Q&A With Alum Tommy Coleman

Spotlight Date: 
September 29, 2016
Tommy Coleman
Visual Arts alumnus Tommy Coleman graduated from Dreyfoos in 2005. Since then, he has completed his BFA at Cooper Union, and recently his Masters at Yale, with a focus in sculpture. He has spent time teaching and working with students at Oxbow Summer School, Sarah Lawrence, and Cooper Union. Currently, his work is featured at the Atlanta Contemporary as part of the Atlanta Biennial, an exhibition that focuses on work by artists from the Southern United States. 
 
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos teacher? 
 
A: My favorite teacher and probably one of the most inspiring forces in my young life has to be Marsha Christo. Peter Stodalak is a close second (even though I never took a photo class).
 
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos? 
 
A: Other than puberty and texting, I'd have to say that the most profound change was realizing that my commitment to art and art making was more than just a hobby, or something I was 'good' at. For me art making is the way I communicate with the world. 
 
Q: What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree? 
 
A: Pursuing a graduate degree was a process of focusing my time and energy into my artistic practice. I needed time for myself to figure out what I wanted out of my art, and to test myself as an individual. It gave me the chance to be isolated, working in a studio, and not having to be embedded in the daily life I had previously been living in New York.
 
Q: Most recently, your work was in the Atlanta Biennial. Tell us a little about this, how your work was chosen, what that experience was like.
 
A: The Atlanta Biennial began in 1984, it was organized as a reaction to the creation of The Whitney Biennial. This new incarnation of the Atlanta Biennial was organized by four curators including Daniel Fuller who is the curator of The Atlanta Contemporary, the museum where the exhibition is on display. My work was seen at the Armory Art Fair in New York by independent curator Aaron Levi Garvey, one of the three curators of the exhibition. Aaron began following my work and getting in contact with me once he realized we were both from Florida - he currently resides in Jacksonville, he and his wife Stevie host a residency program there called Long Road Projects. 
 
Being selected for the exhibition was a process of discussions, and navigating what being an Artist from the South meant to me. It was really enriching to find a sense of community amongst Artists I had only ever heard about, knew loosely through friends, or had never gotten to meet. It's a very incredible opportunity to be able to take part in such a thing - I was invited out for one week to live at the museum in an apartment they have on site and create an installation in the museum. It was a very challenging process, that I was able to complete with the assistance of an Artist who is also a Dreyfoos Alum from the Theatre Department, Laura O'Connor.
 
Q: What is your day-to-day like as a working artist? 
 
A: Every day is different as an Artist. I tend to draw at least once a day; it helps me work through ideas and it kind of acts as a diary for me. I continuously write too, keeping a collection of notes on my phone and in a sketchbook, these notes sometimes make their way into my drawings, videos, scripts, and sculptures later on. Another part of my daily routine is continuously preparing myself for one application after another; being an artist means always putting yourself out there with applications.  
 
Q: What have been some of your favorite experiences, projects you have worked on, or openings you have been a part of? 
 
A: The opening at the Atlanta Contemporary was probably one of my fondest moments. It was the first time in a long time that both my parents were able to attend an opening of mine and see what my world was like. Those kinds of moments are really important to me; explaining what you do as an Artist is never an easy task (whether it's to your family or friends), but when you're able to show it, and put your family in the middle of it - it feels much better. 
 
Outside of this experience I think one moment of growth I've experienced was creating a public sculpture at Artpark in Buffalo, New York. It was really exciting to be dropped into a place for a few weeks with a handful of other Artists and work incredibly hard to create a project with the assistance of people from the community. It was a very generous experience, and it made me realize what it takes to accomplish manifesting an idea. 
 
Q: What is your next project? 
 
A: I'm currently figuring that out, I'm in the position where I've started doing a few projects at once. I was just invited to do a residency and guest critic/lecturer position at The University of Barcelona in Spain starting in January 2017. The project I'm planning there involves utilizing Ballet and Modern dancers to interpret physical/spatial directions and conversations as dance movements, then performing these dances for writers to reinterpret as text/dialogues. Right now, the planning is in its beginning stages, but I'm very excited about it. While I'm doing this I'm currently working on drawings for a collaborative book that I'm producing with fellow Dreyfoos Alum Brendan Sullivan, and I'm trying to plan a short film that I'd like to shoot on Peanut Island in the near future.
 
Q: You have spent time teaching at various institutions. Why do you think it is important to teach younger generations of artists? 
 
A: Education is really important to me, I believe teaching is actually a two way street. Age of the students aside, you may be the professor, but you're never done learning. Teachers should learn from their students as much as they teach their students. I began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College at the age of 22, and I always remember that some of the best lessons that I ever learned came from Marsha Christo's classroom. They didn't always come straight from her; they came from my classmates and her willingness to facilitate a learning environment. I think it's important to show students that pedagogy is just the environment we create in order to exchange ideas. 
 
Besides, once a student is out of your institution or classroom, they become your peer; good teachers realize that. I feel like that that's a pretty miraculous evolution, that's what I love about teaching. 
 
Q: What recommendations do you have for our current DSOA students? 
 
A: I remember when I was a student, people (peers, friends, random individuals) that would say things like "You can't be an Artist. How are you going to make money? What're you going to do with your life?" 
 
And now that I'm (supposedly) an adult, I have to say you can always be an Artist - an Artist is a lot things. 
 
As tacky as it sounds DSOA students need to know that they're the only ones in control of their futures - so make it what you want, but go slow and enjoy it. 
 
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos means to me”?
 
A: To me Dreyfoos is about finding your freedom as person and a creator.