We are delighted to be exhibiting the art of S.J.R Thomas, which semi autobiographically explores themes of identity to a backdrop of multicultural London.
Born in Newham, East London, S.J.R. Thomas’ work is influenced by the vernacular of his environment as a child to adolescence; sounds, colours and energy of multicultural high streets and the estates that continue to inform his work. Part love letter, part time machine, his subject matter ranges from sexuality, race and class, taking different forms of media, from screen prints to stencils.
Thomas describes his art as “… semi autobiographical. It’s almost like time travel where I use the influence of where I used to live in London to create my own visual language. Through using cues from my environment as a child (fast food shops, betting shops, council estates etc) I can use this to also address wider issues of class, race, and masculinity”.
Thomas explains his process and the impetus for each of the featured pieces in his own words.
This is part of a series of heraldic images called Stations of the Cross. It stems from my ongoing interest in how Britain perceived itself after the war, and the need for rapid housing development. Newham has heavily bombed during WWII. I grew up near system-built towers and estates but on recollection I was fascinated with the names of the housing that would often reference a pastoral aspect of Britain in the most brutalist areas. Traditional county council crests appearing on modernist estate maps and street signs create a juxtaposition of tradition and the forward thinking optimism of post-war Britain. The artwork captures the intimate relationships between ‘dangerous dogs’ and their usually young owners. For some an extension of their masculinity, for others a signifier of class. It also reflects the visual tropes of burglar alarms and security systems.
I have many literary and artistic influences, but Mark Wallinger and Eduardo Paolozzi are heroes of mine in the sense that they are adventurous in terms of working in different mediums. I would like to expand on my materials too.
Much of my work comes from an ongoing enquiry into fast food and how it shapes our identity. Fast food shops are the nexus point where issues of race, diet, and class meet, also how they exist within the socio-economic backgrounds of certain areas – high street chicken shops compared to premium ‘street food’ market stalls in trendier parts of a city, for example. At night the signage of fast food shops almost become like stained glass; beacons in the high street gloom. The abstracted symbols of kebabs and chickens become mini modernist artworks in their own right. We connect neon with American culture but I always think for us there’s something inherently ‘British’ about fading strip lighting behind an illuminated plastic shop sign.
Programmes like The Chicken Shop and Pengest Munch show how this culture has elevated in the nation’s conscience as entertainment, with the fast food shop becoming a community hub (with dwindling amounts of actual youth centres in communities around the country). They also take on a different dimension at night. The Home Office commissioned knife awareness campaigns on chicken takeaway boxes that backfired with the wrong type of media attention, but it did demonstrate the impression of violence that can also be associated with fast food shops – and certain demographics. The relationship between chicken and race is something that is also referenced in certain pieces of work. The pistols represent the slight, laughable sense of invincibility once inebriated but also an unease, a possibility that something no matter how small, could happen in the most inconsequential of settings.
The Black Series
This series of untitled works were created during the various Black Lives Matter events throughout 2020, although it also represented a slightly pessimistic view at the pace of change especially for people of colour. The images allude to life choices and options faced by by people of various backgrounds that inhabit busy cities, where class as well as colour, can be problematic. I like to use lots of geometric shapes in my work which reflect road signage and signage systems on council estates. There are also motifs that occur throughout my work, like boots and flat caps, that reference the romantic cliches of working class people.
Stay connected to Thomas’ work via his website: https://www.sjrthomas.com/ or follow on Instagram @sjr_thomas