Painting plays a key role in the work of Hayley Tompkins, but she is not a painter in the traditional sense. She has made many colourful abstract works using watercolour on paper. But she has also painted on objects including hammers, bottles, knives, chairs, twigs and mobile phones. She has made films, and frequently used photographs in her work, including images of SIM cards, watches, batteries, currency and computer keyboards. Her installations have sometimes included readymade elements, from house plants to fragments of clothing. Tompkins’s individual pieces are usually small in scale and ask us to pay careful, intimate attention to them. But her installations also subtly emphasise how each piece relates to the others and to the space of the gallery.
In works such as Tele and Data V (2009), Tompkins shows us an object twice over – we see both a real phone and a painting that sits directly upon it, almost like a skin. A mobile phone is, of course, an object that most people are very used to holding and having near them. It stores and releases energy and it can measure and organise time. Tompkins’s works often suggest an extension of the self through images or objects. They invite us to think about the possibilities and limitations of communication, about our experiences of time, and about the potential energy in things.
The objects used in Tompkins’s art are not her subject matter in themselves. Rather, she uses this ‘object matter’ to address subjective perception and emotions.
For GENERATION, The Common Guild presents works Tompkins made for Scotland + Venice 2013 at the 55th Venice Biennale, which are shown in Scotland for the first time here. The installation consists of both painted and printed images. There are photographs, sourced from a commercial supplier of ‘stock’ images, which depict yachts, ocean views, fruit, stones, and various forms of technology. There are also abstract paintings made using brightly coloured acrylic paints in shallow plastic boxes, and watercolours in plastic drinks bottles. These elements are installed in groupings on the floor of the gallery, as with Digital Light Pool (Orange) (2013). These pieces mark a recent shift in Tompkins’s work to an interest in views or landscapes. Here, looking out, like looking within, is a form of subjective seeing.