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‘LA is a great place to create.’
Gems in this
The work of visual artist Nick Thomm is continually making headlines in popular culture. Best known for his hyper-colored paintings and mind-bending immersive installations, Nick splits his time between studios in Los Angeles and his hometown of Melbourne.
Travel between cultures also translates to his artistic presence, with exhibits at the New Museum in NYC, Melbourne’s NGV Gallery, The London Olympic Games or personal commissions for the homes of celebrities like Miley Cyrus in Los Angeles. We spoke to Nick about creativity and travel, how the California tempo inspires him and favorite places to spend time in LA.
On growing up in a creative community
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, which was a cool place to be a kid. Melbourne is a really creative city. There's a lot of other talented creatives around, so it was a good place to develop my style, and figure out what I was and wasn't into. The creative community is very accessible there. I think that's something unique to Melbourne. That helped me get into a good position before I made the move to the USA.
On getting into art through skateboarding
Growing up I was obsessed with skateboarding. I remember it made me look at the world differently. Every building I’d look at and think ‘how can I skate this?’ Thinking back it makes me realise I was noticing architectural environments differently. Skating also got me into board graphics. I always wanted to have a skate deck with my own name and graphics on it and that inspired me to start making my own art at a young age.
On where art has taken you
I've been lucky enough to have visited almost every continent. But I’ve spent a lot of time in New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo. Just before COVID we did a big event in Seoul, which was really cool, and I always love going there. So hopefully we can do that again soon.
On creative life in the USA
My first move was from Melbourne to New York, where I spent five years. I'd always stop through LA on the way from Melbourne to New York, because it's such a long flight. I drew more and more similarities between LA and Melbourne the more I would go there, I just found something that made me feel a little bit more comfortable, a bit more at home. There's more space, the weather's better, you spend more time outside, all those things stacked up.
On what you love about LA
There’s no rush to the day in LA. Because there are all kinds of people who are on their own path within a bigger creative industry, there are less standard work hours. I find that more comfortable and more natural. When you catch up with someone in the middle of the day, it doesn’t ever feel like you’ve got 30 minutes before they’ve got to go back to their office. I don’t work to any form of routine, really. Some days I will work 16-18 hours, some days I’ll get nothing done. And if I’m on a roll on the weekend, I’ll just work straight through it.
‘I'd always stop through LA on the way from Melbourne to New York... and I just found something that made me feel a little bit more comfortable, a bit more at home.’
On new waves of creators in LA
It has been growing super-fast. I’ve had the studio in LA for four years, and in that time a wave of creatives have moved here. A lot of the major international galleries are adding locations in LA now too. So yeah, it does feel like something really special is happening and it makes sense, because LA is a great place to create.
On the driving force behind your work
Honestly it’s as simple as letting myself make what I feel like I want to make. Lately, I’ve been trying to be a lot more free with my work and just let go. As you get a bit more known, you have all these expectations around what people want to see from you, and I've been working hard to let that go. Because I felt like at the beginning of my career I just had a desire to create something, and I did it without any specific reason. And a lot of those works are still some of my most well-known pieces. More and more I think self-expression is an underrated motive to make art.
'I’ve been trying to be a lot more free with my work and just let go. As you get a bit more known, you get all those expectations around what people want to see from you, and I've been working really hard to let that go.'
On overcoming expectations
When you get a reputation it becomes more difficult every time you produce something creatively. You only have to look at the music industry to know how many artists have an amazing first album, and then the second one’s not as good. The third one’s not as good. And it’s just because you’ve got an unrealistic bar of expectation. The more I let myself make something just because that is what I feel I want to make, the better the work is. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do.
On how Covid has affected your shows
I’ve been doing so many more commissions because of covid, and obviously less shows. Usually I would sell from shows, and then do a rare commission here and there. We had big shows planned for LA & Paris last year, which of course was postponed, so fingers crossed they will happen soon.
On celebrity commissions
I recently did a big commission for Bec and Lleyton Hewitt, who are obviously Aussie legends, so I’m proud of doing anything like that. I did a big mural for Miley Cyrus which was unfortunately lost in the Malibu fires a couple of years ago, but she’s also got a bunch of other works of mine. It’s a very different approach when you do a commission. You meet people and it becomes a real process of working through it with them. You get to know the people really well by the time you’ve got the piece in their house and everyone’s happy with it. I’ve only had good experiences and met some really cool people along the way. If a piece is sold straight off the wall in a gallery, the work would just be sent to the buyers house. With commissions, I get to meet the people, and make the work personal, so it’s special to me and them.
On where you get inspired
Most mornings I'll go for a run up to the canyons in the hills from Beachwood Canyon. Just seeing the city from above is a nice way to start the morning, get a view. The sun's always out. Then I'll cruise down to the studio, which is in the Arts District. I'm pretty much there every day, and that's where I'm most inspired. That little routine kick starts my day and gets me going.
'LA has a unique energy to it. It's not something you can really explain but you just know it when you’re there. It feels like anything’s possible. People are about supporting each other and lifting each other up.'
On where you recommend friends visit when in LA
In Downtown LA, the Broad Museum is a must see. And then across the street there is MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art). Hauser & Wirth is an obvious but a good one in Arts District, and Gagosian in Beverly Hills is a favourite. You should definitely tick those galleries off your list. For food in the Arts District there’s a place called PIZZANISTA! – it’s a cool spot. It reminds me of New York actually. I’ll often cruise down there when I’m at the studio late at night, get pizza and then head back. La Poubelle is a great restaurant and bar in Franklin Village, which is just at the bottom of Beachwood Canyon. Night + Market Song is a Thai place I like. There is one in Silver Lake and in West Hollywood.
On a window or aisle seat
It depends on the plane. But if I’m going economy, I’m going aisle.
On LA in one word
LA has a unique energy to it. It's not something you can really explain but you just know it when you’re there. It feels like anything’s possible. People are about supporting each other and lifting each other up.