Features

Surry Hills artist Tom Muir discusses his creative process and his many art projects over a dart and tea

Tom Muir is all about the experience. Going beyond just standing and staring, his art invites everyone to see how his work comes to be and to contribute to that process.

tom muir

An artist for as long as anyone can remember Surry Hills local Tom Muir is all about using art to create an experience for the audience.

Tom is an animator, a painter, filmmaker, tattoo artist and sometimes spontaneous hip hop star, but he manages to marry all of these experiences with mediums to come to a place where he is challenged by what he creates.

It is in that space of vulnerability and spontaneity where the real magic happens. Muir is a boundary pusher, fixating on one style until he masters it, until it becomes a quick fix, an artistic drug rush, settling him, but no longer making him yearn for perfection.

This is where the real art starts to take shape. Using a little bit of everything to create a big chunk of something, something beautiful, controversial and wholly his own.

A lot of this is influenced by his partner in life and art Yvette Underwood, extraordinary visual artist herself and muse for many of the motifs scattered throughout Muir’s work. It is hard not to see Yvette in everything Tom creates.

He is deeply influenced by those that support and connect with him, music included, which has come to weave itself into the way Tom prefers to expose his work, fusing art with live music, creating an explorative environment in which to see and experience art; in all its forms.

For some, the idea of audience interaction can come across as slightly contrived, however what Muir does is aim to fuse art with many visual and sensory experiences to not make his work the primary focus, rather a link in the chain of a series of performances.

So often going to see an art show is a real wank fest, lots of sipping of wine no one really likes and commenting on art no one can really understand let alone afford. Tom and the collective of creative minds he surrounds himself with, are aiming to break down these barriers, fusing art with music, discussion, fashion and politics and not just in terms of context.

Tom muir

In its portrayal and exhibit Muir argues that the point of art is to see it in its creative imagining, the distinct moments of inspiration; his live art-making as a backdrop for live music embodies just this.

Currently pursuing several film-making projects through a scholarship offered to him by AFTRs in Sydney, Tom hopes that he can use his experience in art form thus far, to project the integration of art and life even further.

The small details within his films, a hand drawn cereal packet, the back of a jacket, tattoos and cigarette cases; are Tom’s way of taking the end product out of its fixed state, repurposing it into the message. Learning by doing.

Tom’s most recent film projects include Cool for Cats a raw exposure of the realities of methamphetamine addiction, yet comedic and charismatic in its delivery. And in a completely different vein, El Nino Nights is truly hilarious, colourful and exceptionally well shot, truly something worth talking about.

Both films are likely to be released later this year.

Darting between deeply comedic and achingly real, Tom Muir is traversing the boundaries of medium and is by no means restricting his potential, open to everything and anything. For those who follow rising Sydney’s young art scene, the door has been thrown wide open, the winds of change ever ready with this experimental and exciting take on the form.

Happy sat down with Tom over some pretty bangin’ chai tea and a dart to get the low down in his own words.

HAPPY: Tell us a bit about the film projects you’re working on and how you got to this point where you felt film was where it was at?

TOM: Video is the one that I can’t just do by myself. The smallest idea becomes a massive thing by the time you’ve done the storyboards, you start to have to use a whole lot of different mediums just to deal with what’s going on in front of the camera.

I’ve always got tunnel vision obsessed with different crafts but I tend to find something new and do it until I’m happy with what I’m putting out and then move on, but with video you can bring it all in. It ends up feeling more satisfying than learning skills for your own pleasure that don’t become your master medium, even if video isn’t mine, it allows so many factors to come into the game.

At the moment I’m working on lots of things, I’m in post for a shamefully extended “proof of concept” that’s become basically a short called El Niño nights which is a relationship piece disguised as an 80’s genre crime movie. It’s highly designed and stylised and you definitely know its not real life, which is the best because the whole thing just looks cool as fuck.

I’m also working an a magic realist short that’s in preproduction, and then there’s also cool for cats, which was designed to be something we could shoot week by week for no money and get something longer form together made out of standalone sequences.

HAPPY: How have you integrated music into your work and what artists are you digging for inspiration?

TOM: Music is probably one of the biggest bits that makes me want to actually finish something, my partner Yvette will always find the track that a sequence needs, and then we have to finish the project in the vague hope we can scrape together enough cash to get some rights.

I like to think about what the characters would listen to, you can have a lot of fun like that. I like to use covers and new versions of songs because the associations aren’t as clear, and they can become part of your own movie. Or I get electronic score done by lace-cap cub.

HAPPY: You’re tackling some pretty controversial and challenging issues, Cool For Cat’s being one of them, how do you balance the creative with the story itself and is one more important than the other?

TOM: You know what, there’s a lot of responsibility with this shit, especially when you’re young, and you sort of want to cold dog it, but you can’t. I mean, the movie is about crystal meth, and you quickly realise there’s a very good reason that there’s so few narrative films on the subject, it’s ugly and it’s happening right now, and it’s so much closer than you think.

There’s no line that you have to cross to get there, it’s everywhere so it’s much easier to look away. The way I try to avoid that whole thing is to be as honest as possible, once you fall into style and representation, you walk a tightrope, so our story comes from people who are in that position, and each section is just things that have actually happened, that’s sort of the only way you get the right to tell that story, you have to be part of it, I don’t think it’s something you can go at from outside, but I just had to start that one because it’s always better to try. The little short is sort of the first sequence, so hopefully more to come, but shooting it can be pretty bleak!