THE FINE PRINT: You are a self-taught artist, which is remarkable considering the meticulous thoughtfulness of your designs. How did you become interested in visual art?
TOM HANCOCKS: Art was always around me as a kid. My dad was an architect and my older brother was a graffiti writer, so visual expression was always encouraged in various forms and there were always some kind of supplies/books/resources around that would end up being the outlet for any spare time. It was just something that always seemed like an obvious outlet growing up I suppose.
TFP: Being specialized in physical, digital and graphic design, which one would you say gives you the most creative free range?
TH: I would definitely say digital. That’s a strong part of what draws me to focus on digital design. There are far far far less barriers that you have to navigate, and even less platform you need to have, and the result is usually the same — a $500k pop up store will be seen by probably 100 times as many people as will experience it, so the impact of a digital image is mostly the same and costs a fraction of the price. You don’t need a college education or a rich dad or an established network to learn how to produce digital images.
TFP: Your contemporary work is so current, it’s almost futuristic. Where do you get your inspiration from?
TH: A lot of my inspiration is usually subconscious so it’s hard to say for sure (and probably also why my work is usually a bit of an undefined mess). I definitely have art and design subjects that I’m drawn to. I spend a lot of time looking at books (just for the pictures) and a lot of my work is probably just a filtered regurgitation of what I take in and look at. With a touch of concept behind it.
Specific inspiration lately has been a lot of photography (Lynne Cohen, Michael Wolf) and some rare/unusual interior design books – those are always amazing, the things that some people do with interiors in non-traditional ways is really exciting to me. The way that it plays off the rigid world of architecture but is really uncontrolled and expressive when it comes to the cosmetics of it.
TFP: Geometry, symmetry, minimalism and abstraction seem to be your preferred aesthetics, which you balance flawlessly. Tell us more about your creative process, how do you achieve such equilibrium?
TH: I think this answer is similar and telling of the last question. The things I’m interested in usually fall in those categories. I have an uncontrollable attraction to form, the necessity and redundancy of it. Geometry really is a foundation of our physical world, and symmetry seems to be a way we are able to organize and understand it. But these things also work as a framework to ‘play’ with. I think people often take these subjects too seriously, using them as rules rather than suggestions. I like to kind of explore these things but also put a mirror up to it and reflect on how ridiculous design/human existence is and see what happens when you don’t take it too seriously.
TFP: I must ask – where does your love for faded pastel colours come from?
TH: I actually have quite a struggle with color most of the time. I think it stemmed initially from trying to include color but being non-committal and shy about it, so things would end up being muted primary colors. Then I think my work got a little trendy for a while and played into that whole ‘pastel’ aesthetic because people reacted to it – which I think, in hindsight, was an interesting study that has pushed me to avoid trends in some manners.
Now I think I’m doing a better job of finding examples of colors that work and why and what impact they can carry.
TFP: Would you say your Australian heritage influence your work? Or has NYC taken over your heart creatively?
TH: I think growing up in Australia definitely did influence my work, in that Australia is a big mish-mash of non-identity. You can kind of do whatever you want and not get swept up in a defining culture. That may be a con for some people, but I found it to be a great place to find a personal creative identity.
For that reason I actually think NYC is not a great place to thrive creatively. There is a profound amount of content and inspiration here, but there isn’t the time or the space to internalize and contemplate your work. It’s basically just rushing from one thing to the next and seeing what reference images you can sweep up along the way.
TFP: What would you say is the biggest challenge or issue right now in your industry?
TH: There are a few. Maybe not a challenge, but a critique — I would say the biggest is the people who control the industry. Commercial success is usually only found by people who were fortunate enough to go to good schools, and meet other kids with the same fortune who end up being their bosses and clients. Design is easy, but only a select few people get to do it because of this reason.
I think the internet has played – and will continue to play – a huge role in changing this and giving opportunity to individuals with good work and not just good credentials.
TFP: What are your plans for the next year? Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
TH: I’m hoping the next year will be a bit more of a refined identity. A lot of what I create is made out of fun and exploration, which I think is important, but I’m realizing now I have generated a small platform that I can actually do something with, and it’s a responsibility I want to take on and hopefully try to act on some of the things I touched on in the last question.