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Forgotten Spaces: Tommy Ramsay's Non-Place Paintings


Forgotten Spaces: Tommy Ramsay's Non-Place Paintings

For most art students out there, it's time to head back to college. For some, however, it marks the first September after they've graduated, and so a time of change and new beginnings.

Tommy Ramsay is a recent art graduate of Chelsea College of Art, and he hasn't slowed down one bit after the end of his course. He has been showing his paintings in several contexts ever since he finished last summer, and his most recent show, Forgotten Spaces, was a collaboration with several other UAL art students. 

Hosted at the Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green, Tommy's paintings showed moments of the everyday that can often be overlooked - the crack in a pavement or brick wall, for example. We asked him about these 'non places' to dig a little deeper, and discover the thought process behind a painter who has just left art school.

Dry Lightening, Painting by Tommy Ramsay

Firstly, congratulations on the Forgotten Spaces exhibition. How did it come about? 

Well, myself, Jasper and Joe were on the same course together at Chelsea College of Art and shared studio spaces at different points. Fern went to Central Saint Martins and Elle went to Wimbledon College. I can’t really remember how we all met, but we were friends throughout college and have continued to be.

Was it your first show since graduating? 

No, actually - I was part of 2 exhibitions in Brockley, ‘Ways of Seeing’, a stand for emerging young artists at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead and more recently ‘Bigger, Brighter, Bolder’ at the Student Hub in High Holborn. ‘Forgotten Spaces’ was then held at the Espacio Gallery. I have been showing my work with Made In Arts London, set up by former UAL student Kate Rintoul who’s support has been brilliant. MiAL offer support and provide students who have recently graduated with a platform to the wider audience.

I consider myself to be somewhere in between being a student and an artist! I am not sure quite when the leap really happens. I have always felt that completing a degree in Fine Art does not necessarily enable me to call myself  ‘an artist’. I see becoming an artist as more of a life long pursuit. I think that art is aided by experience, which obviously comes with time.

That's very wise. And onto your own paintings. Your work depicts the ‘non place’, not only in the locations, but because they hover between abstraction and representation. Can you tell us about your thought-process before you paint?

I try to situate my work in between abstraction and representation. At present this is the area of painting of most interest to me. I feel it allows the right amount of space for the viewer – leaving room for the viewer, but not asking for them to make the picture! Though of course all painting is inherently abstract.

In terms of a physical process  before the painting, I gather images to work from. I go for walks and take photographs of what interests my eye. The paintings always move on from the photographs, but it is important to me that the paintings stem from the photographs. In terms of location, I often go to Deptford, Lewisham or New Cross (walking distance!). Some of the more recent paintings have evolved from photographs taken at the O2 construction sites by Thameslink DLR. These run-down spaces have decayed over the course of time, been altered and deconstructed by sometimes arbitrary change. These surfaces inherantly remind me of abstract mark-making in painting.

Diamond Highway, by Tommy Ramsay, painting

Once transferred into paintings, these markings and surfaces have a double play as being both a painterly marking and a real marking e.g. being both abstract and representational and engaging in an art historical context and being rooted in their source - the everyday. For me the opportunities for these experiences are common place. For example, a pavement has value as an image and has the capacity to be seen in multiple ways; it can be seen as concrete or it can be seen as space and form, time and history.

I think it is very important to follow where the painting leads you. Often a painting will be finished for me when it has reached its natural conclusion, when I feel that adding another mark will be unnecessary or take away from the feel in the painting.

Your paintings cover human residue like tea stains, and erosions of time. In this way there is something very poetical as well as detached about them. Is this intentional?

I think this is a way of thinking for me, perhaps slightly romanticised or old fashioned! The very nature of painting is itself a detached, singular but also somewhat self-involved process. However it has the potential be the opposite of detached and singular. Painting can be a place to offer up different experiences. I see painting as a vehicle to leave my own markings and to share feelings and experiences. It is an opportunity to speak indirectly and in a way that can be elevated by the viewers own experiences in relation to what is being offered up. 

Iron Skies, by Tommy Ramsay, painting of non-place

Current culture is in a bit of a hurry, almost as if we are trying to live in the future. Technology offers us the world at our fingertips. We are being geared to constantly ‘update’, to want the newest thing, our lives are run by technology and we are constantly bombarded with commercial imagery and advertising instigating ‘information overload’. This is very obvious to all of us. It can be argued that as such painting should incorporate these situations and settings. It could also be said that we have made very little significant departures since the first cave paintings. The brilliant thing about painting is that it is very open at the moment – there is no one structure that should be followed.

I prefer to try and find these residues, erosions and spaces that have been marked by the passing of time. In some way these objects can become humanised or they can become signifiers -  a sign post for memory, for the past and for the continuation of time. These spaces translate very readily into the languages of painting but can go unnoticed and are not regularly considered worthy of our attention. I feel that this can be a space which provides a slowing down of time and a re-immersion into space, both as past and as present. I try and pluck these spaces and moments from the everyday and offer them up to the viewer in the hope that these thoughts are re-triggered outside of the painting.

What about your physical process – what art materials do you use, and why? 

I like using Michael Harding oil paints. The paint is very thick and malleable, and the colours stay true after they are set. They are on the higher end of the price scale, but I find that they last much, much longer than other paints. It could also be that due to the price you instinctively squeeze out less paint than normal!