We had the good fortune of connecting with Tm Gratkowski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tm, what role has risk played in your life or career?
With risk comes failure, so you have to learn how to embrace the failures as part of your process, it’s kind of like learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
For me, risk has always been an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone to learn or experience something new. Being comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown allows me to gather new information, process it, and then come up with a new skill set to execute a new idea. As an artist If it doesn’t involve some kind of risk it’s probably not worth doing, so every choice or decision I’ve ever made involves some kind of risk.
The process of taking risks as an artist also allows me a way to get to a more unique place of discovery within the work. I believe it’s a great way to set yourself apart from what others are doing and follow your own vision.
Please tell us more about your career. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
For me personally, I feel that what sets anyone or anything apart from others is effort and I like to think I put an incredible amount of effort and energy into everything I do. I also like to go beyond what is expected to deliver a moment that is unforgettable. In a city like Los Angeles, with its growing art scene, It can be hard to stand out especially when that art scene is competing with the long established movie industry. I feel it is a good idea to create a unique moment or as I like to call it “a spectacle” to stand out in a more lasting and memorable way.
Getting to where I am today was not easy, it takes perseverance, grit and determination- you can never give up. I am still working hard to find opportunities as I continue to strive for bigger and better accomplishments nationally and internationally beyond Los Angeles. I am most excited about projects that haven’t happened yet and the potential for conversations and studio visits to find ways to realize these ideas.
I’m currently working on some new ideas for public art sculptures and I find it very exciting to combine my art and architecture background. I am also working with Howard Fox and Joe Day on my first museum exhibition and we are working hard to adjust our expectations for this as we deal with some unexpected challenges as museum programming has changed because of the pandemic. Everything I’ve always set out to do has started from the place to question and challenge convention, which is never an easy path to take.
My art practice is based on two important factors, the first is to find subjects that are challenging and difficult to understand and to find ways to take that subject and turn it into a platform for a dialog that goes beyond the initial moment of first seeing the work. In the end. If I am to be completely transparent, the underlying goal is to create something that is sexy and beautiful, while still remaining challenging and difficult to look at. The other factor that I utilize to set what I do apart is to use a less ubiquitous material and transform it beyond what people are expecting or imaging as possible. Paper is typically considered a material of craft and not as highly regarded as something like paint. To transcend this barrier I’ve developed a process in which I would describe as painting with paper. If I would use one or two words to capture what it is I do in the most basic general terms I would say I work with paper to make collages. However, once people start to imagine what collage is, their usual historical reference is of surrealism and the combining of a few simple images to create another new image.
This is not what I do. What I do is to manipulate paper, text, and images in a densely layered surface rich in patterns, images, and text. I use hundreds of pieces of paper and many layers of color to create my art. I also try to use paper as the only material and manipulate it into new unexpected forms creating multi-layered and textured surfaces, installations, and sculptures. I try to go beyond historical definitions, concepts, and contemporary art practices by pushing the boundaries beyond traditional collage.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
LA is so vast with so many great cultural things to see and do it can be overwhelming to get to all of it, so I try to curate and tailor any visit. Always one to seek out the unique or less traveled path, I prefer the unexpected adventure to navigate any urban experience. Because LA’s neighborhoods are so unique and diverse I find it best to just stay in certain areas and take in all it has to offer- this way you’re not spending your entire day driving. I like to start with any cultural highlights, usually museums or galleries like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Getty, Susanne Vielmetter (DTLA), Blum & Poe (Culver City) , and Charlie James in Little Tokyo. After that I tend to seek out the older forgotten historical places for drinks. The Biltmore Bar, Hanks at the American Hotel in DTLA, or the Mandrake bar are great places to get together with friends for long conversations. For some interesting culinary experience there’s Polka’s in Glendale, Soot Bull Jeep in Korea Town, or Akasha in Culver City.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Everyone I’ve ever met has, in some way, impacted me and what I do no matter how big, small, positive, or negative, I tend to look at it as a gathering of a curated cultural awareness. When I look back on the people who’ve had a profound effect on me I’ve realized that more than any one individual it’s a quality or type of individual who has had a profound impact on me, ie: people who push me, challenge me, or people (who by example) have multiple careers/ interests/ skill sets. There are many people I could name, it’s like a small community of influences, but there are a few individuals at pivotal places in my evolution who had a major influence on me. Don Hanlon (Artist/ Architect/ Educator/ Friend) taught me to look beyond my immediate context or experiences for influence and the expanded enlightenment of ideas. The ideas Don presented went far beyond the status-quo to search for something unfamiliar. This paved the way to explore new ideas to effect change. As an undergraduate student this way of thinking opened up many alternative ways of doing things and created opportunities for me beyond my immediate context. The most interesting part of Don’s influence, besides our shared healthy skepticism, was the way we could use alternative ways of communicating, especially between art and architecture, to get our ideas across. Tom Proebstle (Architect (Founder at Generator Studio)/ Designer/ Hockey Player/ Friend) one of my closest and oldest personal friends and a collaborator in crimes of passion, Tom never accepted mediocracy or complacency. The goal. was always to pursue what hadn’t been done before and to use that energy to work as hard as was necessary to get things done. Throughout our history we have collaborated on many projects together both as students and in our respective professional careers, but in whatever the project may be the main purpose was to question and challenge convention. Our personal drive was always to do better and Tom was the best counterpart to any collaboration as he never accepted any answer or solution as the only answer. He unapologetically challenged you to understand the initial solution and to dig deeper. In the end, the original idea was able to grow and develop into something much more sophisticated. In this respect, I’ve learned how to expect more of myself and understand that even if you don’t see it at first, there is always a better way to do it. John Randolph (Architect/ Artist/ Educator/ Friend) was my graduate thesis advisor. When I initially met John in a class I was taking at SCI_Arc in Los Angeles I had met someone who “got it” and spoke the same language I did. His professional career easily traversed the disciplines between art and architecture and the starting point of research to seek out very unusual points of reference for inspiration. This way of thinking was exactly what inspired me to develop my professional career in a similar way. John always had a plethora of references that encouraged what you were doing to go further in a more unusual and unconventional way. This was never the easy route as you were very often reinventing the proverbial wheel to come up with something far more interesting. There is definitely beauty in the unusual as long as you learn how to harness it. Because of this, I continue my own interest and pursuits with the same kind of rigor to go beyond superficial ideas, and to find the more interesting ideas hidden in the cracks. There is definitely beauty in the unusual as long as you learn how to harness it. Because of these three individuals I’ve learned to think, to do, and to act on a vision that goes beyond any ubiquitous expectation or source of inspiration. For that I am deeply indebted and grateful.
All images provided by the artist.