Tom Betts is our December 2012 Artist of the Month. His oil painting Wired Tea & Peaches was a finalist in the still life/floral category of The Artist’s Magazine’s 28th Annual Art Competition. “Growing up as a self-taught artist has given me a unique perspective of nature, which has been difficult to relate. Art is my antidote for misunderstanding the graceful state of nature,” says Betts. “My desire to communicate and relate to people on many different levels has and continues to inspire my art.”
For the past 10 years, I have seen myself as a teacup floating in different states of temporal identity, at times in the past, present or future to experience the beauty of understanding and hopefully to better relate to those identities.
Wired Tea & Peaches is a reflection of myself amidst a traditional state of preservation where the index is idealized and the past is revered. This is where traditions are conserved so they can be referenced and communicated using the simplest terms that can overshadow the complexity of a moment but allow for a dialogue of unspoken beauty. Although these traditions may seem everlasting, sealed tightly in their jars, they are still of nature embodying an organic futility as they inevitably wilt and are overcome by time. The string lights is a metaphor for the celebratory decorations of the time in which I live. The mood of the painting is set as the social event has wound down, the lights are subdued and the digestion of the occasion can begin. The connectivity of society today inspired the title of the painting as our dependency of plugging into the mass index of the Internet continues to grow.
Creating the atmosphere inside of the jars and the decanter has a subtle level of color balance that, for me, can change in the blink of an eye and forces me to unconsciously slow my breathing, which is physically demanding when working many hours. My favorite part of this painting was achieving the sensation of air around the objects, providing the impression of volume in the negative space. This painting took about four months to produce due to the cold and humidity, which slow the dry time.
Betts’ Painting Process
To ensure the best possible understanding of a reference I work from life, photographs and drawings. I design and register the composition by sketching and debating the possible implications of the structural narrative and object symmetry. I study the photograph to observe the diffusion of lens light diffraction, which can change with a small shift in my body’s position, allowing me to achieve a high quality of observed, tonal subtlety and contrast. By working from life, my body experiences and relates to the reference, allowing the feeling of nature to enter the process.
I typically use a limited nine-color palette to allow myself full control over the color and tonal balance; I sometimes bring in a cobalt blue or violet. Depending on the season, I usually finish a painting in about three to four months.
A Self-Taught Artist
My earliest memory of drawing was during elementary school when my classmates and I were asked to draw stick figures. I created a gesture line drawing showing movement and action the way I had seen a figure drawn in a comic book. I will never forget my teacher’s excitement as she studied the image and passed it along to her colleagues.
I have always thrived in an environment of creativity, which is why I went to school and earned a Master of Fine Arts. I enjoy being surrounded by the artistic community now more than ever as an associate instructor at the University of Utah. In addition to teaching, I am a full-time, professional artist.
I work in the traditional style of oil painting, which can dance between the genres of realism and my own ephemeral realism. By studying the complexities and nuances that are finely balanced in a moment of existence, I find myself in a state of peace that exists outside the social ideals of referencing and storing information, and away from the overwhelming moments of the past and the future that can engulf my present condition.
I am currently working on my painting series titled Le Cœur, where the character of the teacup takes a futuristic and existential leap by identifying with parts of the body. A fractured teacup that is preserved underwater where its pieces are scattered represents the heart. Even though it’s broken, it continues to beat, rippling the water and reflecting the light.
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