The Signal House meets Tom Leamon, artist and co-founder of The Beekeepers, a handmade artist retreat in The Algarve, Portugal.
Henry Martin: Describe your current surroundings.
Tom Leamon: I am in a dark green room with a wooden ceiling. I am sat on an uncomfortable wooden Ikea chair and surrounded by an array of found objects and paintings. In front of me are a series of dirty windows disguising a clear view of the North Atlantic Ocean. The sea in the Gulf of Cadiz is sparkling, and the temperature is hot; maybe 30 degrees. I can hear the sea, and children playing on the beach. They sound like they are having fun.
Henry: Introduce us to King of The Road (the featured artwork of Issue 4).
Tom: King of The Road was a painting I made in 2019. It came at a time when I was becoming more and more disillusioned by painting on canvas, so I decided to begin building in wood and integrating the frames. The figure stands proud, but there is a decaying grandeur both with its surroundings and sentiment. I was attempting to portrait the idea of a lost soul on a journey of discovery. And that moment in time when everything feels too much, identity is lost, and you find yourself profoundly isolated and alone.
Henry: Can I get a response to 'art now’.
Tom: I respect those who are truly able to make impactful works of art in this day and age. Art mirrors culture, and right now I believe there is a huge transition happening like never before throughout the world. It’s incredibly difficult to stay present and ride that wave within art, both with integrity and purpose, and the more I switch on to the world (and the art world), the more I see insincerity and complacency.
Henry: Space—specifically, the construction of artist spaces using reclaimed sites and materials—is a throughline in your artistic practice. Can you give us an insight into how these spaces fit into your practice overall, or indeed individual artworks?
Tom: I have always been a control freak. I have always needed to be involved with not only the creation of the work of art, but also how and where it was shown. I would always exhibit in unique spaces, as I felt this added a new dynamic to the viewer’s interaction with the work. This soon led on to me developing spaces—not only to exhibit the works—that could inspire a work’s creation. I found myself much more in tune with my creativity when I was interacting with likeminded people within interesting and unique surroundings. I developed this in London with Studio 180 where we took on a large four-story Georgian house and turned it into art studios and a venue, which then led on to gallery 223, and eventually a shift to Portugal where we were fortunate enough to get the freedom to build and develop The Beekeepers. Throughout this time, I worked with what I had around me, always with a fascination for recycling and reclaiming objects, giving them a second lease of life. I love the idea that someone can view a work of art that hangs on a wall that is built from the same materials, by the same hands.
Henry: What ingredients make up a good human being?
Tom: Integrity, honesty, openness, self-belief and a good sense of humour.
Henry: What's your inner landscape looking like right now?
Tom: I am hungry to paint more, explore, and learn new things, and try and understand what it really is that makes me fulfilled. I have a daily battle with my own demons but attempt to turn them into positives.
Henry: What lessons have you learned from establishing and running The Beekeepers?
Don’t build in the summer in Portugal.
There is no such thing as perfection.
Everything always evolves and creates new challenges and forms of satisfaction.
Henry: What is the route from vulnerability to strength?
Tom: Self-belief. I remember hearing my great uncle speaking to me a few years back. He was old, maybe 80. And I was in my late 20’s. I had always been taught to respect my elders, and that had translated into me believing that with age you knew more. That is not always the case. Many people go through life without purpose or real self-made goals. I think strength comes from following your own internal guide even when it’s difficult. Learning and growing from your mistakes and not getting complacent with your victories whilst staying humble and inquisitive along the way.
Henry: If I could give you one, would you choose peace or happiness?
Tom: Right now, happiness.
Henry: What is your advice to a young artist?
Tom: Explore everything that turns you on and understand that what matters to you now won’t in five year’s time, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Grow thick skin, but know when it’s important to be vulnerable. Practice daily and don’t create firstly for the money, but because it excites you in the act of doing.
TOM LEAMON lives between London and Portugal, working predominantly at The Beekeepers, an Algarve artist retreat that he set up in 2014. Recent exhibitions include The Gallery Faro (2019), Casa Independente (2019), ArtRio (2017), Copeland Gallery (2017), Merzbau Gallery (2016). https://www.tomleamon.com / www.thebeekeepers.info
(Photo credit: The Beekeepers by Paulo Ribeiro, 2020)