EK Interview: Colwyn Thomas

I love the colors that Colwyn Thomas uses.  Thomas himself is from Durban, South Africa.  They make every piece stand out so much, I want more.  Each of Colwyn’s pieces make me feel quiet and lost but in the most fitting way.  His interview is damn good too.  Read it:

Where in South Africa are you based?

I’m based in Durban, which is on the east coast.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

How relevant is apartheid?  How have you been personally effected by it?

Apartheid is not immediately apparent. But if you look at the overwhelming challenges South Africa faces – the crime, the unemployment, the poor education systems –  and start working backwards you can see how much of what we’re living in now comes from the systems put into place decades ago. The effect of apartheid is, in my mind, complex, subtle and pervasive. Having said that I never feel effected by it, unless I start really unpacking things, which, in one’s day to day life, takes effort.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

Where is the most beautiful place that you can walk/bike/drive to in less than a half hour?  Describe it to us.

I live 25 minutes out of the city. For six kilometers or so, stretching from my coastal town, south to the city, is a coastal forest system. Sub tropical forests edge down to the Indian Ocean. In summer, there is nowhere greener in the world than here. We surf in baggies in a blue green sea.


What kind of emotional effect do you want your work to have on people?

I just want it to be emotional. I’d hope for my work to elicit emotional responses before intellectual responses.  I can’t really pin the emotions I’m after.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

What critique have you received that really stuck with you?  What inspiration or compliments have you received that you can call upon when you doubt yourself?

An art lecturer once shouted at me, during a figure drawing class, to stop drawing what I thought and instead draw what I saw. I learnt to separate out imagination and objectivity from that and then, later, to bring the two together in a complimentary way.

For overcoming doubt, I have a couple pieces of mine that I can always return to in which I can see that I have, at some rare points in my career, managed to distill something beautiful, something that I’m not solely responsible for.


What’s happening in “Quiet”?  Where were, emotionally and physically, you when you thought of the piece?

Quiet is for the viewer to decide if the boy is drifting peacefully, in total surrender, or drowning. I was at a place in my life where I was having to make choices about how I was going to respond to circumstances that I had no power over. It was a matter of perspective.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

Tell us about “The Whale”.  What were your influences for the piece?  What do you want viewers to take away from the interaction between the boy and the whale?

The relationship between the wild and man is an important one for me.  I occasionally work as a guide in a big five wilderness area and there are encounters one has there, with the game, with the place itself, that give me a clear sense of being something other than human. As if there was something to define ourselves as first, before we classified ourselves as human.  There’s such wonder and humility in finding your self a part of the world as opposed to an observer of it. So in The Whale it’s not so much a whale and a little human making separate observations of one another, but two…creatures sharing a moment.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

Tell us about your light boxes?  What are they made of?  How do they work?

My boxes are all perpsex, wood, electrics and back lit prints. My latest boxes are cut to shape.  It’s pretty simple. A print is attached (via a mysterious process I’m yet to understand) onto perspex and lit from within using LED lights.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?  What would your collaboration be like?

I’d collaborate with Japanese wood cut artist, Kawase Hasui. Assuming we have infinite time and cash, we’d make the greatest graphic novel of all time, entirely from woodcuts.


What artist have you used as inspiration throughout your life?  How have they influenced your work?

I grew up with a giant Gauguin print in my house that spoke volumes to me as a kid. Then Van Gogh at an exhibition in Seattle made me see how art could be transcendental. Egon Schiel’s linework gave me license to mix what I saw with what I felt. Now Hasui’s use of colour, his ability to distil mood, have literally taught me how to break what I see into separate and evocative colour planes.  Spiderman and Batman comics relayed the scope and power of visual narratives.  Above all my painter mother and architect father made it natural for me to assume that art was ever present, worthy and functional in our lives.


What is your favorite poem/quote?  Or just a good one that you’ve heard recently.

Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would remain content and cheerful, alone for a thousand years.



What colors do you think work the best together?  What textures?

I love dusk blue and a muted pink. The tones achieved in wood cuts, coffee stains.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

Where have you been recently, whether restaurant, gallery, house, or anything really, that made you pause and appreciate the décor, the flow and the aura?

My friend, the choreographer David Gouldie, had me over for dinner. His three story place is filled with art that runs up and down the high walls.  His bar was a retro coca cola cooler box. And he had a room full of hats.  Then, from his balcony, the massively underrated Durban skyline at night in all its sordid glory.


What was the first media that you used?

I’ll have to ask my mom.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom


How did you settle on illustration and print?

Who said anything about being settled? I’m currently putting the majority of my energies into a documentary called To Skin a Cat. I’m moving away from print to painting and ink work.  And photography is my true love.  To be honest, illustration seemed, of all these mediums, the most comfortable way to make a living which is why it has been so dominant in my life. I’m trying to get to a place where I can pick and choose mediums at will.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

What do you like about Giclee?  What are its capabilities?  What are its limitations?

The quality is beautiful, I’ve found. There’s a perfect place for it in terms of creating multiple editions. But I feel weird about people charging too much for Giclee or making out that it’s a significant print process as opposed to a convenient and accurate form of mass production.


Take us through “Gust” from the first idea through the execution of the piece.

I have a friend, Kate, who often inspires pieces. I took her for a walk onto the rocks by the Kalk Bay tidal pool (just outside Cape Town), with a camera, looking for a moment. Gust was part of the same exhibit as Quiet, called The Curious. It had to do with growing up and the way our perception and participation in the world around us shifts as we become adults. That moment in Gust, of the dress being pinned down against the wind, seemed to me both provocative and innocent, depending on how you looked at it.

art blog - Colwyn Thomas - Empty Kingdom

What are your plans for the upcoming year?  What do you want to have achieved by the end?

I have two goals. The first is to finish my film. The second is to produce an exhibition of original pieces in ink and acrylic. Plus, to add a third, I’m leaving South Africa for a while, starting with a stint in Berlin. I want to make living abroad work for me.