This week in Selective Focus, artist Tom Moriarty shows some of the wide spectrum of work he’s done, and discusses how drawing, DIY, and demolition derby have formed his way of working.
T.M.: I always love experimenting with different mediums and workflows, and I try and keep the creative juices flowing in a lot of different directions. Right now I’m focusing a lot on muraling. Sometimes I’m existential ramblings in smears and splats of acrylic paint and sometimes I’m drawing portraits tight and trim on a tablet with a stylus. I love making collages and then illustrating over them (I call em collagistrations). I do this a lot for gig posters and event flyers. Black and white illustrations for letterpress. I do graphic design, typography and branding a bit too. For a few years now I’ve been messing around with interactive art in my spare time. Connecting paintings and sculptures to microcontrollers with conductive inks and alligator clips. They output sound when you physically interact with the art… like a musical instrument. I haven’t found that sweet spot with tangible application so for now that’s just for fun.
My dad and older brother were always drawing and making stuff when I was growing up so I kind of entered into this world in that environment. Interjecting creativity into everyday life was kind of the vibe back then and I think that is a big part of my work ethic now. My earliest memories of art being in public was when my Dad would paint his buddy’s demolition derby car every summer. He’d ask me for ideas and it being the 1990s I think we went with a lot of Simpsons and green aliens and stuff. He was really into Odd Rods and vintage ’60s/’70s racing and pinups and pop culture so it was a cool mashup of that. When I got older he let me help him paint the cars. There was always a ton of pride going to the county fair and watching the art get splattered in mud and crumpled up as our family friend Drag would tear ass around the track and slam into other cars.
When I got older it was all about making gig posters. As a teenager/early 20s I lied to my buddies and said I could play music mostly as another outlet to be creative and make posters for the band. The punk rock work ethic. As an adult I tried a lot of different things to make ends meet while being creative. I worked with my creative circle back in the Brainerd Lakes area running a gallery, a series of DiY music venues in our basements and living rooms, and churning out weird art to showcase in these places. Eventually I wanted to get better at making these things more sustainable so I moved to Duluth to go back to school and developed a degree integrating business and marketing into my creative wheelhouse. After graduation I joined the fine folks at Duluth Coffee Company to slang some coffee and act as an in-house designer and brand manager which really evolved and homogenized my creative output. I went freelance last year and muraling and graphic design seem to be the best combination to keep my mind happy and my bills paid.
I think like many many many artists a big challenge is time and money. Minnesota, and the Twin Ports in general, are great because there is a wealth of support for creative folks. I still see and feel a lot of “paid in exposure” crap going on but I’ve felt pretty blessed and humbled to see a supportive community that wants to not only give creative folk a place to showcase their talents but also recognize that artists need to be compensated for their time and energy. I see a lot of creative folks (and I’m guilty of it too) having a complicated relationship with compensation. You wouldn’t ask a plumber or an offset printer to work for exposure, so why do creative folk work for exposure? It’s important for us as a creative community to set a precedent of payment being a part of the process.
As far as rewards it’s always a blast being a part of and adding to this vibrant and beautiful community of creatives. I feel lucky to be given a lot of creative control on projects for local brands. My years doing more graphic design work (which honestly I was reluctant to do, it’s a different trip than making whatever kind of statement in whatever medium you want like I will with personal work) taught me the importance of simplicity and representation. One of my favorite projects of all time was with Duluth Coffee Company. It was a series of letter-pressed cards that gave more insight into not only the taste and types of coffee but the country of origin and the communities involved. Illustrating a portrait of a woman who directly picked the coffee from Burundi that we are drinking here, or the farmer in Costa Rica who runs the farms and works with importers and exporters and giving focus to a part of the chain of coffee that is far too often ignored was incredibly rewarding to me. Knowing that sharing their story gives value to the coffee, which helps sell the coffee, which then the coffee industry can continue supporting and bettering the lives at origin always filled me with pride being that little part of the storytelling process. My work in the past was a lot of existential ramblings, which is fun! But using art to create tangible improvements in people lives is a total high.
Most projects seem to be born over a beer or a cup of coffee, or via DM on social media. Hit me up and let’s chat!
I’ve got some really exciting muraling projects coming up this summer and fall but I don’t want to celebrate until the frosting is on the cake. Keep your eyes peeled around the twin ports and beyond for some exciting eye candy!
Where to see the work:
In the flesh: My mural work is all over the inside and outside of Taco Arcada in the Lincoln Park Craft District. I did a series of original murals and creative recreations of Fitger’s branding for the Brewers Garage off Michigan and Second Avenue East. Duluth Coffee Company uses a lot of my creative assets for its merch and website.