Interview with Stephen Tompkins by Samuel Dodson
Every time I look at Stephen’s work, I find something different. All objects merge and have the ability to take on new shapes, new meanings. Almost like trying to pin down a definitive image from a dream, the images envelop you, and bring you into their fold as you search further and further into them. They stretch boundaries, inspire new thought and make you question existing notions.
It is a pleasure to bring you the following interview with the man behind such “addictively absorbing” (Robin Clark) artwork; Stephen Tompkins.
Is art your first love or do you have another passion?My own work is my first passion. I studied years and years of philosophy and even music composition and theory and sometimes when you’re immersed in any discipline it can be all consuming. Back then I was obsessed with music and writing and philosophy and art was on the periphery. Those disciplines have seeped into my work in many ways and it’s helped me conceptualize what I want to achieve in my work. The important thing is to keep one’s curiosity going and explore other things too. The biggest challenge for me is to keep successfully moving forward and changing. If you’re doing the same thing over and over, it’s a futile exercise and gets old real quick. I get bored if I feel I’m going over the same territory. Sometimes my work has answered a question or problem I wanted to figure out and then I’m done with it. If it’s not pushing boundaries or changing, I lose interest very fast. There’s just no point to do it in my view. So right now I’m interested more in mutating my visual vocabulary further and taking it to further extremes including how my work can work in music, animation, etc.
Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle.I live in Southern California with my wife and kids. I don’t live the stereotypical California ‘lifestyle’. I don’t really know what that means. When I hear ‘Lifestyle’, I think of marketing and target markets. I’m from Cleveland originally and have always felt like a mutant in California.Is there anything about the way you produce your work that you believe to be unique or unusual?My work has evolved over the years and I think I’ve been able to more successfully achieve some of the visions I’ve been striving after in the new work. I’m developing my own visual vocabulary and feel that the work is now becoming stronger in the sense of the methods I use to create imagery.Who do you feel has influenced art most this century?Not really sure and don’t pay attention enough.Who first influenced you artistically?My uncle did. He taught at the Cleveland art institute and was involved in art more formally. He encouraged me to study art and music in Cleveland many years ago.Who inspires you?Woody Woodpecker, Frank Zappa, Carl Stalling, John Zorn, Mike Patton, Hunter Thompson, Ralph Steadman, Bruce Bickford, Adolf Wolfli, Donald Barthelme, Howard Finster, Antonin Artaud, Nietzsche, Slavoj Zizek, John K., Mozart, Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Wittgenstein, many many more…What role does the artist have in society?
I’ve never felt like art is a ‘role’ I play. Ideally, I think artists should never serve society at all. An artist should be his own master and create his own highest values. Artists should work in anonymity, work through their visions, and work in secret unaware of the marketplaces demands before unleashing the work into the societal sphere. Responsibility to society or markets is a false sense of being for an artist. When creating, artists should not be considering any society or market with respect to their creations. They should be working in direct correlation with the objective at hand. In order for an artist to truly evolve, he has to free himself from the expectations of the herd, the market forces, the collective group consciousness or concerns of a society at large.