Mathew Tom from Christine Park Gallery speaks to PHOTOFAIRS | PHOTOFAIRS

Mathew Tom from Christine Park Gallery speaks to PHOTOFAIRS

© Mathew Tom, Society. Courtesy of Christine Park Gallery (London)

Mathew Tom will be exhibited with Christine Park Gallery at PHOTOFAIRS | San Francisco in Febuary, 2018. Christine Park Gallery is a young gallery dedicated to supporting both emerging and established UK and international artists. With a constantly developing roster of innovative artists, the gallery prides itself on exhibiting works in a range of media, seeking to provoke cross-disciplinary debate and extend the boundaries of the current contemporary art scene.

The cutting edge contemporary art fair dedicated to the photographic medium returns to Fort Mason Center in San Francisco from Thursday, February 22nd - Sunday, February 25, 2018. The fair's international focus and boutique curation create an excellent environment to discover and collect innovative works of art, for more information and to purchase your tickets click here.

What are your main themes within your photographs?
I’ve been working on creating an imaginary place called “Society of Friends” since 2011. I lived in India for a bit when I was younger and during my time there I travelled all around different temples, ashrams and monasteries. I found them so fascinating and amazing. I always thought I should just stay here and live the rest of my life in perfect harmony. But I always kept moving in my travels because I know it is a false reality. I think after the initial charm wears away I will be left in a place like “Society of Friends” – a place where dullness and monotony take over my life. However, I am fascinated with this idea.  So “Society of Friends” is a reflection of my ideas of utopian society turned dystopian through boredom, vanity, and a desire to believe. On the outset, a perfect place where beauty and belief reign, but the onset of boredom, lack of structure and narcissism lead to dissatisfaction. I can’t seem to escape wanting to live in this form of society, so I make my own utopia for my characters to live in instead of me.

Do you think your mixed background plays a part in your work?
Yes, it is one of the most important aspects. They say that mixed people are often caught between two worlds. Being half Chinese and half American, I never felt comfortable with being either. I always felt like an outsider looking in. I am interested in this idea of cultural melding leading to identity confusion. In “Society of Friends” the men have Chinese features, but are placed in a world which combines iconography and aesthetics from their living in India, America and England. Every feature from their posture to their possessions embodies a philosophical proportion, problem or solution.  And in a way my work really reflects that because I am an outsider of the culture. I always had a deep fascination with the East but since I can never truly be accepted, I decided to create my own, fantastic version of the Asian (or Chinese) culture. I used to have a sense of loneliness from it when I was young, but now I have embraced that I come from a different background and I perceive the world differently.    

How to you get from your original idea to the final product and when does the decision of what mediums to use come into play?
It just develops organically. For my photographs there is a lot of planning to it, from getting all my costumes custom-made, finding a model, then to building the set and props. Therefore, the photograph is just a moment in the entire process. The medium is based on what kind of impression I am looking to invoke. My photographs are quite small so I was looking to create something more intimate.   In India, they would have these small framed images they would collect of their gurus or gods.  I thought that was really interesting so I think of my photographs the same.  They are something intimate to keep close to you. My paintings are large and bright so I want the opposite feeling of being overwhelmed.  

What excites you about exhibiting in San Francisco?
My grandparents lived in the Bay Area before they passed and I spent a lot of time there when I was young. It is exciting to be able to show my work for the first time in San Francisco. I have always loved the city, so I am very thrilled to be a part of it and to see people’s responses to the works.

What are you currently working on?
I am working on various projects at the moment, including a two-person exhibition with Ting Tong Chang in Christine Park Gallery's new New York gallery space. It would be about “Dueling Utopia”. After reading Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, I became intrigued by the idea of a “true” Utopia. As the idea is very much inclusive, for example, there can only be one true model, I thought ‘What if I created a show contrasting the absurdity of it?’. As it parallels human’s need to believe they are following a correct ideology, while also simultaneously subjugating those who have different ideals. I will work on a series of large oil paintings of my "Society of Friends", and Ting Tong on sculptures representing his world.

Christine Park Gallery