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Thomas Doyle: mining the debris of memory

After graduating from art school, American artist Thomas Doyle realised his true passion lay in storytelling. For Doyle, his stories are told through the miniature worlds that he creates, moments from memories and history frozen under glass. One of the creatives taking part in ABSOLUT BLANK, the campaign which gives creatives a bottle on which to customise their individual design, we talk to Doyle about his fascination with zooming in on history, in all its exquisite detail.

Where did the idea of creating situations around the world on a small scale come from? Have you been following the same theme of work since you graduated?
I have always been interested in the miniature, and did what a lot of children do—played with action figures, made shoebox dioramas, ogled museum display cases. In school I studied painting and printmaking, but after I left I found myself a bit at sea. I got back into the swing by deciding to pursue the thing I wanted to do most as a child—make models and dioramas. I realised I really wanted to be telling stories, and this medium felt like a more natural fit for me than painting.

How long can one of your miniature scenes take to create?
The time it takes for me to create a scene depends on the size and complexity of the work I’m undertaking. The larger pieces may take hundreds of hours to finish, while the smaller ones not nearly as long. There are times when I begin something and realise from the outset I’m in for the long haul. 

Your creations have a cinematic quality, are the situations you create in your pieces influenced by literature or films?
I am interested in absurdity, in hubris falling apart, in things becoming contradictory and paradoxical. For my money there is no better source for that than history. I spend much of my reading time on the history of the 20th Century—particularly World War II—which finds its way into my work in refracted ways. I am not an avid film watcher, though the works do have a certain cinematic quality to them.

What is the relevance of the titles of your series? (Distillation/Bearings/Reclamations)
The works are organised into those three series: Distillation, Bearings, and Reclamations, which capture three of the main themes I’ve explored in this body of work. The Distillation series came about as I was thinking about childhood and memory; the way that events are magnified and distorted throughout a life to form a personality. As if you could “distill” a personality down to these singular events. The Bearings series centers on isolation and being adrift; in each piece a man in red is engulfed in a landscape, separated from others, or pitted against the natural world. The Reclamations series deals with the idea of romantic love and features works with two people, united or separated; often these are damaged situations the figures may be attempting to “reclaim.”

Is the presentation of the pieces within the glass containers particularly important to the aesthetic or atmosphere that you are trying to evoke?
The use of the glass containers—often domes—is key to some works, not as much to others. It is typically used to enclose the works and tends to “freeze time,” arresting the figures in the action they’re engaged in. The glass gives the figures their own spaces to inhabit, keeping them in while keeping us out.

How did you get involved with the ABSOLUT BLANK campaign?
I was contacted by TBWA\Chiat\Day, the agency that put together the ABSOLUT BLANK campaign. I was interested from the beginning, as Absolut has a long history of working with and supporting artists. I shared a few ideas with them—the only restriction being the bottle shape and the logo—and after we settled on one I ran with it.

Were there any of the other artists taking part that you were particularly impressed by?
I was fortunate to spend time with a number of the other artists while filming the television spot. With so many different media, approaches, and personalities, it was refreshing to get to talk to them about their experience not only with this project, but their other work as well. I liked the pieces by all of the artists, but I was probably most excited by Mario Wagner’s work for the campaign. Like his other work, it is vibrant, bold… and funny. A great combination.

See more of the ABSOLUT BLANK artists working on their bottles here

See more of Thomas Doyle's work here

Posted on
16 August 2011
By Chloe Spiby-Loh
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