Interview: Tom Sanford

Bad Religion is Tom Sanford’s (1975) second solo exhibition at Galleri Faurschou. In 2005 he had his first solo exhibition at Galleri Faurschou called Volume 3…The Life and Times of TomPAC, where Tom´s focus was on the exploration of the Hip-hop culture. The current show is about the American condition, at present, four years into the current holy war in Iraq.

The show consists of a large alter piece (six paintings put together), 4 paintings and 12 icons (fake gold on paper).

The show is about religion and how it can be abused. America, as the moral nation, is leading a religious war against terror. But just as the terrorists abuse Islam, America abuses Christianity and the same scenario can be seen when looking at modern religious movements. The political leaders abuse their religions in the hunt for their goals. The American way of using religion is filled with contradiction. The wars are fought in the name of democracy but are really fought in the name of capitalism. It is easier for Bush to hide all this when speaking in the name of God.

In this exhibition, Tom highlights the significance, and the continuous influence, that American culture, media and politics exert over us. Everything from American films, actors, politicians, companies, sports teams, religious leaders make up that which Tom Sanford refers to as Bad Religion.

Also present are new types of religious worship, the celebrity, whose every move is well documented in the media as well as omnipresent company logos, presented as golden icons, symbolising our worship of consumption.

Interview:David Grimberg
Foto:Anders Sune Berg
Tom Sanford (US)
Bad religion
22. juni – 11. august 2007
Galleri Faurschou
St. Strandstræde 21, 1255 København K.
Tirsdag – fredag 11-17, lørdag: 11-14

Tom Sanford: Horror Hollywood Hell, 2006. 274,3cm x 406,4cm oil and acrylic on wood panels

Your paintings have a lot of stories attached to the persons and stuff that can be found in the paintings. Could you give me some details about each painting?

Horror Hollywood Hell
This is the central piece of the exhibition, an altar piece consisting of six paintings put together. It is a contemporary version of the afterlife with Hollywood actors as the characters. So it is my version of how Hell looks like today.
We have been presented to the encounter of the afterlife in great Art and Literature, ie. Dante’s ‘Inferno’, Jan Van Eyck’s ‘The Last Judgment’, Boesch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. So I thought it could be fun to do a painting of the afterlife with all the elements of Hollywood in order to emphasize the strong impact that American movies have on our cultural imagination.
The themes of the six painting are: top left: succubus, top middle: family of Satan, top right: demons, bottom left: possess, bottom middle: hell pit, bottom right: un-dead.
You see Woody Allen, Slimer from Ghostbusters, Chuckie from Child´s Play etc.

Tom Sanford: Seven Deadly Sins, 2006. 153cm x 203cm oil and acrylic on wood

Seven Deadly Sins
Each sin is represented by a different celebrity. You see George Bush who represents Pride, George Michael represents Lust, Anna Nicole Smith represents Sloth, Lindsay Lohan represents Envy, Chris Farley (American comic, Saturday Night Live Show, died of a cocaine overdose) represents Gluttony, Ken Lay (CEO of Enron) represents Greed and Bill O´Reiley (media ikon of Fox News) represents Anger. I have painted these celebrities on top of all this fast food to show the American excess as a kind of a parade with confetti coming down. The painting shows the hypocritical American morality.

Tom Sanford: Tom, Katie and Suri, 2006. 74cm x 74cm oil and acrylic on wood

Tom, Katie and Suri
This painting shows Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and their baby Suri. This show is about religion so I thought of putting in a painting of a modern religious leader but in stead I came up with the idea of painting Tom Cruise who is not the religious leader of Scientology but he is certainly one of the most prominent members of Scientology. I give my view on how religion can be viewed today as a mixture of celebrities´ interaction with religion.

Tom Sanford: Jesus Walks, 2007. 176,5cm x 208,5cm oil, acrylic, fake silver and fake gold on wood

Jesus Walks
This is the American crusade over Iraq showing a possible American/Christian victory. Jesus is leading the Americans but he is not depicted as the religious version we are used to but as a character taken from a film where Jesus is hippie-like and fun loving and not like the crucified Christ. I thought this Jesus-character would fit in well in the painting to show the Americans´ crusade into Iraq stepping on dead bodies etc. The Jesus character is taken from Kevin Smith´s “Dogma” (1999) where he is called Buddy Christ.
I have put in some actors who have played soldiers. For example: On top of the dead bodies you see the character Dutch from the movie Predator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and George Clooney´s character from the movie about the first gulf war, Three Kings (1999). You also see the helmet from my favourite Vietnam movie, Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987).
In the painting you also see myself with this foam finger cheering on, it is like although many Americans are very aware and critical of what is going on and vote against the government it is not really democracy, we cannot really vote them out. I am showing the American imperialism: a combination of a very nice life style and all the crimes we are responsible for around the world. In the painting I am wearing a Reggie Bush football jersey, number 25 New Orleans Saints. During the Iraq war we had this terrible hurricane, Katrina, in New Orleans but nothing was done because all the focus was on Iraq and the government spent so much money on the war in stead of helping our own people in the backyard. Reggie Bush is a black man, and most black people in the US have the names of the families who used to own them as slaves so Reggie Bush could have relatives who were owned as slaves by the Bush family!
In the painting you also see this Arbusto oil drum. Arbusto was established George W. Bush and one of the major investors was the Bin Laden family! You also see George W. Bush as a cowboy.
Also appearing is Britney Spears (just after painting her hair I heard that she had shaved her head!) as a Dallas cowgirl cheerleader in the position of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, albeit in a white trailer trash version. You also see a bumber sticker “First Iraq then France”. I actually saw this sticker on a car near my studio.

Tom Sanford: Paradise, 2007. 176,5cm x 208,5cm oil and acrylic on wood with fake gold

Jesus Walks and Paradise kind of go together, after doing Jesus Walks I thought I might as well do a Muslim painting too. Jesus Walks shows how Christianity is abused by America and Paradise shows how Islam can be abused in order to reach the goals of the abuser.
It is a painting of the imagined Muslim paradise based upon accounts from the Koran. In the painting you see how Islam has been hijacked and radicalised by militants and terrorists in the Middle East. In the painting you see virgins and young boys are protecting paradise. I guess this is how they talk suicide bombers into blowing up themselves, saying that they will have a great time in paradise. In the painting you see the 33 Lakers jersey which was the jersey of Kareem Abdul- Jabbar who was this famous Muslim basketball player of the Los Angeles Lakers. You also see a 1979 copy of a Superman magazine where Superman fights with the Muslim Mohammed Ali to find out who is the greatest champion on earth. This champion should then fight the greatest champion of some aliens that have just arrived on earth. Mohammed Ali wins against Superman but he is so beat up that Superman has to fight the alien champion and Superman wins.

Tom Sanford: Yankees Icon, 76,5cm x 56cm. Fake gold on paper
Tom Sanford: Rolling Stones Icon, 2006. 76,5cm x 56cm Fake gold on paper
Tom Sanford: Playboy Icon, 2006. 76,5cm x 56cm Fake gold on paper
Tom Sanford: Coca-Cola Icon, 2006. 76,5cm x 56cm Fake gold on paper

The icons display various sports teams´ logos and companies’ logos, The Yankees, Starbucks, Mac, Paramount, Coca Cola etc. All these brands define what it is to be American. These logos are made as icons in order to compare these to the religious icons that are worshiped as such. I decided to pick twelve logos and do them as gold icons, twelve being a kind of a religious number. I did not want to pick the companies in order to portray these in a negative way. I picked the companies that have a really strong identity which people have a strong relation to.

Tom Sanford: Bad Religion på Galleri Faurschou

What is your view on religion in general, do you think religion can function in a positive way at all?
I am not a religious person but maybe it will change as I get closer to death! I perfectly understand the purpose of religion and I can see all the good sides. A lot of people are helped by religion etc. But historically the negative sides of religion have been more evident than the positive. But I am very ambivalent about it.

Have you had any bad reactions from the people you portray in your paintings?
With the rappers, I had some negative reactions but that was kind of the point of the project. The project was about the exploitation of blackness. The life-style of the black rappers seem so glamorous with women, drugs etc. but this is not true because there is also a very dark side to all this. Once people understood that that was my point they stopped objecting to my work because they realized that I sympathise with the blacks.

It seems like you object to the American way of living but how do you live yourself?
I am very conflicted about it because I object to many things about the way we live in America but on the other hand I live in many ways very much like other Americans but I can still be critical about it in my paintings.

What are your future plans?
I am doing a show at my New York gallery, Leo Koenig, next year in May. In Versailles there is a huge hall of battle paintings. I went to see these paintings some time ago and I thought it would be a great idea to use the idea from the alter piece, using Hollywood actors, in these battle paintings, so we will see how it turns out. I will do four or five very large paintings like that.

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