Interview with the Artist (2006)

Interviewer: Tell us about yourself.

Artist: Well, my name is Tom Isaacs and I’m currently an undergraduate student at Sydney College of the Arts. I’m finishing my third and final year in the sculpture studio and preparing for my graduation show.

Interviewer: What was your undergraduate experience like?

Artist: I’ve found SCA to be really great. The theory programs have fostered my conceptual development despite heavy resistance at times. The lecturers have encouraged and guided my growth as an artist and the campus is beautiful. I am really grateful for the ways it’s challenged me and helped me to mature as an artist and a person. There have been some difficult times, especially when assessments are due, but these are unavoidable in any institution and also in life in general.

Interviewer: Can you give us an example of difficulties you have encountered?

Artist: My first passion has always been making art, but in my second year I found myself frustrated and blocked at times. In second year at SCA students are encouraged to pursue a self-directed practice. In all honesty I struggled for a long time with this aspect of the college, but by my third year things became a lot clearer.

Interviewer: What changed?

Artist: In my first year I was working with some ideas in mind and every time we were given a project I would subvert it with my own themes. In second year I was still reflecting on the same issues in my art but I struggled to find a catalyst to get my work going. I wasted a lot of time sitting around thinking and not doing. This year my practice has become very process driven. I have spent more time in the studio working and less time worrying. When I’m working in the studio the concerns relevant to my practice are going through my head but they’re also going through my hands, it’s productive. I consider this time invaluable not only for the way it inspires other finished works but for how much more secure and productive it makes me feel.

Interviewer: Why do you want to go into this field? Is art a passion for you?

Artist: I started off choosing art because there was nothing else I was really interested in. Recently I read a piece of writing by Martin Creed, “If you’re lonely…” and even though I always intended to pursue an art career I think this was the first time I realised I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I want to quote some of it for you, but I can’t. It’s too good. There is no small part I can break off and share with you. You need to read it all.

Interviewer: What about the piece do you find so compelling?

Artist: Trust me. Read it.

Interviewer: [laughs] Ok. So what is your relationship to sculpture?

Artist: After three years in the sculpture studio I don’t think I’ve presented a single sculpture. The majority of my work is performance based or at the very least has a performative aspect to it.

Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a performance artist then?

Artist: I’ve been called a performance artist many times, both by lecturers and fellow students and even though I have a strong connection to performance art and see it as one of my greatest influences, I still feel uncomfortable with the label.

Interviewer: Why is that do you think?

Artist: I think it’s mainly because I don’t see my work as performance art first and foremost. I feel as though I have concerns that are currently best expressed through performance. Maybe my problem stems from the way art is categorised, what I do is not just a performance. It is everything that it is, the sum of its concepts and materials and manifestation and everything. I prefer to think of it as art and of myself as an artist.

Interviewer: Do you think it’s a distinction that needs to be made?

Artist: [laughs] Maybe not, but it makes me feel better.

Interviewer: What is it about performance that you feel works for you?

Artist: So much of my art is concerned with my own personality and nature and relationships. Often it seems fitting for me to be in the work. I feel that a lot of the time what I want to say is best said by me and through me and this is the best way I know how. I also believe that the presence of a person can be powerful and it can promote connections on a very personal level.

Interviewer: Do you think this kind of connection is limited to performance art?

Artist: I think connections like this are possible through other artistic mediums but it’s always different. It’s different for every artist and every artwork and every audience member. I think the most profound connections are genuine and that’s what I’m pursuing.

Interviewer: How do you want other people to respond to your art?

Artist: I don’t think my work has anything to teach anyone. I’m not a teacher and I don’t give lessons. I’m just a person putting part of myself out there and hoping people will respond to that. My work is intensely personal to me and I think the ideal possible outcome for anyone experiencing it is for them to be affected equally personally. I think that’s the crux of it, I want people to be affected.

Interviewer: Do you see yourself in your artwork? How?

Artist: It seems clichéd to say that I am my work or that my work is me, but I see myself in every artwork. I see my fears and concerns and my needs and my thoughts in every piece. I see my hands and my touch and my struggle in every single piece of art. I’m not sure how else to phrase it.

Interviewer: What motivates and inspires your work?

Artist: At the moment, the drive to create is what inspires me to work. I enjoy making art and I enjoy the feeling of having put myself into something, of having achieved a moment.

Interviewer: What do you mean by “having achieved a moment”?

Artist: Some moments are better than others. When you read a line in a book or hear lyrics to a song or see a piece of work and it hits you hard. It makes you stop and say “wow”. That’s a moment. They’re beautiful to be a part of, whether you’re experiencing them or creating them for other people.

Interviewer: Whose work do you relate to most? Who inspires you?

Artist: I think I have a warped relationship to a lot of artists because somewhere along the track I’ve read something about them, or been told something about them, or decided something about them and my relationships with them are based on that, potentially mistaken, understanding. I think at the moment the two artists I feel most connected to are Joseph Beuys and Martin Creed. I’ve admired and related to Joseph Beuys for a long time and he, along with Chris Burden, was probably the main reason for my interest in performance art. I connected with Beuys’ ideas of personal and social healing through art and his repetitive use of the materials fat and felt as metaphors, and talismans. Martin Creed on the other hand has won my heart with his writings. I feel a kinship with him based on our mutual need for something else. I connect with his work mostly through my understanding of his desire and motivation to create. He inspires me to write and to create, he gives me hope.

Interviewer: What do you think your work stands for?

Artist: I think it stands for a lot of things. Most of them are the things I can’t otherwise express. But I think it stands for me and what I want to say. If I tried to tell you in words I don’t think I could do it justice and that’s kind of what it’s about.

Interviewer: Are your ideas readily conveyed?

Artist: On the whole I think they are conveyed as much as they need to be. I don’t really need or expect anyone to understand exactly what each work embodies, because a lot of the time I don’t even expect that of myself. Lately I’ve begun to realise that each work I make allows for a re-examination of my older works. So now I just try to take them for what they are when they are and hope everyone else does the same.

Interviewer: How do you know when you have achieved success?

Artist: When I am inspired to make the next work. When I just want to keep making art.

Interviewer: Do you have a vision for your work?

Artist: Not really. One of the things I’ve learnt in the last year is that I work best when my concerns are immediate, and I’m quite happy with the way things are going at the moment. If anything my hope is that I would just keep building positive momentum, I would keep learning more about my work and myself, and I would keep developing as an artist.

Interviewer: Where do you see your work taking you?

Artist: Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

Interviewer: Yes.

Artist: [laughs] Well, I’d quite like to live in London for a bit, but not just yet. Emotionally I don’t know really. I don’t think I have unreal expectations about how effective art can be at solving all of life’s problems, but so far I have found creating and sharing my work cathartic and hopefully as I pursue an artistic career that will only increase.

Interviewer: And spiritually?

Artist: I’m not sure that there’s a great deal of connection between my work and my spirituality. So, I couldn’t really say how my work will take me in that regard.

Interviewer: If you could picture yourself 5, 10 years from now, where would you be and what would you be doing?

Artist: If I could choose? I’d love to be ridiculously successful, doing shows and interviews and lectures, maybe even teaching classes of my own at some point. Realistically I think I will be making art and hopefully earning some appreciation for and knowledge of my work in the art world.

Interviewer: Is teaching something you’re interested in?

Artist: Yes and no. I think I would like to be a teacher, but not now. I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of my own practice and the last thing I need is to be worrying about someone else’s. But I love the idea of helping to nurture and inspire young artists like I’ve been nurtured and inspired.

Interviewer: Describe some important goals you have achieved.

Artist: I’ve finished high school. I’ve made it through three years of art school. I’ve survived to twenty one years old. I’ve realised what it is I want to do and I’m taking steps towards making it happen.

Interviewer: What have you realised and what steps are you taking?

Artist: I’ve realised that I’m going to be an artist. I’m pursuing an art career, I’m trying to make work and get involved in shows. I’m doing my best.

Interviewer: What are your short-range, and long-range goals and how do you expect to achieve them?

Artist: My short-range goal at the moment is to get a show with some friends, hopefully at a reasonably well known gallery in Sydney like First Draft. My longer-range goal is to eventually show at Artspace. I think they are both achievable through hard work and perseverance. I just need to make work and write proposals and we’ll see how things go I guess.

Interviewer: What do you consider to be some of your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Artist: I’m not really sure. In life I find that my anxiety and my unwillingness to step out of my comfort zone can be major weaknesses. But struggling with these has made some interesting and important works of art. In art and writing I find that my truthfulness with and about myself can be my strongest asset.

Interviewer: Well that was Tom Isaacs, an emerging artist that uses performance in his art, not a performance artist. Thank you for your time Tom.

Artist: No worries.