In this interview, we speak with Australian ceramic artist Tom Summers.
Tom is a Brisbane-born queer ceramic artist currently participating in the prestigious associate program at JamFactory in Adelaide. His work explores a special kind of mindful mindlessness, obviously referencing architecture and the built environment around him. Tom's pieces simultaneously warp and reproduce his experiences of place through an exploratory use of colour, scale and space.
Read on as we talk about his journey and aspirations, dwelving into his transition from fashion design to ceramics, the process of creating, and the influences behind his work.


You have studied Fashion Design for six years. What brought you to the world of ceramics?  

I've always loved all types of design and the artistic process. But after my time studying fashion and working in the industry, I was looking for a discipline of design that had a bit more permanence, that people connected with in a less disposable way, and that was culturally read more thoughtfully. 

Through my study, I developed quite a distinctive aesthetic that I felt could be translated into any medium. Around 2018, I tried lots of different artistic pursuits, and ceramics was the one that just came so easily. Working with slabs of clay like I do, it's quite a similar way of thinking to pattern making, so I got a bit of a discount on the learning curve around it, as well.  



What is your process of creating a piece? What is the starting point. What guides you.

I often see in my mind's eye, when I'm really relaxed, a glimpse of an environment or of a particular curve or shape that fascinates me. I then set about trying to best replicate what was in my mind. I don't really sketch or anything like that. One could say I'm sketching in clay directly. It's a very instinctual process. 


What message or emotion do you want to convey through your works?

Through my work, I try to show how we can all find solace in our own imaginings and how this can be used to build places that embrace diversity and celebrate differences. I want to create a space for people to take refuge in my work, providing an opportunity for them to explore and express their own stories. I want everybody to open up to new possibilities, experiment with their identities and ultimately find peace within themselves.


Who or what has had the most significant influence on your work?

Probably discovering the surrealist art movement has been the biggest influence on my work. Reconciling the environment around me through my own strange, chaotic, beautiful inner world has been an amazing development of self-expression. And I love being able to view how other artists do this too.    


You are currently partaking in the Associate Program with JamFactory. What is it like, and how does it influence how you approach artistic practice?

The biggest influence that JamFactory has on my work would have to be the amount of equipment I have at my disposal that allows me to achieve the different ideas I have. For example, there are giant kilns available for larger pieces.

It's also great to have access to people from different departments, like furniture. I am currently working on a multi-material set of ceramic and acrylic shelves for a project, so it's been great to be able to hash out my ideas.

In terms of the program itself, it's a combination of workshops, mentoring with currently practising artists, learning skills and casual work producing the Jam range of products or helping out with the ceramic classes. 

Everybody is really lovely and willing to help me, which is great. I'm definitely glad I made the move from Brisbane to Adelaide to be a part of the program. 


What is the song that can be most frequently heard in your studio?

At the moment, Drive (First Gear) by Womack & Womack.  


What direction do you hope to take your practice over the following years?

There are a few different things I would like to achieve. Overall, I would love to lean into the surrealist expression in my work - play a lot more with it, and take it further. I would also love to expand on the range I make, taking it from working with mainly the idea of a vessel and creating other objects, including some furniture pieces.


Photography by Efrain Cabrera

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