[Editor’s Note: This article contains images of partial nudity]
After admiring their work online, I caught up with artist Tom Stockley / Tom תּוֹם Stockley, also known as T.S Idiot on Insta. They shared their insights, thoughts and some really epic pieces. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and read.
For the sake of our readers can you give us an intro into who T.S.Idiot (aka. Tom) is?
Hi! So T.S. Idiot was born out of the DIY punk/arts scenes of the South West, performing poems at gigs and exhibitions in places like Falmouth and Plymouth between 2015 – 2018.
It was a way of reclaiming my insecurities, a character to channel my early writing and performances as an outsider artist working things out as I went along.
In the last few years it’s become not only a stage and pen name I put to my work, but the way I express my queerness, my humour and a playful protest against the structures in life and art that frustrate me.
As Tom, I have less autonomy to do this but T.S. Idiot is a vehicle to be more outspoken, more visible. In practical terms, T.S. Idiot is the name I use when I’m writing, performing, protesting, playing and collaborating.
The name is a way of reclaiming the feelings of inadequacy I’ve felt as someone from a small town who struggled to define their queerness and their art as they navigate their way through the strange workings of the creative industry and the world in general.
What kind of poetry / spoken work do you write?
It can oscillate quite violently between sincere and deeply personal, to playfully flippant. I write about the sadness, silliness and small joys we find congealed in the cracks of everyday life.
This can range from mental health, social politics, queerness, sex and everything in between. That meeting place between high art and pop culture is important – my writing is just as influenced by Dr Seuss and The Chuckle Brothers as it is by Maya Angelou or David Wojnarowicz.
How do you find you’re able to voice your thoughts/concerns/passions through your work?
It’s taken a while to find some honesty in my voice. For a long time I wrote what I thought people wanted to hear, and struggled to find ways to allow my authentic self to come through.
I’ve sat with myself a lot this year, and I think that’s started to show through my writing. I’ve been able to think properly about what’s important to me, and learn to be patient as I research and develop those ideas.
That sense of patience is maybe one of the most important things I’ve learned recently – if you sit with ideas that truly come from a place of integrity and passion, and nurture them, the work will come.
For me that’s finding a sense of pride and autonomy in my identity and experience of a queer person struggling with their mental health, and as someone who cares deeply about the communities they work with.
If you’re writing about things you don’t feel connected to in a fundamental, deep-rooted way then the work is only going to go so far.
You also make visual artwork too, does this often coincide with your spoken word projects?
I think they’re often talking about the same things! For me it seems obvious that I’d explore the same ideas in as many different ways as possible, although it does make things complicated sometimes. It’s possibly one of the more positive aspects of having ADHD, but my first artistic love was collage and I see my whole practice through that lens – making, cutting, pasting, weaving. All art has layers and borrowed parts, whether it’s a DIY gig poster or a poetry zine.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want everyone to know that they are an artist! Creativity has a lot of institutional gatekeepers – art schools, galleries, theatres – and there’s a narrative that you can’t be a successful artist, until you’ve embedded yourself in these structures and learned their language.
But that’s bollocks! Everyone has the capacity to create something beautiful, to be impossibly silly and playful and sincere and to share what they make. From a personal place, I do want to be loved and understood when I share myself through my art, but I also want people to celebrate how I see life in all its complexities and difficulties and silliness.
As well as writing, spoken word, theatre, collage and digital, you also do a lot of community work. Can you tell us a bit more about that work?
So I’ve been working in that kind of area for around a decade now. I grew up around youth workers, teachers, nurses so it’s always been a part of my life. It seems like a cliche, but I honestly believe you get more back from that kind of work than you put in.
I wouldn’t be who I am, and making what I make, today without that wealth of experience and conversations with people from all walks of life. I started volunteering on creative youth work projects when I was 16, before taking on roles as a youth worker, care worker, community theatre producer and lots of other things in between.
I’m starting to be able to make my own projects and roles that combine my creativity and community focus – currently I’m working with a Bristol charity to write and perform some work about the history of the local area.
You host workshops and creative programmes for young and marginalised people – which we are of course a big fan of – how did you get involved with that?
Because, ultimately, that’s what I think art is for! There’s merits to art being pretty, or powerful, or making you think – but I don’t think it means much if we, as artists, aren’t using our skills to empower people around us.
A lot of my workshops and projects have a punk spirit – the idea that anyone can make, that we have a powerful collective voice. I’ve taken my experience of more formal work roles over the years and combined it with my practice to work more directly with the communities I love.
It’s a lot of leg work, and doing it in the DIY way I do everything, means that for a long time I wasn’t really getting paid – I ran a community arts festival, I’ve taught kids how to make punk bands and theatre shows and made a collaborative sci-fi film on a shoestring budget.
I feel hugely privileged to have witnessed the creativity and insight that people have shared, who rarely get a chance to be seen because of their status in society. I did an audio project with the community of Knowle West and to spend time with those people and work with them to amplify their experiences was amazing.
I’m currently working with other queer people in Bristol to create a space where we can share resources and support each other after such strange and tough year.
How do you think the voice of different communities can be given a platform through direct action and creative projects?
First of all, be a part of it! It’s frustrating sometimes to see projects that come in, often with a big budget, work to their own agenda and then leave as soon as they’ve ticked all the boxes.
I think it’s really important that artists embed themselves in communities if they want to do that kind of work (and even if they don’t). Live there, work there, provide open and honest spaces to hear people’s ideas.
It’s good to be prepared to change your ideas, or adjust the way you do things if it’s not a good fit for the community you’re working with. Essentially as an artist in these situations, you’re there to make a tapestry of the ideas and experiences that are presented to you, not to make exactly what you want with a vague nod to the community so you can feel good about yourself.
That friendship, that depth of research and understanding is always going to give your work the integrity it deserves, and honour the community you’re working with.
What would be your top 3 tips for our readers who want to use their voices to impact positive change?
1. Take a moment to sit down and think honestly about what’s important to you. About why you want to make positive change, and from what place. Not what’s important to other people, or what you think you should care about, but what you are truly, deeply passionate about. I like to make a spider diagram.
2. Once you’ve done this, map out how you can make things happen. Are you a writer, a painter, a performer? Can you organise, or do first aid or make amazing food? Once you start to think about your skills and what you’ve learned just by being alive, I think a lot of people would be surprised to find that we’re all so valuable and have a diversity of ways to help make things happen.
3. Lastly, it’s time to collaborate. Whilst it’s important to be self-led and to do things yourself, there’s always things to be learned from others. In the plans you’ve laid out, where are the gaps in your knowledge? Who could you talk to to learn new skills, or who might want to help?
Any recommendations of your favourite queer voices to follow/ watch out for?
Always! Aiysha Humphreys (@aiysha_poetry) is a deceptively quiet queer poet, their work always floors me.
Lowie Trevena (@lowietrevena) is one of the biggest cheerleaders of queer creatives in Bristol, they write tirelessly about all things queer and just.
There’s so many to shout out but i’ll finish with Travis Alabanza – unstoppable power queer. Their writing and performances have uplifted and educated so many of us, and they are just one of many black trans voices making themselves heard loud and clear. Absolute cutie too.
We love a bit of cheerleading fellow queer creatives! Thanks so much for chatting with us Tom, we’re excited to see what you get up to next. Keep an eye out for their upcoming projects and workshops here.
They / Them | Instagram
Interviewed by Lucy Everett