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Artist’s Biography

My first obsession in art was with graffiti writing in the Belfast scene from the late 90’s onwards. The aesthetics, the purism and the excitement of creating work out in the environment have informed and lead my practice since. After graduating with a B.A. in Fine Art and History of Art from Newcastle University in 2009 I headed for the Scottish Highlands to live off the land and create locally inspired art from what I could forage from my surroundings. This has led to a love of deer skin parchment as my favourite foraged material and that has fostered a deep appreciation of the early Christian Pictish culture of the Highlands and recognition of its connection to the Irish school of illumination. The graphic letter styles of my earlier graffiti art are helping me to unlock the potential of my parchment to engage with the rich visual culture of the Insular Manuscripts. 

 

 

Artist’s statement

My work is an exploration of my physical and cultural relationship with the land using materials foraged from my surroundings and processes historically grounded in the space I inhabit. The birch tree provides sap in spring, edible leaves to midsummer with wood, bark and tar throughout the year as well as perennial mushrooms such as fomes fomentarius which was found in the possession of 4000 year old otzi the iceman and was still in recorded use in church rituals through to the 18th century in Ireland. The fire lighting capability of this tree and its associated fungi helped our ancestors to colonise Northern Europe. The roe deer is one of few animals never to be tamed that has also adapted to live alongside humans. I am fascinated by their ghost like ability to melt into shadows and thread their lives through our movements without detection. Historically their bones turn up mainly in ecclesiastical sites where they may have been preferred for their pious reputation. The creation of a piece begins with the acquisition of a deer carcass, usually as road kill which I then dismember for meat, sinews and skin. I make the skins into parchment using techniques unchanged since the time of the Celtic monasteries. To build up an image I distil tar from the bark of birch trees while smoking the skin with birch wood to give a range of browns using a technique I’ve invented, the natural qualities of the skin in conjunction with the smoke capture the essence of the birch woods and the deer’s place within it. The resulting work could be described as landscape painting or wildlife art but for me it is the physical result of a journey into nature, not as an observer but as a dependent participant. This path has drawn me into insular manuscript illumination and I am now finding my early career as a graffiti writer and my knowledge as a parchment maker useful in gaining an understanding of how to decipher this complex style and work with the temperamental materials of the early celtic scribes.

Current projects

National Library of Scotland manuscript Illumination commission. I'm creating an Insular manuscript illumination using traditional techniques mixed with graffiti styles as the two crafts are very similar on a deep level. Launching the piece in September at the Library but it's currently on display at Groam House Museum.

How to make an Insular Manuscript. Using archaeological evidence, research and experimentation I'm going to recreate the entire process of producing a manuscript under 8th century conditions. I'll be giving the George Bain Memorial Lecture for Groam House Museum on 27th September 2018 with my findings so far.

Parchment inkjet printing. As part of the Dark Mountain Collective I'm developing a technique to inkjet print onto parchment to create high quality ethically sound  prints in a bid to fund our ongoing and incressingly complex artistic endevours.

Previous projects and exhibitions

Dark Mountain Issue 12, Sanctum. I've been art editor and lead artist on this book which launched on the 9th December 2017. See celtic art section on website. The next part of the plan is to make ltd edition prints on parchment of the artwork in the book, so a few technical challenges there.

Illuminating Contemporary Insular Practice 2016, a Creative Scotland supported project to research and create illuminated manuscripts inspired by the work of George Bain in partnership with Groam House Museum. I created an exhbition, demonstrated traditional parchment making skills and delivered workshops to Avoch Primary School children.

Illuminated at Hebcelt 2016, working with An Lanntair I've been teaching illumination techniques to children.

An bealach-Songlines. 2016. Working with Glasgow School of Art and An Lanntair on the Outer Hebrides I produced a contemporary illuminated insular manuscript using local pigments and inspired by the Uig-Stornoway corridor.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-36846248

http://www.thomaskeyes.co.uk/neopictish.asp

Deer in Birch 2012-2015

I spent a couple of years perfecting ancient techniques including parchment making, buckskin tanning, birch tar distilling and more to create artwork entirely from its surroundings in the form of images of roe deer in birch woods made from deer hides and birch smoke and tar.

The Dark Mountain Project, regular contributor of art and writing.

http://www.dark-mountain.net/

Selected Exhibitions

Groam House Museum Summer Exhibition, June-August2016.

2 Degrees Festival, London, June 2015.

Parchment work displayed as part of a presentation by Charlotte Du Canne.

Inchmore Gallery Summer Exhibition, Inverness, August to October 2014.

A series of smoke on parchment pieces.

ONCA Exile Exhibition, Brighton, August to October 2014.

Images of Roe Deer in Birch Woods on Roe Deer skin.

Verges, Interview Room 11, Edinburgh, May 2014.

A video piece documenting the creation of an image of deer in birch woods created entirely from deerskin and birch smoke.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DCA_2VuSP4

Rewilding, at Xero, Kline and Coma, London, January 2014.

A video documenting the creation of a buckskin outfit from roadkill deer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvS4LQ_rLN4

MeetinZdonov, Zdonov, Czech Republic, Summer 2013.

A series of objects created from birch wood, bark and tar.

http://www.thomaskeyes.co.uk/birchart.asp

Moray Art Centre summer exhibition ‘Natural Selection’, 2013.

Harker's Wall, part of the Novocastellum Project Space 2007.

Providing graffiti under a pseudonym for Sculptor Andrew Burton 

http://sculptorvox.com/andrew-burton/

Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast. 2001-2005.

Graffiti

Bridge of Peace, Drogheda 2004.

Graffiti

Graffiti........................

Residencies and Awards

National Library of Scotlland Exam Commission 2018.

Creative Scotland Open Project Fund £5000 award. Support for my project Illuminating Contemporary Insular Practice. 2016

An Bealach Artist- first artist to be commissioned by Glasgow School of Art and An Lanntair to produce a piece for the Stornoway-Uig corridor. 2016

Resident artist, The Wild Project, August 2013, Zdonov, Czech Republic. Created work out of birch bark, organised and lead interactive performance journey into the landscape with wild plants, crafts, foraging and fire.

Newcastle University Academic Prize 2006/07 John Christie Prize for excellent overall performance.

 

 

Publications and media

Dark Mountian Issue 12, Sanctum, Art editor, lead artist and article contributor. 2017.

Featured artist BBC news http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-36846248 2016.

Article on the history of parchment and artwork for Techne, the 8th Dark Mountain Anthology, October 2015.

Featured Artist, Earthlines Magazine, Summer 2015.

Featured Artist, Dark Mountain Blog, The Fabric of this World by Charlotte Du Cann, May 2014.

Artwork featured in Transition Free Press, May 2014.

Article and artwork for the 5th Dark Mountain Anthology, an essay on the nature of the commons and a limited edition print to accompany the book, 2014.

Article and artwork for the 3rd Dark Mountain Anthology, an essay on the processes and experience of acquiring and using roe deer as food and art, 2012.

Article for the 2nd Dark Mountain Anthology, a recipe entirely foraged and grown from the Black Isle with descriptions and histories of the landscapes, plants, animals and processes involved, 2011.

Article for Mid Wales Permaculture Network (The Potential Role of Fine Art in the Transition Movement) 2010.

Graffiti advisor and contributor to ‘Bricks, the Book’, By Richard Burton, 2007.

Featured in ‘Peace, Love, Unity and Havin’ Fun’ , film on Irish hip-hop. 2006.

Featured in ‘When Art is a crime’ documentary for UTV, 2005.

 

Relevant Education and learning

Medieval pigment maker and instructor 2016.

Self-taught insular manuscript illuminator and instructor 2014-present.

Parchment making demonstrator, Cromarty Stables, 2014-present.

Foraging walk leader, 2014-present.

Self-taught parchmenter from road kill deer 2011

Environmental history course, Dingwall 2011

Native plant identification and uses, Poyntzfield Organic and Biodynamic Herb Nursery 2010-present

Community garden manager, Culbokie, 2009-2011

Degree BA 2.1 Fine Art and History of Art, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne 2009

BTEC Diploma in Art and Design, Castle Park Road, Bangor, Co. Down, BT20 4TD, Tel 029 91276600, Grade: Merit, 2004/05

A level art B, 2003/04

GCSE art A*2000/01                  

Graffiti writer and instructor 1999-present

Enhanced Disclosure 

Clean driving licence 

Contact and Social Media

thomaskeyesartist@gmail.com

http://www.thomaskeyes.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Forager-Artist/304203439785016

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