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Tom Anholt: Forward to the past

INTERVIEW: UK artist Tom Anholt's solo exhibition History Boy (exploring histories both personal and artistic) is still on display through Nov 21, so don't delay! Read our interview, then head on over to Eigen + Art Lab and check it out.

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Despite his young age, 27-year-old UK artist Tom Anholt balances technical expertise with intuition like a pro.

He starts each of his works without a plan, and the paintings in solo exhibition History Boy are no exception. He worked on and off on one painting for over a year, had to add extra canvas to a few others, and even entirely painted over his first piece. Witness the fruits of his labour at Eigen + Art Lab through November 21.

You’re quite prolific for an artist your age – where did you get your work ethic?

My dad took me to life drawing classes when I was very young and I’ve been going into the studio almost every day to paint since I was 14 or 15. And when you’re in the studio every day, you end up getting a lot done! [Laughs] These days, almost every piece goes into a show or to a collector, and that’s changed the way I think. I’ve slowed down, making sure I don’t let anything leave the studio that’s not honest somehow. There are 15 works in this show, and I’ve put everything I have into each of them, without question.

What keeps you coming back into the studio?

It’s sort of sad to say, but I’m driven by dissatisfaction. I rarely come into the studio and think, “Wow that’s so good.” It’s mostly like, “That’s really bad” [laughs] and I have to prove myself. I’ve learned it’s much easier if you have your own boundaries, because then you have something to push against. In the last nine months I feel like I’ve started to find mine.

In the past you’ve compared your creative process to trying to catch a ball that’s rolling away from you. Did you feel that way while working on History Boy?

This show got its title because it’s about art history and family history, but also personal daily history. All these things are part of that ball – all my inspirations, the people I love, the things I see on the news, the things people say to me, they’re all in there.

These paintings draw from the West and East: one references Piero della Francesca’s The Penance of St. Jerome; others reference Persian miniatures. Where do you draw the line between reinterpretation and appropriation?

There are many flawed, almost deliberately naïve references to Christian and Islamic art historical traditions here. When I started working on these paintings, my first thought was, “Isn’t this problematic?” And then I just sort of went with it anyway. I think as an artist you’re allowed to explore. Nothing should be thought of as off limits.

Where does your family history come in?

People are always surprised when I tell them this, but I come from an immigrant family. My mother’s side is Irish, which is why I look Irish, and my father’s side is Persian Jewish. This work started after my dad and uncle were researching our family history, which influenced my art historical research. When I discovered Persian miniatures I couldn’t believe how incredible they were. It was almost like finding a missing puzzle piece.

What have you tried to achieve with the paintings in History Boy?

These paintings are really a combination of everything I’ve been doing over the last years. They have narratives, but when it comes down to it they have abstract qualities that you have to see in the flesh. It’s almost cliché, but for me this is my best series. But, you never know! People ask me, “Why don’t you make paintings in your old style anymore?” I still like that Jay-Z quote, “Want my old shit? Buy my old album.”

HISTORY BOY, Through Nov 21 | Eigen + Art Lab, Torstr. 220, Mitte, U-Bhf Oranienburger Tor, Tue-Fri 14-18, Sat 11-18:00