Collage artist Tom Cocotos recently got together with Peggy Roalf of Design Arts Daily
to discuss his life in New York, unique style, impressive studio, and much more. Check out their interview and some examples of Tom's work.
Q: As you are originally from Leonia, New Jersey what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York City?
A: The great city’s sensory overload is always exciting and energizing—it commands one to work hard. But the underrated or less-trademarked treasures with their quality unsurpassed are what sing our town: Dave’s Brisket House in Bed-Stuy, the New York Public Library’s picture collection, Pizza Supreme across from Penn Station, and the Writer’s Foundry MFA program at St. Joseph’s College. New York also houses an eclectic and frequently eccentric combination of humanity; I recently played a pickup volleyball game alongside a bird paleontologist, a musical director of the symphony, and a taxi driver—imagine those perspectives and teamwork all on a single court! Some of the things I still miss: the restaurant Florent, the unadorned, dilapidated, derelict High Line, Julian’s billiards on fourteenth, the St. Mark’s Cinema, and the Empire Roller Skating Center in Crown Heights.
Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus on the computer?
I find a sketchbook is essential to keep the gears oiled. A pocket sketchbook makes it possible to vary scale, going from 4 x 6 inches, often drawn on the street or in transit and then translating that to ever larger scales, with some works in the studio reaching 12 x 8 feet. To work while traveling about in our mass transit is one of New York’s great luxuries; our amazing subway is among the best transit studios on earth. The system persuades an artist to always keep paper, pencil, glue stick, and magazine at the ready.
I keep many small sketchbooks, each devoted to a very specific subject: there are bee sketchbooks, books of portraits—for a while I was doing hundreds of studies of the wonderful NYC poet Marie Ponsot and Warhol Superstar Ultra Violet— and then a book full of machines focusing mainly on backhoes. Like many artists I’m probably obsessive, but steady practice requires some kind of excess. There are also larger books that house drawings, ideas, poems, and technical information about materials. My work nowadays involves many mediums, but somehow I can’t shake my affinity for the tactile quality of paper—its tear, scrape, and gouge.
Q: What do you like best about your workspace?
A: A set of moveable walls and of course, music—the great stimulator! In my workspace a pair of salvaged stereo speakers from a boombox hang and would be at the top of any workspace list. I bought the parts years ago for my first studio on West 12th
Street, and their sound has followed me through to about twenty different locations. The system is combined with a tuner and woofer speaker, both found in the trash. It sounds great and will hook up to most any electronic device with a headphone jack.
Q: Do you think it needs improvement? If so, what would you change?
A: Many artists I have spoken to say their studios can use improvement, so that makes me think it is a perpetual quest and that the perfect workspace may be a fantasy. It seems to me that it’s important to try and get comfortable working wherever you are. But if pressed, because of the music, I’d opt for really good soundproofing!
Q: How do you organize an assignment before you start drawing? Do you make lists and thumbnails?
A: Different people classify fine art in different ways but for my practice the fine art develops its own rhythm and complexion over time and through repetition as a series. And while commissioned or illustrative work often depends on a series as well, it is essential for me to read over the material many times or study the ideas of others as soon as I get an assignment, so I have as much time as possible for that information to percolate in my head. Eventually when the time feels right I’ll start brainstorming through sketches.
Q: How do you know when the art is finished?
A: Whenever that which is now being added or changed begins to make the piece worse.
To read the rest of Peggy's interview with Tom Cocotos click HERE
“Spring Swing,” center and right: “Dinosaur Gas” and “Salted Birds” both for National Geographic Children’s Books, art direction by Kathryn Robbins