The Beautiful, Chaotic and Rhythmic World of Tom Fath

by Lynette Charters Serembe

Thoughts on life, his art, and his upcoming show at Thomas Architecture Studios.

“He Multiplies the Fish and Hare,” oil, liquid acrylics and oil stick on paper, 14″ x 39″ – photo by David Hoekje
“Crossing the River Styx”
oil, liquid acrylics and oil
stick on paper, 30″ x 14″ – photo by David Hoekje

Tom Fath’s name is pronounced like faith (he says it is of German origin meaning ‘bridge builder’). He moved to Olympia fairly recently, but he is by no means new to fine art.

They say the path of an artist is a meandering one, and Fath’s is no exception. His artistic journey started with studying for his BA in Kenyon, Ohio. After graduating, his father advised him that the life of a fine artist might be difficult and suggested he work in advertising, the plan was to retire early and work on his art afterward. He heeded his father‘s advice and studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he earned a MS in Communications. For the majority of his career, he worked for Leo Burnett in Chicago as an executive creative director and eventually ran the creative for Southeast Asia based out of Burnett’s Hong Kong office. He painted throughout his career, and after retiring at 55, has devoted himself to his fine art practice.

He generously shared his journey and a large selection of work on canvas and paper, which all started coming together after his life had come apart with a divorce. To preserve his emotional and physical well-being, he found the only way he could deal with the situation was to walk away and leave everything. He describes himself at the time as “broken,” and he moved to Coupeville on Whidbey Island and became a gardener. While working, he salvaged wood from barns and began to make art with it. Reclaiming materials spoke to him, it mirrored his reclamation of himself, making new and good from old and discarded. Using natural materials in his gardening business and his art profession helped to ground him and show him a path forward.

Fath has achieved 27 years of recovery from drugs and alcohol. He says when he finishes a painting it gives him moments of clarity and a sense of being on the right path, creating good from chaos. Much like his life’s journey, his art explores fears and doubts while celebrating what life has to offer.

He works mostly large scale; he says he likes to give the piece space to grow and leaves plenty of room for the story to reveal itself. He does not add to or cut but develops the composition as he works; if he doesn’t like something he simply overpaints it. His colors are often bold but well balanced and he works with loose but decisive brushstrokes. What results is a frenetic and chaotic but beautiful dance-like composition, with a sometimes-incongruous juxtaposition of images, some are immediately apparent, and others take longer to reveal themselves. Like his own life adventure, it has twists and turns and plot changes as you look. The longer you look, the more you see.

He is influenced by David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Picasso, and De Chirico. He says he appreciates nature, geometry, mathematics, all combining to create a beautiful universe. All principles he employed in his time in advertising and still employs today in his art.

He has made two large pieces especially for his upcoming show at Thomas Architecture Studios. “Crossing the River Styx” and “He Multiplies the Fish and Hare.” Both large-scale, banner-like, and characteristically bold and allegorical. Make sure you see them and the rest of his works. You’re sure to be impressed.

Tom Fath in studio, photo by Lynette Charters Serembe

Fath was attracted to living in Olympia because it’s a supportive community. His other community revolves around his beautiful wife Maria and their son Rowan. “My wife is Greek. She celebrates life, love, and the arts. I’m a grateful man.” And Rowan…” he’s my inspiration.”

Tom Fath artworks

Aug. 18 – Sept. 30, opening reception 5:30 p.m. August 18

Thomas Architecture Studios, 525 Columbia St. SW, Olympia

HOW MUCH      
free event


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