20 minutes with Andrew Thomas

Monday 9 July 2018

When did you start to carve?

About 23 years ago, I bought an original Bow Top horse-drawn caravan that needed extensive restoration from the wheels up. I already had experience of working with wood but needed to learn the art of woodcarving and turning in order to give this project the expertise needed. I enrolled in adult education classes and then it was down to practical experience and independent studying to gain both experience and technical skills necessary to complete the successful restoration. It soon became very apparent that I had a real passion for three-dimensional work and really felt that I had found my place in this world.

What made you continue carving?

I sometimes ask myself, "Did I choose this area of work or did it choose me?" Whichever way, the personal satisfaction and thrill of bringing one's creative visions into reality is immense. I just absolutely love what I do and feel that I am privileged to spend my life living within this creative cycle, producing works that challenge viewers, evoking their thoughts and emotions, and in a small way enriching their lives.

What inspires you when you carve?

Inspiration comes to me in many forms. From within myself and from the world around me, and normally when I least expect it. When working on a piece and focusing on its form and contours with a quiet mind, I find that I naturally get a flow of creative images and ideas, often stopping what I am doing to make notes or draw a quick picture for future reference.

Emotions and dreams are also another rich inner source. Outer inspiration comes in the form of anything that interacts with my senses and stimulates creative ideas, for example the sea and wind. These very powerful elements and their essence are extremely inspiring and challenging to try to capture in 3D form in a convincing way.

What are you currently working on?

Over the past three years, I have worked intermittently on a series of instrument sculptures: Violin, Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Banjo and Electric Guitar and am currently continuing this series with a Double Bass. I have always thought of musical instruments as truly functional works of art, with their beautiful designs and their dynamic harmonic ranges, and found myself inspired to design these sculptures which reflect, in a modern way, the instruments' classical heritage, combined with the interpretation of the tonal waves. I look at each part of the instrument individually and visualise how the vibration of the notes being played would resonate from it.

The consideration of the physical movements of the musician was another important factor in the design, as their passion for their art affects the mood of the music, together with the feel of the visual information of sound, form and essence of the instrument.

Which tool would you not be without and why?

Arguably the most important tool that I could not do without is my vice, which incidentally is a Franklin Spencer 1400m Hydra Clamp. It is of the utmost importance to me that the positioning of my work should be almost invisible to my attention, meaning that I want to be 100% focused on my work and not thinking about working around an awkward vice.

Which is your preferred style of carving and why?

I have focused my attention more and more on abstract forms or 'freedom of expression' as I like to call it, exploring each individual subject, looking at the subtle areas of their form and being, their essence, and trying to apply these to the medium in a sensitive and harmonious way, with great attention to the balance and proportions of the piece. I love the freedom of this style, working more from within myself and 'feeling' my way instinctively through the form, using observation rather than technically measuring it. When one is working in this way, one naturally cultivates an inner eye for the important balance of the form and the very subtle variations which make it work.

What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?

I will answer this question from what I regard to be the root of my personal achievements and what I feel has been the key factor to mastering the medium of wood, and that is 'diversity'. Right from the beginning of my career, I have always chosen to diversify between subjects and styles of work as this naturally creates the need to learn various techniques and solve different problems relating to the subject and its form. So I would plan and execute a real life study and maybe mix it with some fantasy, incorporate mixed media and try to bring all these ideas together to make them work. Then I would make something completely different in an abstract form that was utilising freedom of expression in its execution with no strict measuring techniques, but cultivating the natural creative inner tools which we have, and learning the important lessons of content, form and balance. This combination, I feel, has given me a truly rounded education in 3D form and problem solving, and one which has given me experience and confidence to approach most subjects.

Whose work do you most admire?

For me, it is not so much about the medium but about the form. Artists that inspire me include: Constantin Brancusi, Raymond-Duchamp-Villon, Umberto Boccioni, Alexander Archipenko, Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Anish Kapoor.

Who would you most like to carve for?

The easy answer to this is Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi or, well you get the picture! I have nothing but respect, admiration and awe for those selfless, extraordinary humans that pass through this world occasionally. I would happily and with great honour, take inspiration from their lives to create something appropriate and very special for them, hoping that it would enrich their lives, if only in a minute way, and give back a tiny something to them for their lifelong sacrifices for humanity.

Are you a self-critic of your work?

I don't really think that there is any choice when it comes to being self-critical as it functions as part of one's development and is an extremely important process within which to measure my achievements and help me to evolve as an artist/sculptor.