"Art, when done well, should have you asking more questions than feeling like someone just handed you the answers."
Tm Gratkowski was born in Chicago, Illinois. The second generation born in the US from a mixed European background, mainly Polish. He grew up surrounded by art and music, something both his parents explored in their own lives. Although he spent a lot of time visiting Science, History, and Art museums as a kid, he primarily spent a lot of time playing hockey with dreams of playing in the NHL. He is currently an artist living and working in Los Angeles, California.
Tm Gratkowski received a BS and a BFA from UW. After attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he attended the Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, Austria and then received an MA from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI_Arc). His work has been featured in numerous museums and gallery exhibitions and can be found exhibited in most major art fairs throughout the US and Europe.
Since moving his studio practice to Los Angeles full- time in 2008, Tm has been exhibiting continuously and has produced several major gallery shows and museum exhibitions. He is currently working on plans for his first solo museum exhibitions which will open sometime in 2020/21 in Los Angeles, CA. His work has been featured in several catalogues, magazine articles, interviews, and online publications including Artillery Magazine, Pulse Magazine, Art Ltd, and Art Voices Magazine among others. His work is in many important private and corporate collections in the US including Smashbox Studios in Culver City and Loyola Marymount University School of Law in Los Angeles. As a point to evolve and push his work and ideas further, Tm is currently preparing work on “One Mile,” the first continuous, uninterrupted, mile-long collage.
Tm Gratkowski’s works of art gives us a friendly reminder that life is a fair combination of different paths. Where what sometimes arrives is not, and what is there it’s already late. But it doesn't matter, it really does not matter because in the end, it’s all a big mix, everything comes together, everything is intertwined. Just like you and just like me. Go on, take a moment before his mysterious, yet restless art -art that simply liberates us from so many ties and offers us the ability of being able to feel without regrets.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. The word art can have such a vague definition. The first “art” I can recall making is from a coloring book my mom saved when I was only 4 years old. Not that unique to most kids at that age, but it was very unintentionally expressive and experimental. About the same age, I recall making an assemblage sort of drawing out of tongue depressors that looked like a house with a fence. I do not have a photo of that, but I do recall sitting on the floor with my grandmother and she said I was making something very nice - like art. I think she also said maybe one day I will become and artist or an architect, in the end she was right about both.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Wow, that is a loaded question! Everything... money, relationships, careers, jobs, time, etc. Keep in mind, this is what I believe in and I get more from art than any of those other things I’ve sacrificed – the sacrifices are high, but the rewards are higher.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. My education and early works are rooted in painting and drawing. There was a series of mostly mixed-media pieces I was working on just after graduate school that usually had paper collaged into them, but mostly paint and other materials. Each piece was on those small ubiquitous lunch bags we often took our lunches to school. As the series was evolving, I started using less and less random materials and more paper until, at some point, I was only using paper. It wasn’t that I discovered collage, it was that I found that I could achieve the same and more with just using paper than all those other materials combined - the paper was loaded with information and a history that paint did not have. It was a major moment and I never looked back.
My professional practice as an artist is now based on using paper as the primary material to create collage-based works, installations, and sculptures. My artwork is a form of visual data gathering as I align the act of looking with that of reading by using paper, images, and text to create a critical visual narrative about the culture of information we are all surrounded by. The artworks themselves are densely layered to construct a surface rich in patterns, images, and text. The main focus of my studio practice is to push the boundaries of traditional collage into an almost conceptual collage practice by manipulating the products of paper to beguile everyday media-saturated information. In the end, I’m always experimenting with ideas surrounding image-as-text and text-as-image and paper is always at the center of this.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. My biggest influences?... Almost everything and anything. I’m interested in science and the ways things work, sociology, words, images and music (the Blues, Jazz, sampling/ mash-ups) to name just a few.
I find inspiration everywhere and I try to look for it in places others are not looking. Finding influences in some of the most random things is really more about the way you see, feel, hear, and taste the world you live in and the adventurous way you keep looking when nothing is there.
On a basic art-centric answer, I’m interested in Kurt Schwitters, Rauschenberg…And people like Mark Bradford, Kara Walker.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. I don’t believe arts role is to say anything - it is not a lesson or a lecture. My interest in art or its subject matter is to ask questions. I hope the viewer will walk away with many questions - this will lead them to answer things for themselves.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. In my case it can be. Making art is a solitary existence when you are creating. It’s a way of thinking and that is something most of us do alone. I feel there is a moment when you are creating anything when you have to be silent, you have to be still and look and listen and really concentrate to work out a series of problems you’ve created in the process. The art happens when you work those problems out.
To counteract that time when your isolation can be stifling is when you have to get out and meet with friends for dinner and drinks or, as I often do, invite people to my studio to talk about the work. It helps you get feedback and helps to get out of your myopic point of view about what you are thinking about and looking at. That outside point of view, I believe, is critical to making the best art you can make.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. Spending time with family and friends, reading, watching documentaries and movies, listening to music, and spending time with my dog Ziggy.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Art, when done well, will move almost anyone in some way (good or bad). You will have shaken something hidden in someone or even thrown them off their perch, but you will have done something to affect some kind of initial change or reaction (good or bad). So don’t waste it on some trite moment, work to your best greatness and make all heads turn your way.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success is a relative term. To succeed, means you continue to fail regardless of the outcome and no matter what is in front of you, you keep going. That too, I believe, is as close to describing the life necessary to be an artist.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. “Whatever you choose to do, just be happy” - my dad.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Run as fast as you can in the direction no one else is going. Only then will you have a more interesting story to tell.