Taking aim at the idea of the American Dream, US-based artist Thomas Doyle creates miniature scenes of destruction and mayhem, creating New England-style homes in states of apocalyptic disarray. Focusing on the fragility and transience of human life and our environments Doyle’s miniatures mark a noted renaissance in the art form, while creating a poignant question about our existence.
We speak to the artist to find out why the best things come in small packages.
DID YOU KNOW YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST?
No. As a child I was in love with making all kinds of things and tried to soak it all up like a sponge. For a stretch I thought I would be a scientist, then a journalist, then a teacher. In my early 20s I realised that making art was really what I was meant to do.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START WORKING IN MINIATURE?
I started working with miniature about ten years ago after a dry spell interrupted the painting and printmaking I had been active with. At that time I was casting around in the wilderness, trying to understand what would make sense for the types of ideas I was interested in. I had always loved miniatures as a child, building shoebox dollhouses for little figurines, assembling military models, playing with action figures, etc. As an adult it seemed that making work in miniature would slough off all of the “art” pretensions and tap into the thrill I found as a child with the medium.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE EFFECT FOR THE VIEWER OF THE SMALLER SCALE?
Viewers of miniature work encounter a strange push/pull in my experience. On one hand there is the omnipotence of standing above something so delicate; on the other the intimacy that comes from having to draw in so close to experience the works. When small-scale works are at their best this intimacy has the effect of transporting viewers into the world created by the piece.
HOW DOES THE SCALE RELATE TO THE THEMES IN YOUR WORK?
My pieces are often shot through with vulnerability and anxiety, and I find that the smaller scale plays well to these themes.
YOUR WORK OFTEN REFERENCES AMERICA AND THE IDEA OF THE AMERICAN DREAM. DO YOU THINK THAT THE IDEAS BEHIND YOUR PIECES EASILY CROSS OVER TO OTHER CULTURES?
I do. My work often incorporates the iconic American home, but the themes of loss, anxiety, fear, and isolation are global. Hopefully the works remain broad enough to transcend the American experience.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS INVOLVED IN CREATING YOUR WORK?
I typically begin with sketches where I try to capture an idea or vision I would ultimately like to create as a sculpture. From there I start from the ground up, fashioning the bases, the people, homes, landscaping, etc. The works are constructed from wood, wire, foam, papier-mâché, plaster, styrene, glass, oils, enamels, trash—you name it.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SPECIFIC SERIES YOU WORK ON – DISTILLATION, BEARINGS, RECLAMATIONS, PROXY?
The Bearings series was the first series I began and deals primarily with isolation and loss. The Reclamations series plays with the idea of romantic love between two people and perils that accompany that. The Distillation series considers the home, childhood, and domesticity as a setting for memory and psychological repercussions. Lastly, the Proxy series layers military occupation/operations overtop calm domestic settings to explore a liminal state where both exist in the same space.
TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU IMAGINE THE NARRATIVES BEHIND YOUR SCULPTURES?
I typically consider them as scenes that function almost as film stills. In most pieces there has been action that has just taken place, and action that is about to happen, but we are only privy to one small slice of it. As such, I tend to remain ambiguous about the narrative itself, leaving it to the viewer to tease out the story.
DREAM OR NO SMALL DREAMS IS SAID TO BE PART OF A LARGER RENAISSANCE OF INTEREST IN MINIATURES IN CONTEMPORARY ART. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR THIS RENAISSANCE?
There are many theories, but I imagine it is driven in part by the changes and anxieties that continue to define our age. Military, ecological, technological, and economic catastrophes typically push us to find a place of safety and security. A miniature world is one that is perpetually in stasis, controlled and buttressed against the chaos and change around us. Even miniature worlds that depict harrowing events are frozen in time, offering a quiet space of contemplation and escape from the larger world.
PEOPLE IN GENERAL SEEM TO ALWAYS BE FASCINATED WITH THINGS IN MINIATURE. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS?
I think the potential for escape from the world into a smaller one, as touched on above, drives the fascination.
DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE AWAY FROM MINIATURE SCULPTURES TO EXPLORE OTHER AREAS?
Yes, I think so. As my work has evolved over the past ten years it has encompassed larger pieces, photography, and other directions. I’m interested to see where it goes.
Dream No Small Dreams, curated by Bartholomew F. Bland will be at Ronchini Gallery London from 6 September to 5 October, ronchinigallery.com