the same time I paint directly from the material that turns me on.
You prefer collision?
Absolutely. Breaking multiple ideas down to their least common denominator, their basic 2D form. Almost like I’m trying to present the hide of the animal. It doesn’t look like the animal anymore but it’s the essence; the outside shell of what once was a living thing that I’ve repurposed. I like the idea of making something that’s beautiful out of a bunch of contradictory things.
Does it mean that when you like something you start ruminating on them?
I try to learn as much as I can about the subject. Maybe chew on it for a while. There’s a lot of layers in my work that aren’t visible in the final image. The color, paint strokes, the peroxide paintings, and this self fulfilling function. A lot of this started with this series of bootleg Picassos I painted. It was more about wanting to own a Picasso painting, and not being able to fulfill that visual and personal need. So I made one of my own.
I really like to paint fast. I hold the end of the brush, and paint at arms length, and I do a lot of studies. I do a bunch of smaller size paintings to get my chops, sort of warm up what I want to paint. To finish the painting, I put these layers of pigment on little by little, and I sit with the piece before I decide if it’s done or not. I take a photo on my phone and look at it when I’m home in bed, and when I wake up in the morning.
“It’s a constant experiment and there’s no formula. It’s not super precise and that’s what exciting.”
You’re rewarded with the little idiosyncrasies of the hand paint. That was part of the concept of doing these peroxide paintings. They’re really light, quiet and reactionary to the flyer paintings I was doing. The idea of ocular memory. Think of when a flash goes off and you get that light burnt into your eyes, I like the idea of the message of these black and white high contrast images getting burned in your retina. I’m exploring that with this pink colored peroxide bleached out looking works. It’s the idea of fleeting thoughts or burning. “Peroxide” is a way for me to talk about these paintings and what I want to imply with them. I’m not going to say they’re uplifting, but they’re not negative.
This one (photo of woodblock print-like) looks a little bit like tales from the middle age or you start with big letters and a story somehow.
Yeah some of these start to feel like woodblock prints or illustrated manuscripts. Like you said the beginning or part of a story. The same concept as a tribal mask. The mask itself is not a complete work, it’s like a small portion of a larger ritual. It’s a spiritual event, a functional portion of a larger performance with a more abstract function, than the mask implies on it’s own.
I don’t want or expect people to come into my paintings and think, “Oh that’s what it’s about,” I am purposely vague. Challenging people reacting to the work and reflect their own personal experiences onto it.
“making something that’s beautiful out of a bunch of contradictory things.”
But there is a thread of elements within you. No one knows exactly what it means but underneath there’s a connection.
Absolutely, I’m purposely putting my own nostalgic triggers into these paintings to get people to search for me within themselves and vice versa. The idea of a viewer reacting to imagery and reflecting their own personal imagery onto it. We’re all just a product of our own lifetime and experiences. To put subtle triggers of nostalgia along with big ideas and big concepts. For instance, this recent shape I’ve been painting I refer to as “Angels” to make it easier to talk about. The shape at the same time is a key hole, and an axe, an iron cross, but the connotation of “Angel” spans into so many cultures. It’s a loaded word. It’s a supernatural thing. It’s an ancient version of a UFO sighting. They talk about angel sightings in the bible, the Qur’an, the Torah, Buffy the Vampire slayer, everywhere. It’s such a weighted word it’s like playing with a loaded gun. It’s scary and it’s exciting on many levels.
Tell me a little bit about the bumper stickers. I read that there is a correlation between the aggressivity of the driver and the number of bumper stickers he has.
Bumper stickers are like waving opinions in people’s faces. Being able to express your world views down to one line that will fit on the back of your car, on your bumper, on a little sticker, is a huge concept. I drove cross country with my little brother last summer, and there weren’t any bumper stickers. I was surprised with how little bumper stickers there were. Even at gas stations, it was something I wanted to buy but had to seek out. I was at the biggest truck stop in America and there weren’t any. It’s on I80 in Iowa. It was real world trolling. People didn’t have the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, Reddit, or whatever to be able to voice opinion. It’s human nature to want to put your big ideas out in the world. I feel like people don’t do it anymore or do it too much.
They do digitally…
That’s all they do, maybe that’s where they get stuck now. Twitter is just some bumper sticker website. This overflow of personal opinion online, chased the stickers away I’m sure. People want distance from the things they adamantly claim on social media.
You use Xerox in your paintings as preliminary?
Well I’ll do a drawing or copy something from a book that catches my eye and then I’ll manipulate it. I’ll draw over it, Xerox it, shrink it, make it larger… Xerox is becoming my pencil. The zines I’ve been doing are these informative zines. They’re like a toolkit. There’s anarchistic education tools like “How to Make a Gas Mask.” But there’s also stuff like, “How to Ventilate Your Attic,” chili recipes, little facts about different things.
What about your VHS collection here?
I like film, it’s my favorite form of art. You don’t sit and look at a painting for an hour and a half but you can watch a movie for hours. You sit in a room with a bunch of strangers and stare at a movie for three hours. To be able to command that type of attention to something you made is beautiful to me.
It’s a different kind of intensity. Can you tell us about these rugs?
The idea for the rugs are the same; making something you live with. Creating an art object that’s in your home. I’m working on an installation right now up in L.A. I’m making a bunch of rugs scattered like paper in an 8.5:11 size ratio The rugs elevate the photocopy while staying true to its original form, but blown up to show minute details. I love the defects and the process marks.
To the point where it gets granular...
I dig the idea of the stray marks and small process marks. Matisse did that. The devil is in the detail. There is life in the dot in the image of the object.