Tom Shields

"I surround myself, both at home and in the studio, with things other people throw away. I am painfully aware of the quantity of “things” in the world, and the landfills that are overflowing with them, so I use the garbage as my lumber-yard. I collect wood furniture from the trash and let it pile up in my studio until it slowly starts to work itself into groups. In the course of a few weeks I constantly move and cluster chairs around my studio in different bunches. Once the groups get narrowed I start letting them talk. I have found that because I don’t work with an empty material, such as a lump of clay or a blank sheet of paper that the most important part of my process has become listening to what the material/objects are saying before I even touch them. The old chair in the corner is already telling a story. The wear on the front lower stretcher, the metal plate added in an attempt to repair it, the layers of upholstery hanging off, and the scratches in the old varnish all show evidence of the lives it literally supported. These damages show us the people who used it everyday to sit in while they worked, ate, relaxed, and lived. To me these stories and marks are what make the material so interesting. When I work with it I never really alter any chair, or change any story too much, I just rearrange their contexts. I tweak the way the different chairs overlap and support each other; I use all their disparate stories to tell my own.


These chairs are being used as a metaphor for people, and through that metaphor and their arrangements I am exploring the ways in which people interact. People and emotions are things that can never be predicted or controlled and for all we attempt to organize and structure these interactions they are filled with chaos and struggle. The ways in which I arrange the stories/chairs I cull from other people’s garbage reflect the complexities of the inter-personal systems we construct around ourselves everyday. Chairs built into chairs speak of dependence; a chair with legs held off the ground but held by another talks of support. Chairs clustered so tight that the intricacies become overwhelming explore the complexities of a group.


I have been a woodworker for more than fifteen years. I have spent this time exploring all the varying methods and techniques used to build with wood. Along the way I became so deeply involved with wood as a substance that it has become the unconscious core of how I express myself visually. When I want to communicate an idea I immediately tap into the techniques and forms that I have spent all this time learning. I make “furniture” not because I am a furniture-maker, but because these forms are my reflex vocabulary. This has led me to explore furniture not as an object, but rather, as a subject. I am not trying to re-invent the chair, make it more comfortable or establish a sleek new design for modern living. Instead, I hope to address the role that furniture plays in our lives and tweak that context as a means to investigate social connections."


Click on the pictures below to view larger images. 


Off Kilter

Held Up





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