JamFactory’s new Icon series exhibition invites you into the wonderfully weird world of Adelaide glass artist Tom Moore – a place full of fanciful hybridised animal-plant creations ranging from a Flaming Stegosaurus to a trio of kookaburra-inspired Hooligans.
Welcome to Tom Moore’s world of Abundant Wonder
Tom Moore is in the middle of painting when he’s interrupted for this interview about his major new exhibition at JamFactory Adelaide.
Not content to captivate visitors with his collection of eccentric and elaborate hybridised animal/plant glass sculptures, he’s also decided to paint the cubic plinths on which they’re displayed with illustrations based on children’s building blocks.
“By the time the exhibition is finished here at the Jam every surface will be painted with these kind of illustrations,” he says.
“So when you walk into the show, it’s as if you are a miniature version of yourself walking through a kid’s kind of messy room with blocks scattered around – that’s the idea.”
Abundant Wonder, part of JamFactory’s Icon series celebrating the achievements of influential South Australian visual artists working in craft-based media, is an expansive collection ranging from small items to elaborate creations that took months to make.
In some ways, Tom says, it’s like a career retrospective, with many of the works created in the past five years but some up to 20 years old.
His fanciful glass universe is described as “seeming as ominous as it is beautiful”, with the playful creations touching on contemporary social and environmental concerns. Visitors should expect the unexpected, but every work is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, whether it’s a Flaming Stegosaurus with a bone in its mouth and blazing spines or a trio of Hooligans based on kookaburras.
“There’s at least three different iterations of the Hooligans in this show,” Tom says.
“One of them is standing on top of the car, which is a hopeful image I think of the triumph of nature over industry, then there’s the inverted Hooligan, where the bird’s upside down, standing on its head, and holding a smaller car in its feet and in this case that car is also on fire. Then there’s a third part of this kind of narrative progression that has the bird becoming a car and it’s holding a potato which has human eyes… it’s kind of a cyborg.”
Tom describes his motivation for making as wanting to “see and share things that have not been seen before”, with much of his work inspired by the illustrations he enjoyed as a child in books by Edward Lear, Dr Seuss and Lewis Carroll.
His mother was a children’s librarian and introduced him to less-fashionable authors such as Lear, who wrote and illustrated The Owl and the Pussycat and The Book of Nonsense.
“Those drawings are extremely peculiar, but also the style in which they are done is kind of fast and rough and scratchy and sort of lumpy,” Moore says of The Book of Nonsense.
“The proportions are all wrong and so I really was drawn to those kind of images… it makes you question reality when you use such strange distortions.”
As a child, Tom exercised his own imagination through drawing and making things with clay. He went on to attend Canberra School of Art, and says he immediately knew he wanted to be a glassblower when he saw a team of three people making goblets in the Venetian style.
Throughout his 30-year career he has exhibited widely and had work acquired by many major galleries and museums, while also continuing to hone his skills in production-based work making glass tableware and doing antique repairs.
Now, however, Tom is focused mainly on his art, with his latest work reflecting many of the ideas explored in his recently completed PhD, including the links between Renaissance glassmaking and alchemy and the historic use of zoomorphic forms.
As an environmentalist, his concern for the planet and humans’ impact on the natural environment is evident throughout his practice.
“I think it’s clear that I enjoy what I do and humour is an element in how I think about what I make,” he says.
“I want them to be surprising and funny, and interestingly, when I did my PhD I found there was a strong historical link between glassmaking and humour, because in the late 1500s glassblowers were employed to make trick glasses which are either intentionally difficult to use or they were just in a funny shape like a boot or a musical instrument or an animal.
“But a lot of these objects are somehow addressing either an imperfection or a merging of human and animal and plant forms, and sometimes it’s quite an uncomfortable merging, intentionally, so there is a sort of tension between human industry and the natural world.”
While working on his PhD, Tom looked more closely at the environmental impact of glassmaking, including calculating the carbon impact of his own practice and then working to offset that – something he intends to do again with his latest exhibition.
During Abundant Wonder, there’s a high likelihood visitors will encounter Tom painting the cuboid display plinths, with the artist saying he expects to be in the gallery several days a week. If asked nicely, he may even pop on one of his quirky wearable glass helmets.
“I’ve previously shown them suspended so people could stand up inside of them… because of COVID restrictions no one is allowed to wear them in this exhibition other than me but I do like showing people what they look like.”
Abundant Wonder is at JamFactory Adelaide, 19 Morphett Street, from October 9 until November 22, after which it will go on a national tour. The exhibition is accompanied by a 176-page monograph, with an Abundant Wonder colouring book and limited-edition glass paperweights also available. Moore will also present an artist talk on Saturday, November 21.
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