We had the good fortune of connecting with Tosh Fomby and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tosh, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I have always been a creator in some capacity. It’s been a good fit for me. Whether I’m writing or painting, I’m at home with the creative process. The possibilities of delving into a new project is exciting. I remember making sock dolls and using shoe boxes for cars in elementary school. The imagination is a powerful thing and I tapped into that very early.
In sixth grade, I was transferring that into writing. My teacher was so encouraging. In high school, my mom enrolled me in private art and sewing lessons, where I was learning how to see by drawing from life, while also understanding the basics of making garments. You can say once I had that kind of encouragement, it was inevitable that I would head in toward a creative path. I definitely tried other career paths. The things that you put aside, you often veer back toward them. And I see art as both an escape and a way of confronting something I want to know more about.
Nothing has satisfied me more than to make something from nothing; to bring an idea to fruition.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My work tells a narrative through historical portraiture. It’s interesting because in the beginning, I drew portraits. I want to capture a creative interpretation of someone during a particular time. For my collection, I use both sketches and vintage photographs, primarily from the 1930s to 1970s. I think the 70s was such a cool time; the fashion, language and the social climate was sort of changing. It was also a pivotal time for me growing up and I was keenly aware of who had style. My mom sported an afro and so, I was even aware of what that symbolized because a whole in-home education came with that because, of course…well, that’s the only place it would come from. You know what I mean? So, when I am able to draw from experiences and sources such as that, the art comes from a place of pride, love and me trying to keep Black people in a prominent place.
Though, I couldn’t stop there. I went back to the 1930s after coming across vintage photos from that time. This is where I’m learning and researching the culture of America and our place in it. I want to revive these photos, breathe life to a story that’s been tucked away. These stories are sometimes emotional for me and if I’m looking a a photograph, I get to know them as much as I can with constant study of the image and trying to discover how this person may have lived.
Lately, I’ve found that I like the concept of illuminating these figure on large-scale canvases. No one will dismiss or not see them that way. You understand? These new discoveries are exciting, I can’t paint fast enough. I take such care with them.
I am, hopefully, moving in a direction that will take my work where I want it to go. The road isn’t easy but there is a road, at least. The important aspect of being an artist is to create opportunities, hone the craft and don’t be afraid of switching gears. It may well take that when you haven’t defined your artistic voice. What I want the world to know and understand about my work is I’m recording time. I simply want people to remember, reflect and value the culture we’ve carved out for ourselves despite everything.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First of all, I could probably use the trip around the city. There is a place I discovered recently in Dacula, called Fussell Cake Company that has the best rum pound cakes. We’d save that for evening snack. But I’ve yet to visit Slutty Vegan, so that would be on the agenda first. I love going to book readings. Terry McMillan, Diane McKinney Whetstone and an author I recently discovered, Jonathan Escoffery. So, let’s pretend all of these things are happening when Best Friend is here. This is absolutely what I would do. If there’s a comedy show in town with DL Hughley, Kat Williams, Sebastian Maniscalco, Melanie Comarcho, Dominique and Sommore, we would definitely go there. These are some of my favorite comedians. I enjoy being around cool and funny people.
The Civil Rights Museum downtown Atlanta is definitely worth visiting, Jimmy Carter Library and of course, take in the art at the High Museum. There’s always an artist of note well worth the visit. I had the opportunity to see Andy Warhol’s exhibit there and it was inspiring.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would definitely have to credit my mom with giving me the tools to explore. While she never understood it completely, she was my biggest fan. I still have drawings from high school that I was going to trash at one point and she insisted I hold onto them so that I’d see my progression. I used to have an instructors who definitely challenged me. Ray Shead was one of them. I learned how to be objective in looking at my own work and how repetition breeds a stronger product.
Another instructor, I don’t recall her last name but Nancy, from The Art Institute of Atlanta was a harsh critic and because she knew how to turn out the best portfolios from, I highly valued her input. She was sort of expressionless because she wasn’t easily impressed but when you were on point, you could breathe a little better. I would also say I’ve found other artists within the community to be supportive. Early on in my path, there was Aaron Henderson, who was sort of an informal mentor. I could call him anytime and he’d answer any questions I had.
I appreciate that I’m partnered with someone who I’m able to have an ongoing conversation with about my work. Eugene has encouraged me and that makes the creative process feel far less isolating. So, I’m able to share what’s ticking in my head about a project.
Even today, I’m constantly meeting other artists who support my work but we tend to do that amongst each other. I love when I’m able to do a show and connect with other creative minds.
Facebook: Tosh Fomby