It all started with a high school sports injury. A series of them, actually – one that meant Melbourne-born artist Nick Thomm couldn’t play football again. It was also the moment that made him consider tapping into his creative side.
“I enjoyed occasionally painting or doing graphic design and, like every kid does, I had a clothing brand in high school. But when the injury happened I was like, ‘What am I going to do now?’” Thomm tells Broadsheet.
After a stint as a graphic designer – co-founding creative studio The Drop – Thomm decided to take time away from client work and create as he pleased, sans brief.
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“I basically just locked myself in the garage,” he remembers. “I made art there every day for three months and, at the end of it, I decided I’d put on a show. It feels like two years ago, but it’s actually been about 10 and I’ve never looked back.”
Now known for hyper-colourful “spectral paintings” and digital projections – commissioned by the likes of Nike, Adidas and Miley Cyrus (who slid into Thomm’s DMs requesting a mural for her home) – the Australian artist divides his time working between Melbourne and Los Angeles.
“After a while, I started to realise that I was using the transition between, initially Melbourne and New York, and now Melbourne and LA, to have this sort of control over my environment,” Thomm explains. “By being able to change my location, I feel like I could get a fresh start, especially when there’s a 14-hour flight. I work on a project and I burn out or whatever and I can just come back, reset and go again.”
Spending on average eight months in LA and four months in Melbourne each year during the Aussie summer, the artist finds shuttling between the two cities a powerful trigger for inspiration as well as a way to “separate projects, thought processes and ideas”. For Thomm, Melbourne is always a bit like a “retreat” – one where he can hide away and focus on what he wants to create.
Naturally, his personal life also exists somewhere in between the two hemispheres, with homes in Fitzroy and the Hollywood Hills shared with wife-turned-studio-manager Jay Ramsay. After years of back and forth, the couple has slowly smoothed out the process of packing up, moving out and settling in on repeat.
“As you go on in your career, the work gets harder and the schedule becomes more intense, so we try and simplify everything else around that,” Thomm says. “I try to have as few variables as possible and just make it all about the art.”
The Melburnian runs studios in both cities that are fitted out with almost identical setups, allowing him to seamlessly move between starting a project in one place and finishing it off in another. “There’s always a bit of a crunch [when I’m about to leave a place] and it can be stressful. But the payoff is worth it in the long run for me.”
Having two spaces to work from also avoids the hassle and cost of shipping large-scale pieces halfway across the globe. Maximising time in each city, Thomm schedules his commissioned works together, working on 10 to 20 pieces at a time.
The process is consistent and intense. Each piece begins by finding a striking colour palette to blend. “I like to think of the works as portals that are these hypnotic freeze-frames of emotion that you can’t describe,” he explains. “For me, my studio is a bit like a science lab where it’s just a series of experiments trying to find these unique combinations that bring out those feelings.”
Often the base starts off with traditional media like paint before working up layers of ink, pouring glossy resins and firing with a blowtorch for a glass-like shine and uniform finish. You can get a glimpse of this process on Thomm’s Instagram account, where he regularly shares behind-the-scenes videos from his studios.
The artist notes social media’s pivotal role in his early days. But as his work evolves, so does his relationship with the online space. “Now it’s still important, but I try not to let it dictate what I’m doing, which can be really hard at times,” he says.
When we speak, Thomm is working from his new studio in Preston where days usually start at 10 o’clock and go on till whatever hour “burnout” creeps in. “I feel like every day for me is the same, I’m in the studio nearly all the time.”
It makes sense that Thomm is busy – his past 12 months have been bigger than ever before. Earlier this year, he worked on a car wrap for McLaren at the Miami Grand Prix (a long-held dream, he says) and created a series of artworks for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton, now on display at stores in New York and Las Vegas.
More recently, Thomm has spent much of his time – 10 months to be exact – painting between 20 and 30 pieces for Tiffany & Co that will be hung in shopfronts around the world. “Tiffany is currently in the process of redoing all of its stores with a big focus on art, so it’s been really cool to work just on that scale,” he explains.
Slowly rolling out into 25 stores internationally – including flagships in Bondi, Atlanta and LA – the works will continue to rotate throughout the jewellery brand’s outposts. “People from cities that realistically I may never do a show in – but there’s probably a Tiffany store – now get the chance to go in and see my work,” he says. “It’s cool to have a gallery-like vibe in these places.”
When asked how the opportunity came about, Thomm says that luxury conglomerate LVMH had his name on a list of artists for its brands to work with. Said list was made by the late American fashion designer and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, Virgil Abloh.
“Virgil and I talked quite a bit whilst he was alive and always spoke about doing stuff together and potentially collaborating on things, but time just gets away,” Thomm says.
The Tiffany series is created exclusively in the iconic label’s signature blue, which took some doing. “I’m used to working with a really wide colour palette so trying to stick to just one colour, especially for so many artworks, was definitely a big challenge,” he says. “But it’s these sorts of things that really refine your craft. You have to find new ways to work within very tight confines.”
This continuous pushing of boundaries is fuelled by a constant desire to create, he says. “There’s no better feeling than waking up, something doesn’t exist, you go into the studio, you create something and you leave having brought something new into the world for people to enjoy.”
Speaking with Thomm you get the feeling he could talk about art all day, if given the chance. “I always picture myself being like some 80-year-old dude who’s just in his studio still painting,” he jokes. It’s a bit of a full-circle moment from his days in high school, dabbling in craft and finding his vocation. “I didn’t realise that through my whole life, this is what I always wanted to do.”
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.
For more colour-drenched Aussie art, head here.