Artist Interview: Thomas LaBadia

I am happy to announce the return of our Artist Interviews. The first series was popular with readers, I am certain the 2nd series will be too.

In this first interview of the new series I’d like to extend a warm welcome to American artist Thomas LaBadia. Tom’s paintings have mesmerised me and I was understandably thrilled that he agreed to be interviewed on the site. This in-depth interview is jam-packed with many of his beautiful artworks. Enjoy!

Nostradamus. 2018. Mixed Media: Acrylic Paint, Black/White Charcol over collage. Size: 24 x 20

Who are you and what do you do?
I am Thomas LaBadia, I am an art director, graphic/web designer and a mixed media artist.

Why do you do what you do?
I have been creative my entire life, so it was natural for me to pursue a career as a graphic designer. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to try more traditional ways of creating.  Although I was a digital artist for several years, I felt that I wanted to step away from the computer and work with my hands.

How do you work?
I find that working intuitively is what works best for me. I allow my paintings to be what they want to be. Although I often start out with an idea, or begin by following a lesson plan of some kind, I find that I am most successful when I allow the painting to guide me.

King For A Day. 2018. Mixed Media: Acrylic Paint, charcoal and Pastel pencil. Size: 18 x 20

What’s your background?
I have been a graphic artist for over 20 years and I have lived in South Florida for almost 30 years. Prior to that I was a hairdresser and a salon owner in a small upstate NY town.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Authenticity to me is necessary if an artist wants to create work that is original and personal. Although I think it is also important to study the work of other artists, I think the goal is to use what you learn in your own unique way and not to copy someone else’s style or identity.

What role does the artist have in society?
I think that most things in life include art in some way. I think a visual artist can connect people who would otherwise be disconnected, and connection is always a positive thing.

The Truth is a Beautiful Thing. 2017. Mixed Media: Collage, Colored Pencil, Acrylic Ink, Pen. Size: 20 x 20

What has been a seminal experience?
A few months ago I was at a local gallery where I ran in to an artist I had taken private lessons with for several months. He is a highly skilled portrait artist and his work is very photorealistic. Although it was never my intention to create photorealistic portraits, I have always admired his amazing technical skills. As we were both staring at an extremely expressive, technically ‘off’ portrait that was the furthest thing from photorealistic, he turned to me and said “I wish I could paint like that, but when I try I just can’t stop myself from going back and ‘fixing everything. I just can’t do it and wish I could.”

It was then I realized that being able to work expressively was also a skill and that creating picture perfect portraits was maybe not as important to me as it once was.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Acrylic. Size: 10 x 12

Explain what you do in 100 words
At the present time I am working exclusively on mixed media portraits, mostly of men with beards. Although I work in a variety of mediums, I am mostly starting my portraits in acrylic and finishing them in charcoal or pastel pencil.

How has your practice changed over time
Although I painted often as a child, as an adult it was like starting over. There is so much to learn when you are just starting out. Not only are you missing the technical skills you need to accomplish what you want, you are also learning how to use art supplies properly at the same time. When I first reintroduced art practice to my life, I was not focused and had no direction whatsoever. I was easily intoxicated by the next great class or art supply I wanted to master and as a result I did not grow as fast as I have this last year when I decided to focus exclusively on portraits. I think artists tend to be easily distracted (I know I am.) I would say that is what has changed the most, forcing myself to stay focused on one thing at a time and avoiding distractions.

I also tend to use rather subdued colors now. In the beginning I was really into super bright colors. I don’t find that I do much of that any more.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Acrylic Paint. Size: 20 x 20

What art do you most identify with?
For sure it would be expressive portraits. I love everything about them.

What work do you most enjoy doing?
I love painting men with beards. I think what I love most about beards is how they can transform the look of someone’s face. There are so many styles and shapes that give the face an added dimension.

What themes do you pursue?
Men with beards. 

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Mixed Media: White/Black Gesso, Acrylic and Charcoal. Size: 15 x 20

What’s your favourite art work?
I love any of Andrew Salgado’s portraits. His work is so unique and so expressive.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
Last year I went on a mini-vacation to New Orleans. Although I met friends and we spent a couple of days together, I had a few days by myself to explore. I spent that time in the French Quarter exploring many of the amazing galleries and meeting artists. Although I was already familiar with the work of David Harouni, seeing it in person really inspired me. I think it is impossible to really experience art the same way on a computer screen. I know that even with my own work, I find it impossible to take photos that show off the color and texture as one might experience the piece in person.

When I got to meet David and see his work in person, I was mesmerized by his use of texture, color and the SIZE of his paintings. My appreciation of his work quadrupled just by walking into his gallery and seeing his work in person.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Charcoal Drawing. Size: 18 x 20

Why art?
For me art is like eating and breathing. When I am not working on art I am thinking about working on art. It is just a part of who I am and always has been for as long as I can remember.

What is an artistic outlook on life?
I feel like being an artist is a gigantic gift that I greatly appreciate. Seeing life through the eyes of an artist is almost indescribable because you see so many things that other people don’t ever notice. The way the light shines on something, the textures in nature, how two unrelated objects look together. The possibilities are endless, and art is a part of every moment of every day in some way.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Mixed Media: Acrylic Ink, Black/White Charcoal. Size: 10 x 12

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I recently worked on a piece that was not very well received at home. As you know art is so subjective and while I don’t anticipate everyone falling in love with everything I do, there are pieces that I personally like more then others. Although I loved the piece I am speaking of, I almost didn’t share it because of the extreme negative reaction it received at home. I decided that I would risk sharing it anyway and it was the first time I had four different people approach me, asking if they could buy it. At this point I don’t really sell my art, but it did open me up to the possibility that one day perhaps I might consider it.

The Forgotten Superheroes. 2018. Mixed Media: Collage, White/Black Gesso, Colored Pencil, Acrylic Ink. Size: 20 x 20

Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I am probably the wrong one to ask. I LOVE being alone. I am happiest when I am in my home, playing music and working on art. I don’t ever want it to end.

What do you dislike about the art world?
I can’t think of anything I don’t like, but I am not actively involved in the art world. I have a few close friends who are artists and I like the online communities I participate in, but other then visiting galleries, I can’t say the art world is a part of my daily life.

What do you dislike about your work?
I wish I could be more accurate and that I could be more successful with hands.

What do you like about your work?
I like that my work has a style of its own that people seem to recognize right away.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Mixed Media: Acrylic and Pastel Pencil. Size: 20 x 24

Should art be funded?

What role does arts funding have?
They say that children who participate in art are 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than those who don’t and that early exposure to the arts sharpen minds and creativity. For this reason alone, it is important to fund the arts.

What research to you do?
Other then researching reference photos as a starting point and attending online workshops to learn the ‘how’ part of how to achieve a painting, I can’t say I do a ton of research.

What is your dream project?
The one that I am working on at the moment.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
I would rather be known for my own style, than to be compared to someone else.

Untitled: Portrait Study. 2018. Mixed Media: Acrylic and Pastel Pencil. Size: 20 x 24

Favourite or most inspirational place
Asheville, North Carolina where I hope to one day retire and live.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I have always loved this quote by Ira Glass. When I first read it, it really resonated with me.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Professionally, what’s your goal?
I am very lucky. I have already achieved my professional goals. I love being an art director and can’t imagine every wanting to do anything else. My paintings I do for myself and have never had an interest in doing things to sell. Although lately I have realized that I may need to sell my work, just to make room in the house. It is starting to take up a lot of room that I don’t have 😊

What wouldn’t you do without?
Art – of course and maybe coffee. 😊

If you’d like to connect with Thomas to see more of his inspirational work you can reach him via his Facebook Profile.

Shaun Tan – Featured Artist

Australian artist Shaun Tan’s landscape painting created from objects found at the site.