Our first interview of the New Year is with the Glaswegian painter Thomas Cameron, who has recently exhibited at the New Glasgow Society and Taymour Grahne Projects, in London. Thomas explores the quiet interior life of busy public places, His work is influenced by vernacular photography and kitchen sink realist cinema.
ButterBiggens: The photos of the delivery guys and restaurant workers in Covid gear are interesting because they already seem like the distant past.
Thomas Cameron: It’s interesting how they have become so much about a specific time, this wasn’t a conscious decision. I am more interested in the atmosphere and mood of the scene depicted, and will make different versions of the paintings to achieve this. For example the fast-food restaurants and supermarket paintings are painted quickly and loosely to capture a sense of speed and chaos. I’ll intentionally avoid references to specific landmarks, to try and keep the painting as ‘open’ as possible. This is also the reason the faces are often obscured, either by turning away from the viewer or in the way that i’ve painted them. I am more interested in signifiers for city life, and the fast-paced, detached way of modern life.
I often play around with lighting and limited palettes to see how it changes how the scene comes across. Something about 5 guys has caught my attention because I’ve painted different locations by chance. But the specificity of the locations isn’t important in my work
I usually try to avoid obvious landmarks or signifiers that make the painting about that specific space. Keeping it ambiguous hopefully allows it to be more relatable and recognisable.
BB: You changed the exposure, are you painting from your laptop then?
T: I always print the images. I’ll usually make some minor edits on photoshop; cropping, colour and exposure adjustments. I then make oil studies on paper to figure out how the photograph translates to paint – what can be left out, and what kind of palette am I going to use. At this stage I am trying to figure out what exactly is interesting to me about the image, why did I take it and why am I drawn to paint it, before that the process is very intuitive. When making the larger paintings on canvas I will initially refer to that oil on paper study, as the photograph provides too much information.
BB: I thought it was kind of interesting to make such clean meat, the opposite of meat paintings by Chaïm Soutine or other people who make food look so goopy
T: I did have Soutine in mind when painting that. I really wanted to capture the sense of endless plastic packaging. I see these paintings as dealing with the same themes as my works of people in the city, despite their appearance. With these paintings I also wanted to capture this sense of the flaneur, wondering around the city, noticing the people, but then going into these shops and seeing something as mundane as a supermarket shelf of meat as if for the first time. I wanted the viewer to be interested in the way its painted, brushwork and colour, and to appreciate that first and foremost and the subject comes after.
BB: I was wondering if there were any recent exhibitions you’d seen that really stuck with you either online or in real life?
T: The last exhibition I saw was Lucian Freud. I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering his work, particularly looking at his etchings and drawings which I wasn’t familiar with. The Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain was a highlight this year. I am often looking at his work in books so it was great to see so much of it in the flesh. In terms of contemporary painters I’ve enjoyed seeing this year include Caroline Walker, Eric Fischl and Jenna Gribbon. I also really enjoyed Mixing it Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery, particularly Jonathan Wateridge, Lisa Brice and Gareth Cadwallader. I’m also really inspired by film, most recently Wong Kar Wai and Mike Leigh in particular.
BB: What about an artist or movement that you think of as a guilty pleasure? is there something you really like that you think is dumb?
T: Nothing immediately comes to mind, I try to look for inspiration in everything, there is always something interesting to take from things that might not be obvious.
BB: like five guys for example, i actually was wondering if you actually eat when you go there, it occurred to me that you might be a vegetarian.
T: Yes exactly. I did eat there after painting it a few times, and I am vegetarian.
BB: Bit of a catch 22, You want to paint the real lived reality, but then you’re kind of forced into eating these burgers over and over. I think it’s something a lot of painters struggle with.
T: These particular paintings were actually based on photos taken from the window. I quite like the idea of this detached gaze moving through the city.I want to be invisible in the images, so I wouldn’t paint an image where someone has noticed me and is looking directly at me. But also I want to protect their privacy. It also comes back to keeping the painting open.
To see more of Thomas’s work please visit him on instagram at @thomascameronart. Interview by Ben Duax, January 2023