We were sat in a graveyard, in Portland. Talking, and lying in the grass, Tom started collecting up bits of twigs, leaves and pine needles. He’d talked before about making creatures, and how for him that was partly a process of perceiving them in the landscape. That day, he made me a creature for the first time. A little being of foraged material and imagination. There were others, and I began the process of learning how to find them and put them together.
Once I started looking, I began to see them – the juxtapositions of plant life, rocks and human detritus that acquired personalities of their own or, could with a little help become creatures too. There’s a sense of magic and wonder that comes with this, a childlike kind of play and a delightful, improvised creativity. Anyone can do it, with anything that comes to hand.
Creatures turn up a lot in Tom’s art work. Often they appear as part of the backdrop, mysterious and unexplained, but he puts a lot of thought into them. They have lives, habits, feeding methods, and a bizarre natural history of their own. The gnii, for example, we never see properly. They remove the stone carvings from gravestones and carry them about. They collect debris to burn as candles (and steal candles when they can get them). They eat rock, and predate graveyards a great deal. They’re also shy, which is why we don’t see them properly, and they travel in flotillas.
Many of the ‘things’ you’ll see as background details in Hopeless have a similar amount of story and detail attached to them already. Maybe one day I’ll be able to round them up and do some kind of bestiary.
I think in many ways, the world of Hopeless reflects how Tom plays with the ‘real’ world. Walking with him frequently involves being invited to see how things might be entirely other than they first appear. He has a keen eye for detail – unshockingly – and responds in strange and fanciful ways. What would live here? What would leave marks like that? Why is there ice on this bit of road and nowhere else (because of the dead people, apparently.)
Most of the little, monstery things in Hopeless aren’t unpleasant. I don’t think they’re creepy either –although they are frequently strange and gothic. If you focus on the human action centre stage, it’s possible to miss them, but, look carefully and there’s a great deal of extra eyes in the mix, frequently with creatures attached to them. Maybe ‘real’ life is like that too...