Tom Maley

Icarus, he's probably one of my oldest designs.

 

I think I designed him nearly 30 years ago when I was working as an engineer for British Alcan. And I used to sneak off.

 

We weren't very busy at the time. I would sneak off with a little sketch, tiny little scrap sketchpad and hide myself in the toilets or wherever I wouldn't be seen and sketched daft ideas like this. 

Tom Maley

 

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Our 39th episode is with Tom Maley.

 

Theme: Aim to be a world champion in life.

 

We talk about: 

  • The gift of having amazing role models.

  • You’ve got to be thick skinned as art is subjective.

  • If people don't like you, it doesn't matter how good your work is, they'll not buy it from you.

 

Bio

Tom was born in Northumberland in 1962, the fourth of five children. He is a designer, artist and sculptor.

 

Tom originally trained as a design engineer making the switch to full time artist in 2000 with the unveiling of his first public commission, a statue of Wilf Mannion at Middlesbrough Football Club’s Riverside Stadium.

 

Since then, Tom has carried out several commissioned landmark sculptures as well as his own Pop Art pieces, this includes working for the likes of Newcastle United Football Club, Newcastle City Council, Welbeck Estates and Formula 1.

 

Tom is also involved in the production ‘Icarus Rising’, a short drama. Tom’s iconic Pop Art sculpture ‘1carus’ features in the film.

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James: 

So Tom, we're just outside of Morpeth, is this where you've grown up?

 

Tom: 

Well, I grew up not far from here. Um, a little place called Stakeford between Bedlington and Ashington. Um, I grew up, uh, my dad, both parents are from county Durham. My Dad moved the family up here when he got a job at what was then Lynemouth Colliery. Later Lynemouth Ellington combine. We moved up here at the beginning of 1963. I was born in 62. So, um, my mother still lives in that house and uh, and my dad died in 2005. But, it wasn't a bad little place to grow up. Um, I'm the fourth of five children, my parents had five of us in eight years. So that was pretty good going.

 

James: 

Yes

 

Michelle: 

Boys? Girls?

 

Tom: 

Three boys. Two girls. Yeah. 

 

Michelle: 

Handful. 

 

Tom: 

Yeah. But um, yeah, mentioning my dad, he was a great fella. And I suppose growing up I'd just assumed that everyone had a great dad and mother, uh, like I did, it's not till you get a little bit older that you realise how lucky you are to have one good, nevermind one good parent, but two great parents. Um, but without any disrespect to my mother, uh, my father was the driving force behind his children and he fired our ambitions and um, basically told us we could be anything we wanted to be and we could be world champion at that if we really, really wanted to be. So, uh, for, for a lot of years I wanted to be the heavyweight champion of the world, you know, because Muhammad Ali was my hero. But as you’re growing up, I'm starting to realise I'm not quite making six foot three. 

 

I'm not quite gonna be a heavyweight, I’ll be lucky to make welterweight nevermind heavyweight, but, but yeah, that was the kind of dad we had and he was so enthusiastic. He just, uh, he lived for his kids, um, as did my mother. And, and the, they were that, um, old fashioned, quintessential, uh, working class, um, Durham coal miners. Uh, then Northumbrian coal miners who did everything for the children. Uh, and, and that's exactly what he did. 

 

So, so he encouraged us all to, to try sport. We're all sporty. He was interested in art, music, interestingly because Patrick, um, my dad, um, and he never really knew his father. His father died when he was very young. Um, where he got all these ideas from, I'm not quite sure, but he did. He had them in abundance. He just sucked culture in and, um, and he wanted his children to be as culturally aware, and to try as many different things as we could. So, you know, he would, he would send us for piano lessons and things like that. 

 

And my two sisters both learned the piano and he tried to get me to go for piano lessons but football took over. And, yeah, he was an amazing driving force from that point of view. And he just fired you up and he had such great belief in his children. I was just daft enough to believe the things he told me. You can be world champion at this so everything I've ever tried in my life, I've wanted to be world champion at. I've never succeeded, but I don't think it's a bad ambition to have. You can't aim too high. He was ridiculously optimistic, but in a good way. Yeah. Yeah. 

 

James: 

It's quite enlightened, isn't it, to think that someone's been such a positive influence but with such an open mind for what’s quite a traditional background, but to have a really wide view of the world, of culture, of the arts and all that kind of thing. 

 

Tom: 

He did. Yeah. It's one question if I could go back and ask him is where he got all these ideas from, cause I didn't have them as a young man and where he got them all from, I don't know. Maybe there was a big influence in his life but I don't know who that was. And his early life is quite a mystery. It's a mystery really. You know. But I was also, as I mentioned to you, my elder brother Peter who passed away in 2014, the end of 2014. He was the heroic big brother that every kid dreams of having. And I think this often goes with first children as well. He was incredibly responsible. He was almost as if he, he acknowledged the responsibility he had as an example to his four younger, youngest siblings. 

 

But he just was a naturally gifted lad as well. He was academically brilliant. He was the school champion, at 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres and he could paint brilliantly. He was just, he was too much really. 

 

James:

A hard act to follow.

 

Tom:

Well exactly. And I was happy to walk in his shadow. I was five years younger than him. And it was great having this amazing, heroic, elder brother who was a genuinely likeable guy who everyone liked. And so again, I had this target that I would try and achieve whether I was trying to run as fast as him, be as good at sport as he was. But the art was probably the one that I, that he really is more responsible than anybody because he could draw, he could draw. 

 

He was the best artist in the school. And he could draw. And so I would copy his drawings and then later I would copy his paintings. We both shared interests in comics and things like that. As well as the drawings of the great masters. So I could be copying a drawing of the Hulk one minute. And then the next minute trying to draw something by Leonardo. Depending on what Peter was drawing at the time. So I was just his kid, I was his little shadow and so having this older brother was a great, you know, stroke of luck. And I guess that sets the template for how you grow up after that. 

 

Whereas Peter was very academic and went into academia. I was more on the technical side of things. And I tended to follow my technical interests as a career, but still always interested in art. And then the art came back to me in my mid twenties, really after a short period of probably running around trying to be a rock star, playing drums in a rock and roll band and then taking up squash when I became disillusioned with football.  And again, every time I was going to be world champion. I was going to be world champion, but you modify your targets as you go along. Yeah, I've had a go at quite a few different things, but the sculpture seems to be where I'm settled at now. Yeah. 

 

James: 

So was there a...obviously you've done lots of different things; drawing, painting. How have you kind of, did you naturally just get into sculpture? Was that something else you tried or was there a journey before you kind of realised that.

 

Tom: 

Well Dad was interested in sculpture and he himself went from being an engineer to...he went to teacher training college when he was 40. So there he was 40 years old with five kids and he said, I'm not going down the pit anymore. And he had a very understanding wife and somehow he managed to go to teacher's training college for two years and became a teacher and he taught art and craft, and all this time he was encouraging me to try different art and sculpture, slate carving, stone carving and things like that. So he'd done the groundwork and got my interest in sculpture. But then I got into engineering. Really I was either going to go to art college or study engineering and, uh, I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship, with a local company and got a five year apprenticeship as a Mechanical Technician, was the title. 

 

And after I served my time, I went contracting as a mechanical engineer draftsman, and did that. Most disciplines of mechanical engineering - one form or another - I've had a go at. Until I changed career, but the second career that came along, the sculpture was really was just a hobby that got out of control. It was a serious hobby where I was telling people it was my hobby. It wasn't really, I was really interested in this pretty seriously. 

 

Michelle: 

Trying to be the world champion. 

 

Tom: 

Yeah. I was trying to be world champion again. And so in my spare time, I was married by this time and in my spare time, evenings and weekends, I was just teaching myself how to sculpt. And it's amazing what you can do if you've got an understanding wife and if you don't watch television, you don't take holidays and you spend any free money you've got on fuelling your new hobby. So I spent a lot of hours. That was my own apprenticeship if you like. It's not the best way to do it, but it is a way to do it. Yeah. And if you really want to do it, you'll do it. 

 

Michelle: 

You’ll figure a way out.

 

Tom: 

You'll get in from work, have something to eat and don't sit down and just go and get on with it. You know, you don't stop until you go to bed. And when you're younger and you're full of ambition and you've got energy. It wasn't hard work. It was great fun. So as I mentioned earlier, the project that got me full time, if you're like into sculpture, was another local hero. I'm jumping around a little bit here, but I seem to have a collection of local heroes now, but the first local hero that I identified with and who I tried to produce in one form or another was, was a local legend Jackie Milburn and Jackie is an Ashington lad, played for Newcastle, England. And he's within the Newcastle United aficionados, he’s second to Shearer, you know, he's better known than anyone. 

 

But, I got involved with it because after he died, there was a statue went up in 1991 on Northumberland street. And I was just learning how to sculpt back then, or I was some way along the line, but I was still just textbook in hand. Then there was another statue of him went up in Ashington and that was the one I got a little bit involved in and I fancied my chances with that project. But I didn't get it for good reason. I didn't have the CV and I didn’t have the portfolio. So I decided there and then after the statue went elsewhere. I was going to do my own version of it anyway. And that was the one time my Dad disagreed with me and just said, you’re wasting your time son. Yeah, it's gone. Forget it. But I didn't listen to him and for once I'm pleased I didn't listen to him, because I ended up doing this big statue of my own that I've financed and made in fiberglass. 

 

And, it coincided in 1996 with an exhibition of Woodhorn Colliery museum. And they were having an exhibition of all the footballers who actually made it into the football association. And that had a connection with the Ashington area and there was about 96 of these guys, 90 odd people. And there was a big exhibition at Woodhorn, before Woodhorn was extended as it is today. And my dad knew the guy who was organising it, a local historian. And so this guy, Mike, got in touch with me and asked if I would have the statue ready. He’d heard I was doing this and I said, yeah, it'll be ready. So put it on display at Woodhorn. It was part of the exhibition. It was outside. It had a great summer. 

 

And then Sir John Hall who was the then Chairman at Newcastle, who's also from the Ashington area, he'd been made aware of the piece. He came out and he saw it, and he invited me to put it on display outside of St James's Park. On the corner where my Bobby Robson stands now. So that was out of nowhere and I’ve all of a sudden got this big eight foot statue. It's not a bad statue, you know, for a first off. It got a good, a very good review and this is pre-internet days, well it’s not pre-internet but 96, it's early days and it really became quite popular with the fans. Uh, it was there for two years and it came down when the West stand was extended and Sir John faithfully told me. It would get cast in bronze and go back up, but it never happened...so.

 

Michelle: 

Yet!

 

Tom: 

Yet, Yet. But there you go. So that statue being there from 96 to 98, in 2000 Middlesbrough football club contacted me when their local hero Wilf Mannion had died and Wilf was the golden boy as he was known and the best player ever to play for Middlesbrough and they wanted to commemorate Wilf for good reason. So I got this phone call and I couldn't believe it. So I ended up doing this statue for Wilf. The piece went up later on that year in 2000. And so I went from nowhere from hobbyist to being commissioned to do a big bronze for a major client. And so that was the start. It’s gone along okay since then, but it's not a great business. The monumental sculpture business you've gotta be doing something else really. These projects don't come along very often. So, I'm an accidental civic sculptor if you like. Not really accidental but... 

 

Michelle: 

You’re just trying to be the best.

 

Tom: 

Well, you can only try. There are loads of great sculptures out there. Plenty much better sculptors than me. You can only do your best, and you do what you see and you try your best. And, if you get a good review. If you get two good reviews for every bad review, that's not bad, you know? 

 

James: 

The thing also with art isn’t it, it's quite subjective? 

 

Tom: 

It is, it is. Absolutely. Yeah. It's very much so there's no right and wrong. Um, if you like something, you'll like it, if you don't. Um, I think the only thing I would say about public work is if, um, I don't mind if somebody walks up to my piece and said that's the biggest load of rubbish I've ever seen. It looks nothing like him and that's not him. You haven't captured him. I'm happy with that, right. I'd rather they liked it but I'd rather I get a reaction than somebody who walked straight past it and doesn't even look at it. Like that's the worst case. So I'd rather have the abuse than someone just completely, completely not even seeing it and not even walking past it. 

 

James: 

That makes sense.

 

Michelle: 

Any intention is a good intention.

 

Tom: 

It is but doing public figures is a thankless task cause you won't please everyone. It's impossible so one does one’s best. 

 

James: 

Yeah. And how did that then lead on to Sir Bobby and Shearer?

 

Tom: 

The Bobby Robson piece, it came after. The Shearer statue came along after Alan retired in 2007 and the then chairman Freddy had taken over from Sir John and Freddy decided he would commemorate Alan's achievements with a statue. So I went in to see and he got in contact and I went in to see Freddy and I persuaded Freddy to resurrect the Jackie Milburn statue and I would do them as a pair and it would be Alan running calling for the ball with Jackie running in as he was in the original pose of the original statue, as if he was about to pass the ball to Alan. And then therefore, metaphorically it was the handing of the mantle of the greatest scorer of the 1950s to the greatest goal scorer of the modern era, which was Alan when he broke Jackie's record. 

 

Both local lads, both number nines for Newcastle and England. And I thought it would make a great piece. It’s this interactive piece. And so the project started but then as fate would have it a few months after I was just getting started with it, the club was sold. And Freddy was no longer the chairman. And so I to start again with the new owners. And that took a while and then they  were still happy to do the project. But then things went sour when the club got relegated. And then there was the fallout between Alan and the club or the club and Alan depending on whose story. 

 

So they fell out and the project just basically got cancelled. Well, officially it was on hold, but it was cancelled. And so the years went by, nothing happened. I was still on good terms with the club. And in that period, I was commissioned to do a bust of Sir Bobby, which was done while he was still alive. And that one is in the players entrance of the Milburn, uh, stadium at the old Milburn entrance. And then later on after Bobby died, I was commissioned to do the big statue that's there now. And then in 2015, Freddy got in touch, Freddy Shepherd. 

 

So we're bouncing around here from chairman to chairman. Freddy got back in touch and said would like to finish the Shearer statue. He wasn't prepared to fund the Milburn statue for understandable reasons. It was the clubs project really. So, Freddy and Bruce Shepard, recommissioned their original commission and we finished off the Shearer statue and that's the one that went up in, uh, three years now. Yeah, 2016 I think it was. So I've still got the one that started it all...Jackie is still, is still there. He's still unfinished. And maybe that, maybe that's how it'll go. I don't know. But it would be nice one day. It would be nice to finish the Jackie Milburn statue, and have them as matched pairs as they were meant to be. Yeah. Um, so we'll see. Yeah. Yeah. 

 

Michelle: 

Whoever the new owner might be. 

 

Tom: 

A new owner, I would be, well, I'll be very interested in talking to them. Yeah. Hopefully. Hopefully they’re from Ashington and they know all about the Jackie Milburn story. 

 

James: 

We'll get them listening to the podcast and then...

 

Tom: 

Then the time will tell. 

 

Michelle:

Tag them in when we launch this. Okay. So you mentioned some other projects and you’re clearly somebody likes to keep interested in lots of things with fingers in different pies. What else are you up to?

 

Tom: 

Yeah I get typecast as a civic artist, as doing public sculptures, which is lovely to do. But, the pieces that get my juices flowing are more pop art type pieces. Pieces that are part of the modern culture. Icarus, which is that piece there. He's probably one of my oldest designs. I think I designed him nearly 30 years ago when I was working as an engineer for British Alcan. And I used to sneak off. We weren't very busy at the time. I would sneak off with a little sketch, tiny little scrap sketchpad and hide myself in the toilets or wherever I wouldn't be seen and sketched daft ideas like this. 

 

And this piece is, he's born out of my childhood and there's a sporting element to it. He could be a sprinter. There's the engineering side to it. There's the motorsport piece to it. And then there's a certain amount of comic book hero in him. And then there's also a certain amount of classical,  renaissance type features. So he's a real mix of all of my influences and he's dynamic. I always saw myself as fairly dynamic when I was a kid. I was, as I said, I was interested in sport and rock and roll and whatever, and I was never still for two minutes. 

 

So he's me. He's, Icarus represents, well the story of Icarus is obviously the boy who flew too close to the sun. This is the return of Icarus and it's a fantasy return of the man with a little bit more foresight and a bit of knowledge. He's got the crash helmet on this time. Just in case and instead of wax and feathers, he's got a proper V8 engine inside there and he's got the 8 cylinders coming out of his back. So he's ready for action, he's ready to go. So he's a fantasy revisit of an old themes. Yeah. 

 

Michelle:

Yeah. It’s really cool. 

 

James: 

How do you kind of start with something? For someone who's never done, I've never done sculpting. I mean, we did a bit of pottery at school.

 

Tom:

With a sketch. 

 

James:

What kind of, do you start with a different, so you’re starting with a sketch obviously, but do you try something in a different kind of medium. Are you using polystyrene? Are you using wood at all?

 

Tom: 

I would start with a sketch. Yup. Every one. Every one of those books is a sketch pad, right. So there's literally thousands of drawings there, right. So the idea starts in your head from what you've experienced, what you've seen. Uh, and then the best way to transfer that from the visual image in your head is onto a piece of paper. Um, and the thing about sculpture is you can't be impulsive. Very, very occasionally. I am impulsive, but usually it doesn't work. The best thing to do is to put a sketch in a sketchbook, then just leave it. Just leave it for days, weeks, months, sometimes years. And if it's still, if you still like it in three months, six months, the longer the better, and you go back to it, then there's a chance I might then make a model. So, for example, that piece there, that model over there is the original model that I did. 

 

It's all cracked and broken, but it's not that far off from what you've got now. So that I would make in the workshop. To build a piece, you've got to have a little bit of engineering and you're gonna make a skeleton out of something substantial. I use metal, some people use wood and then the clay goes on that. So it's a technical operation to make the thing strong enough to stand up to the clay and the weight of plaster that you're going to put on it. Um, so you would make a model or the sculptors call them maquettes, which is just French for model. And um, if you're happy with the model and that's a test bed, if you like, it's a 3D sketch. It's a little 3D sketch, then you would scale it up, maybe to an interim workshop type model, which would be bigger but represents the piece as it's going to be. And then from there you could go to whatever scale you're going to be. 

 

For example, that large piece that I showed you before. That becomes an engineering exercise of scaling up from a model about so big, about three foot, half life size model to what you've got out there, which is twice life size model. Um, and you've just got to, uh, you use a lot of engineering, which is handy given that I trained as an engineer. And that's how I scaled that one up. Nowadays we have, um, we have the benefit of 3D laser scanning and we have 3D laser printing, sorry, 3D stereolithography and all manner of 3D printing and big pieces can be CNC machined from big styrofoam, with polystyrene blocks. And you can get the rough figure done for you very, very quickly. It's expensive, but then you can finish the piece off. 

 

And then the bronze casting foundry will do the rest. So it is a great time to be a sculptor technically because of the advances that have been made in that area. But otherwise, making sculpture hasn't changed in thousands of years. You know, ultimately the pouring of bronze and the making of moulds is pretty similar to what it's always been. It's a very interesting subject, but it's very difficult to get it across to people, how many times do you go from positive to negative, positive to negative until you finally come up with a bronze. So I'll not bore you with that. Yeah. We'll have a little picture board of how that’s done. 

 

Michelle: 

It's fascinating. Yes. She says somebody who was asked specifically by her art teacher at school not to take Art GCSE. 

 

Tom: 

You were requested not to? 

 

Michelle: 

Yeah. the only subject I got…. 

 

Tom: 

You're not bitter... 

 

Michelle: 

No. the only ever subject I got detention in was art. My art teacher took my pencil off me. And started drawing himself so I threw a little bit of a wobbly. Yeah.

 

Tom: 

So Art wasn't for you? 

 

Michelle: 

Well no, I quite enjoyed it until Mr Plunkett ruined it. 

 

Tom: 

Right. Was it because of the art you were producing or because you were too disruptive? Now be honest. 

 

Michelle: 

No, it's like I've always been really, eh, autonomy is really important to me and I'll get there as long as I can find my own way there. If somebody is very prescriptive with me, micromanaging, I think, yeah. I don't do very well. So yeah. I'm not disruptive. I'm just stroppy.

 

Tom: 

Yeah, that's a good thing.

 

Michelle:  

But yeah. So yeah, he kind of stopped that, I suppose in me. It's everything now is, Mummy draw me a pig is like literally a stick figure pig. Horses and pigs and cows...

 

Tom:

Like a pig and an arrow.

 

Michelle:

...and a farmer next to it. Me and Pictionary it's always hilarious. Is it a conker? No it’s a helicopter. I think James is, James is fairly creative. 

 

James: 

Yeah. I liked drawing at school. I found I could do almost, um, I could replicate something and I quite liked drawing hands or certain objects. Painting if I tried to then paint something on top of that it ruined it. 

 

Tom: 

I've never bothered with painting. I mean there are just so many good painters around. Uh, it's something that I always thought I might have a go at but uh, I think if you can draw, you can paint. If you can draw, you can sculpt, right. There's no doubt about it. And learning how to draw is just copy you know. I copied my brother, copied comics, DaVinci drawings, anything I could see that interested me, I will try and copy it. And then once you can, once you can copy you then start thinking your own ideas and it becomes a rehearsal for actually creating your own images then. Yeah.

 

James: 

Yeah. Cause I suppose drawing Hulk or Spiderman is all very helpful cause the body is quite...the different muscle tones or the skeleton. 

 

Tom: 

I would never underestimate the likes of some of the great Marvel comic artists from the fifties and sixties. They were just astounding. you know. They knew art inside out. The fact that they were doing Spiderman, the Hulk, or Conan The Barbarian didn't matter. The way they were drawing them was just, it was compelling. Yeah. 

 

James: 

So when you, once you've made a model, do you, you mentioned with sketches, you'd leave a sketch to reflect on it. Would you do the same with your basic maquette? 

 

Tom: 

Only if there were, if it was a commission piece, the maquette is just an interim stage to make the big piece. If it's a work of my own, I'll make models. Yeah. Just to see if they look as good as what the sketch implies they might, yeah. And then they might get left. There are a few models that I've made that haven't gone into, uh, haven't developed into anything else. Um, so they are a good, and inexpensive on your time and inexpensive on materials to produce something that it'll tell you things that a sketch simply wouldn't. It's a 3D sketch and you can think, right, that's not gonna work. Uh, so I will, um, I will produce, but normally if I'm at the stage where I'm producing a maquette, it's a means to an end, to finish a bigger piece. Yeah.. Sometimes I'll go straight into a full size piece. Um, it's not a good idea, but it can be done. 

 

Michelle: 

Who buys stuff from you?

 

Tom: 

Not many people. I wish there were more, but um, that obviously the football clubs and corporations and people like that that I've done work for, speak for themselves. But you never know where you're going to find a client, shall we say I was in my local pub watching a band once again, a rock and roll band in Morpeth, and I got a tap on the shoulder and, uh, and this young man said, are you Tom Maley? I said, yeah I am. And, uh, who are you? I’m David. And David lived down the street from me when we were kids, five years younger than me. So I recognised him. We were family friends, his parents, my parents. 

 

And I knew David as a boy growing up. And I hadn't seen him since he was a teenager, really. But he was a fan of Robin on the roundabout at Pegswood. My mining tribute. And he said, look, I've always liked seeing Robin on the roundabout. Would you be interested in producing a small, desktop piece for it.  And I said, I'm just looking for an excuse. Yeah. So, 12 months later he's got his statue and I made five of them.  And, this is a few years ago now, three or four years ago. And I sold them word by word of mouth. So that was an example of someone liking it, seeking you out. And we're best friends now, David and I. He lives back in the area and he's worked all over the world and he lives back in Morpeth and I see him most weekends. He’s my client, he started as my client but we’re friends. We started out as friends and he's also got one of those, yeah. And so, I've got local clients. A handful. Last year, a year and a half ago, I finally broke into the American market. Um, in 2006, I took a huge gamble and took some sculpture over to Florida. 

 

And,I was invited and it was a big, it was a big sculpture event, near West Palm. And, I took Icarus there and a couple of other pieces and Icarus went down really well and there was a lot of interest in him. There was one gentleman in particular took an interest in him and then we swapped details and we'd go back and forwards and then it would go quiet and then I wouldn't hear from him. And then, um, two years ago he was back in touch and I finally sold him a piece of sculpture. So it took me 12 years from meeting him to actually selling him some sculpture. And now he's got four pieces. So that was, uh, that was, uh, an overnight sensation. My 12 year overnight sensation. 

 

So I'm persistent. I just, every year I would keep in touch with him and say, I'm doing this. So are you still, you know, you still interested? Let's keep in touch. And he did. He's, he's a nice fella. And one of the points I make to people is, one of my little sayings is talent is overrated, persistence is where it's at. And it’s so true because yeah, you need a little bit of talent, but actually there’s lots of talented people out there, lots of people who are magnificently talented. But you've got, you've got to persist, you've just got to persist. And even then you might not get anywhere, but without the persistence, the talent won't be enough. It just won't be enough. 

 

Michelle: 

Yeah its true yeah, I recently closed a bit of business from my psychology practice and that was like three years in the making. But yeah, you just have to keep having coffees...

 

Tom: 

You do. And I think the older you get, the time spans are relatively shorter. So that 12 years was, I could've done with making a sale earlier than that to be honest. 

 

Michelle: 

You’ve made 4.

 

Tom: 

Freddy came back to me after seven years. So it was only a seven year gestation period on that one. So, you know, I'm still working on one or two who I've sown seeds with in the last 10 years. Right. So you never know. But yeah, it's nice. It's nice. What I do enjoy about finding new clients. You usually end up friends with them, cause they like your work and people will only buy from you, not just because they like your work. They've got to like you and I know most businesses will say that. And sculpture is a business like anything else. If people don't like you, it doesn't matter how good your work is, they'll not buy it off you. Of if they don't trust you. They've got to trust you and like you. And then the work is actually the third, you know, the third most important thing.

 

Michelle: 

It’s like the know, like and trust thing that we're sort of, it's hammered into us in any kind of business programme. Yeah.. Yeah. That's great.

 

Tom: 

Well, I'm a likeable, trustworthy guy. Well, I've got to say that. 

 

Michelle:

Well, Teresa did send you our way. And we like her. 

 

Tom:

So there you go. Everyone likes Teresa. 

 

James: 

So we've talked about some of the other bits of work outside of some of the commissions. Like you mentioned the kiss project, we were chatting earlier. Where do you kind of get, um, inspiration or kind of those sparks? 

 

Tom: 

Well, the kiss. It’s 2 Dollars kissing or two swans stood on a foot. Whatever you see or two lovers kissing and they're symbolised by the 2 Dollars as a sign of wealth, health and happiness. I'm fascinated by all things American. I think America is just the most amazing country for good and bad reasons, but for me, mostly good reasons, right. Uh, it's still the greatest experiment on the face of the earth as a nation. Still a relatively young nation. They get a lot of things wrong and they get a lot of things right. And I'm just fascinated by American culture because most things seem to emanate from America. 

 

And the American dream to me is, um, it produces its own ideas, you know, in its own right. And they still, when you go out there, you still get that feeling of they are still pioneering. There are still people, you know, frontiersman if you like, metaphorically, if not, in reality. And they've got a great work ethic. There's no coincidence that they’re the biggest economy in the world and that they're the more successful country in the world cause they really go after it. They're really serious about this. And we can learn a lot from them. But actually I just enjoy the culture that comes out with the pop art culture in particular and there's some great British pop artists, but the majority of the pop artists are probably associated with America. 

 

So I watch their news, I watch what's coming out of America and I try and, uh, jot down things. It might be a word, might be a sentence, it might be a name of someone and then I'll try and weave something around it. The 2 Dollars idea is I’ve called it The Kiss. The Kiss is, um, it's a theme that artists for hundreds of years have explored from Rodin, the great sculptor. He did the beautiful marble of the two lovers embracing and that's probably one of the most famous kiss interpretations. There is Klimt, he's got the beautiful, um, golden couple embracing and it's just one of those themes that artists keep going back and um, and visiting. That piece over there on the wall, which you probably can't see very well, that was an earlier version of the kiss. 

 

So I've done three or four different pieces based on the theme of the kiss. That one’s first kiss, this one is just the kiss. And I was trying to come up with a catchy, a contrived acronym for kiss, as KISS in business is always Keep It Simple Stupid. It's just not a great...But there you go. And, I was was coming up with something like keep it stateside, which may sound very nationalistic or, but will appeal to, um, uh, shall we say, um, conservative traditional America. Right. Uh, so I think that piece, I think it'll be a marmite one. People will love it or hate it. I would say that my left wing friends, my arty rock and roll friends would all say that's nice, Tom, it's a monument of greed. That’s fair enough and then my, you know, uh, less left wing, more right of centre friends I feel like would say that's great. That's a monument of success. 

 

And they're seeing the same thing. Yeah. And I just think, and I think that's great because I've had that from a lot of people now and some people don't see anything at all. And I showed a photograph to a friend of mine, she's a good artist actually. And she said, Oh yeah, you've got two swans standing on one foot, putting the foot up. And she said, it's sort of got a 1930s, flapper feel about it, you know, 

 

Michelle:

It does it’s very Rennie Mackintosh.

 

Tom:

And she, in a breath, said everything that I was trying to weave in to the piece. I kissed her and I gave her a hug. I said, you've got no idea what that means to me. You know, and then I show it to other people and they say, yeah, it's 2 Dollars. What is it? 2 Dollars….or some people just don't see anything. 

 

What is it a heart? I don't know what, oh, it's 2 Dollars. Can't see it. Don't see it at all. And that's the beauty of art and that's...it will depend on a lot of things depending on the viewers experience, their likes, dislikes, prejudice, bias, things like that. Um, so there you go, you get the whole spectrum, but every now and then someone will hit it and go and they'll just tell you exactly what it is, almost to the word of what you want them to say. And that is the most satisfying feeling in the world. Cause you know, you know you're doing something right. Uh, cause it is, any artist working on their own will tell you, you're plowing a lone furrow and you've got nobody to bounce ideas off, you know? 

 

And um, so I do try and get feedback. And when you get really positive feedback like that, it's just, it's priceless. It really is. Yeah. 


 

James: 

And that’s the great thing about art isn't it that you see different things and you've got total extremes of opinion. It's a bit like Angel of the North. You've got those who are like, oh, we love this. It's embracing everyone when they get back to the north on the A1, and there's those who think it looks like a crashed airplane. 

 

Tom: 

It's iconic and you get the full spectrum. And the thing about the Angel of the North, when the angel first went up, it only had about a 50% approval rating. But now I think if you ask people the approval rating will be much, much higher cause people accept….most people are resistant to change. Um, and most people just don't want anything there. So you are up against that. So once it's in there and it's like, it's always been there, um, you'll find the approval, the approval ratings of the Angel of the North will be sky high now. 

 

And that's because it's iconic. It evokes the northeast now when people are driving past that or if you've been away from the northeast a bit, like when you come back into Newcastle on the train and you see the Tyne Bridge, you get a buzz don’t you. I’m home. You do. It's that colour. It's the colour. Everything about it. The patina that it's got on the paint, the rivets, everything on it. It's just like home, you know, and the angel does the same. Um, I shouldn't worry too much about my pieces cause you get a lot of stick when you put public pieces. 

 

You've got to be thick skinned, you can't be sensitive. Um, and you get, you get slagged off for your work. But actually eventually people just accept them. And then they like them, even the people who really, really hate the pieces, right. Eventually they calm down and then they just get used to it and go, it's not actually that crap after all is it? And then they think about the person, you know, so it depends who you ask. If you go to Sunderland and ask people, what do you think of the Alan Shearer statue, you get a 95% disapproval rating because Sunderland/Newcastle. So it just depends who you ask. 

 

Michelle: 

So if you had to go back to 16, 17, 18 year old Tom, what advice would you give him? 

 

Tom: 

Hmm. it's a tricky question because in terms of life's failures, I tend to dismiss failures very quickly. I don't dwell on them. I don't sulk, it’s happens, just get on with it. So there will be lots of things when I was 16 and 17 and 18 thinking, yeah, wouldn't have done that. Wouldn't have done this, wouldn't have done that. But I tend not to have regrets cause there's nothing you can do about them. It's in the past. Um, if I could go back and this would be before...I would have to go back to before starting my apprenticeship. If I knew what I knew now that I was going to get into this sculpture, um, I would have apprenticed myself to one of the really, really big artists in the UK because I've read about few sculptors who have really done that and, and I could have learned so much more, so much quicker. Um, but that, that would be one thing I would definitely have done. 

 

Yeah. And, and I maybe wasn't brave enough then and I didn't fancy my chances, you know, for the kid who was going to be world champion. Maybe by that age, I was just starting to realise I wasn't going to be world champion. I wasn't ever going to challenge for the heavyweight title. And I wasn't going to be a professional footballer, wasn't going to be a professional squash player and I wasn't gonna play drums for the next, you know, the next great rock and roll band. Um, I was still crazy ambitious, but maybe I didn't know then that I would be so interested in sculpture. Um, and I would have accelerated the sculpture back then when I was 16, 17 and just gone for it. 

 

Michelle: 

Well you got there in the end though didn’t you?

 

Tom: 

Yeah. Well I'm not anywhere, I'm just chipping away. I'm learning all the time. And there are people out there whose sculpture just blows me away. I look at it and think, how on earth did they do that? You know, I see new stuff all the time, young sculptors and um, and I quite honestly couldn't compete with them in, in some of their disciplines. 

 

The only thing where I maybe can score is possibly through experience, through the lots of hats that I've worn, the lots of things I've had a go out and I try to roll them all into an original idea. And maybe that's the only thing that might give me, um, a fighting chance against these kids.

 

Michelle:  

We’ve just taken on an apprentice and yeah her IT skills are epic. Yeah. You know, for an 18 year old she's just, Oh good, love it. 

 

Tom: 

I love, I love to see it. You know, you love to see kids, um, you know, just, just flying. 

 

Michelle: 

Yeah. it's that kind of belief in themselves is really important. 

 

Tom: 

Yeah. Well it is so much. I mean, when you, when you're 16, 18, it's terrifying cause you know, as a young man, um, you know, coming up to 18 and I can go and drink in a bar and stand next to the men, and you've got to cut it and you've got to work and it's daunting when you're a kid. But it gets easier. So it's very rewarding when you see kids, um, doing so well at an early age as I don't know where they get it from. I mean, I was just chasing around, didn't have a clue what I wanted to do really. Trying all sorts of different things. Maybe focusing on one thing, but I don't know, I was trying to be the decathlete of the arts world. I’m showing my age here. The Daley Thompson of the arts world. 


 

Michelle: 

Yeah. Uh, well you have to try lots of things to find out what you like

 

Tom: 

Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. I wouldn't change it. You know, I spent too much time on the squash court, too much time behind a drum kit, too much time on football playing five-a-side and things like that. But I don't regret them. Even though I'm gonna need, I'll probably need a new hip, I'll need a hip operation in the next few years because of the amount of time of doing those things. But, uh, no, I wouldn't change any of that. Yeah. 

 

James: 

So we'll share some of the images of the different pieces we've talked about today. It’s worth having with the podcast isn’t it? And we’ll share your website link as well, but if anyone's interested to get in touch, what's the best way of doing that?

 

Tom: 

Um, well, I mean, there's my website, tommaley.com if they want to have a look at that and there’s contacts on there: tommaley(at)btinternet.com. I'm on Twitter, LinkedIn. I'm on Facebook. If anybody wants to come and see the workshop, you know, they'd be very welcome. Give me a message and they can come and have a look. 

 

Michelle: 

Wonderful

 

James: 

Great stuff. Thanks for joining us, it's been fascinating.

 

Tom: 

Yeah. It's a pleasure. I've enjoyed it. 

 

Michelle: 

Thank you. Good.

 

James: 

Thanks.