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Tomo Campbell: Dead Breaths I Living Breathe

The Central Saint Martins graduate on capturing the fluidity of ballet with his art

For All Saints’ first ever global campaign, an eclectic cast of up-and-coming talent has been selected from the very best in UK’s creative community. One cast member is Tomo Campbell, a fine art painter and Saint Martins graduate whose work combines traditional subject themes with abstract and figurative methods. The work contributed to the campaign comes from a series called 'Dead Breaths I Living Breathe'. We spoke to Tomo about dance, Degas and future projects…

Ballet seems to have become a big theme in my pictures over the last three years or so... I try to paint the moment before or after a position: the fluid space between each apex

Dazed Digital: The All Saints AW12 campaign focuses on a creative community. Who is your creative family, and do they influence your artistic endeavours?
Tomo Campbell:
I live in a pretty creative household – with the photographer/director Tom Beard and jewellery designer Dominic Jones. I wouldn't say that they directly influence my endeavours, but it's nice to be surrounded by people involved and succeeding in such things, and who understand you. 

DD: You have focused on dance – how do you work to capture kinetic movement?
Tomo Campbell:
Ballet seems to have become a big theme in my pictures over the last three years or so, but I don’t see it really as an attempt to capture movement – there are much more successful media than paint to do that. I try to paint the moment before or after a position: the fluid space between each apex. That's the interesting part for me – the parts that are missing or just alluded to. Anything concrete and too literal doesn't seem to hold my attention any longer than any billboard does.

DD: What initially motivated you to paint ballet scenes?
Tomo Campbell:
I'm not quite sure. It was the connotations of ballet that I was interested in at first. It was to do with the weightlessness and futile nature of all that striving for unachievable perfection. I suppose I saw a clear comparison with dance to artistic endeavour. You never really succeed, you can’t express everything in one image, so you paint another. 'Ever tried, ever failed.' (Beckett.)

DD: Painters like Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec also worked to capture dance. Do you relate to these painters? How is your work different?
Tomo Campbell: I can't not love them – the way Degas paints light is particularly inspiring – but although there are unavoidable comparisons, I'm not thinking about capturing dancers in the same way.

DD: Degas once said: ‘The artist must live alone.’ How would you respond to that?
Tomo Campbell: I
t was a different time then – nowadays you can't expect to get by like that, by being a hermit. You can be an artist/musician/writer but if no one gets to see it, what's the point? Now, if you aren't going to compete and vie for attention, unfortunately things get a lot harder.  

DD: Where do you see yourself progressing? What are your next steps?
Tomo Campbell:
That's a scary one! Tom Beard and I are currently working on an exhibition with the English National Ballet, of paintings and photographs of their performances. It should be different to the usual images associated with the ballet, we hope. They've been amazing to us. After that I’ve got an idea for a project I want to do that involves the National Trust, but they don't know about that yet…