Abstract Expressionist painter Grace Hartigan once said that a work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle. Art Motif Magazine’s next featured artist, Tomás Mañón, knows the struggle all too well. Tomás is a mixed-race New Yorker. He is also a U.S. Marine Combat Veteran who has survived both war and homelessness. Today, however, Tomás defines himself primarily as a fine arts and hip hop artist. He is a skilled painter and a break dancer. Known also as “Atomik”, Tomás teaches dance, performs and competes through Full Circle Productions in New York City. His incredible ability to shift seamlessly between worlds—to be fluid, bend genres, and not gratuitiously subscribe to predetermined categories—has allowed him to create an artistic space of his own, one where he is able to brilliantly fuse hip hop and graffiti culture along with several other genres, styles, movements and disciplines into his artwork.
Take a look at our interview with Tomás to learn how, despite his ongoing inner struggles, he continues to reach deep within his very soul to draw forth the strength and motivation to continue painting, dancing and giving rise to important new creative forms.
What is essential to your work as an artist? The community of artists. Without it, to me, art is pointless. Art connects and affects us all. It is communication, so creating it is as important as sharing it. Looking at art, talking about it, and sharing it are integral to its continuity. Capturing the world around me through sketches is also important. It is a visual diary that helps me capture a time and the state of mind of the moment.
What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your art? The Dutch draughtsman, painter, and printmaker Rembrandt influenced me greatly, especially when he stated that all he needed to see from another artist to determine how great of a painter he was were his drawings. That propelled me into sketching prolifically as a kid.
How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? Being of mixed race and growing up in New York City, I didn’t belong anywhere. I was not accepted by ethnic groups who identified themselves as one race or another. I found myself and my identity through art, viewing myself as an evolving, creative human being with unlimited potential. Belonging to no group allowed me to accept all groups and to expand my mind by learning about other peoples and cultures.
How has your artistic practice changed over time? I was a fanatic about sketching in high school. In college, that slowed down. I lost my full scholarship in 2000 for reasons beyond my control and, as a result, I’ve never been the same as an artist. In the military, I did works for others but I was not happy. By 2006, I began doing live art shows with my brother and sister who are also artisits. To this day, I still do live art shows, especially every Tuesday evening in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at The Delancey. I have gone through so many changes in my life and that manifests itself as varying degrees of artistic motivation. I often feel like I am at war with the artist process—I give in and make art although most of the time I don’t want to do it. I make art because I don’t want to. I defy my feelings because I know I have an ability which I have worked hard to acquire and consider it a waste of effort and time to quit. I push myself and I always end up feeling surprised with the results, reaffirming my need to continue making art regardless of my personal protests. I often give myself projects and art assignments to continue pushing and directing myself.
Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? I began with portraits and find the process of making them to be very satisfying, knowing that my work may capture a part of the subject’s essence. I also have series projects that I want to work on soon. I like the fusion of graffiti and painting. I want to re-explore still-lives, landscapes, cityscapes, and portraitures.
Do you have a preferred genre/style/medium? I like the influences of Impressionist art and I like to work with acrylic paints. I like the non-toxicity and quick drying times which allow me to work in layers.
What inspires you? I am inspired by everything, by every place. I love music and nature so I like to work with music in the background. I like to work from home but, wherever I am, I can zone in and block out my surroundings. My mood is unimportant—I start off not wanting to work and always end up enjoying my work and the process. I am inspired by life, family, friends, God, and light. I love color theory and am amazed by the phenomenon of light. I also love design, graffiti, hip hop culture and science. Other artists inspire me, too.
What is your creative process? Before I begin working, there is stretching, yoga, meditation, and music. Being physically relaxed makes the process of creating easier and more fluid. I like to draw and from there the fire begins, the fire to paint.
Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your works? I’ve always had positive, supportive responses toward my work. Most people, I notice, determine a person’s skill by how realistic their artwork is. Except where it showcases an artist’s skill, I am bored by realism and its limitations. I like using colors that are not present from observation and creating unique color schemes like in Fauvism. I’ve had close folks tell me I can be more technically accurate but sometimes I care very little about form and enjoy the expressionistic aspects of a piece and the freedom it allows a lot more.
What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Draw all the time, draw everything, and draw everywhere. Paint even when you don’t feel up to it. Most of the time, one will never be happy with one’s work. Keep making art even when esteem and support is low. Keep making art.
Who are your favorite writers and/or poets? Caleb Carr, Musashi Miyamoto, and Rumi.
Who are your favorite painters? Rembrandt, Derain, and Vermeer.
Who are your favorite composers? Bach, Mozart, and Pachelbel.
Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? My family.
Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? Wolverine, Batman, Naruto.
What is your favorite motto? Always do your best; never give up.
What is your idea of happiness? Being true to oneself, being fully self-expressed, and being good to oneself and others.
To learn more about Tomás and purchase or see more of his work, click on the following links: