Thomas Deaton is a painter, printmaker, and Louisiana native currently based out of New Orleans. He holds a BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and an MA and MFA from the University of Iowa. He has shown his work at a handful of major institutions and a good number of smaller more intimate spaces as well.
How has growing up in Louisiana, and returning after graduate school, influenced your art style and the content you have developed thus far - if at all?
I think growing up in the Deep South and Louisiana in particular, whether you intend for it to happen or not, is going to leave an indelible stain on your psyche. I'm talking about how often my work comes across as morbid and depressing. If you're from the South and you have any level of awareness, it's hard to ignore how sick and unjust our history and the roots of our culture are, even now, generations after the end of the Civil War. South Louisiana in particular has a kind of dark undercurrent with an added level of weirdness given the predominance of Catholicism (arguably the most bonkers of Christian denominations) as well as rumors and legitimate news stories about grave robbing and Hoodoo in the more rural areas.
After living in Iowa for three years, then coming back, I do feel like the types of imagery and narratives that I work with have shifted. After being away and then suddenly being back in it full-time, I've lost any real sense of nostalgia and pride in home and I can look at things around me with a much more critical eye. My recent work feels like the first time that I've really been comfortable with being a "Southern Artist" and have made work that is explicitly and purposefully a response to Louisiana and the Deep South.
What was it like getting an MFA in printmaking to then primarily creating paintings over the last couple of years?
Honestly, my shift to painting came about after finishing grad school because I no longer had access to a well-equipped printshop. I had these ideas and had to get them out somehow, so I figured "Why not painting, how hard could it be?" Turns out it was pretty hard. There was a bit of a rough adjustment period and almost all of the paintings I finished between 2015 and the beginning of 2016 have been destroyed or locked in a closet never to be seen again.
How has your style changed, and how do you think it'll influence future prints?
It's funny, but I actually approach my paintings in much the same way that I would work on my prints in the past. I tend to still think in terms of building an image up through a series of layers and there's still a big emphasis on meticulous detail and repetitive mark making like in my old woodcuts. One thing I've noticed though is that painting is a lot less permanent than printmaking, so once I add a layer of imagery it's not set in stone like it would be in a print. Because of this I'm able to work back in and create a kind of tension between layers by pushing some things back and pulling other elements forward. I think that helps create a weird sense of dreaminess and fractured space that sometimes works really well and other times becomes a bit cluttered, which I also like.
In terms of future prints . . . who knows? God-willing, I'll be able to make some prints again, and if that happens I'm sure they'll have a much different character from the prints I was doing a couple of years ago.
What inspirations do your characters and narratives derive from?
That really varies quite a bit. In some cases it's very on-the-nose. For example, my painting "Val" is a just a picture of my mom's dog looking miserable after being caught in the rain and not much more than that. In other cases what I'm putting out is a big amalgam of all kinds of different sources pulling from folklore, literature, historical accounts, occult books, movies, even personal anecdotes from friends and family. I tend to employ a number of recurring themes and tropes as well, things like ghosts, witchcraft, nature, poodles, arson, grief, and ritual. I'm always interested, especially when working with tired material like the ghost story, in subverting what I tend to think of as "visual short-hand," or common visual cues that a lazy person would use to get a point across without trying very hard. For example short-hand for "scary" could be a big dark thing with red eyes and sharp teeth, whereas if I want to convey scary, I have to approach it in a way that avoids obvious tropes like fangs entirely. Since my work is primarily figurative and narrative, I don't like to spoon feed my audience, and give them the opportunity to fill in the blanks.
You can find more and keep up to date with Thomas via his Instagram.