Since the late 1990s, Perth based, Swiss born artist Tom Mùller has built a reputation for work rich in stylistic and conceptual elegance. Working across various media, Muller creates works at once grand in their themes of global significance as they are visually pared back and often quiet in resolve.
In 2011, Perth's Goolugatup Heathcote Gallery—which used to be a mental hospital—offered Mùller a spot in a residency program that offers artists a unique opportunity to respond to the site's history and institutional collections. Muller's CAPITAL CITY exhibition was the outcome, which included AHASUERUS VARIATIONS.
Your practice reflects on the interconnectedness of systems and structures in our constructed and natural world, prompting curator and writer Melissa Keys to call you a 'big picture artist'. What inspires these conceptual processes for you as an artist?
The macroscopic diversity of our planet with its myriad layers of language and processes constitutes the basis for my visual research. To invent language, to expose concealed patterns and hidden hierarchies within the global and geopolitical landscape allows for a deeper reading and understanding of the world. The term the 'big picture artist' takes into account these aerial views of ideas and connects them together. I'm interested in lines connecting points of views and highlighting universal languages.
Speaking of lines, your work has a graphic language, which stresses the reductive nature of data mapping, information systems, diagrams, code and symbols. How important is design to your practice?
I work both as an artist and graphic designer. Being Swiss, graphic design has always been part of our natural and cultural environment. I believe that by reducing visuals down to basics allows the essence of an idea to be conveyed more efficiently. Imbuing my artistic practice with more of a graphic overtone has certainly helped me streamline ideas and enabled me to develop a specific language. This has allowed me to exploit the boundaries between contemporary art and design, in turn generating challenging polarities in visual language.
Do you find that the language you then create can be esoteric or make the meanings of your work ambiguous and layered?
I enjoy the fact that my works can be esoteric and you may need a particular lexicon to decipher some of the elements, allowing for multiple layers to read the work. Initial intrigue provides the viewer with a richer experience of the concept.
Can you talk a little about the residency you held in 2011 at Goolugatup Heathcote, which inspired your CAPITAL CITY exhibition, particularly the AHASUERUS VARIATIONS?
The residency at first was quite daunting because the brief was so specific. Ultimately it proved to be an exciting experience, inciting me to work with the rich layers of both Indigenous and colonial historical references. I wanted to bring a sense of refreshed presence and actuality to the site. AHASUERUS VARIATIONS referred to the artist Annie Dorrington who was a founding designer of the Australian flag. For a brief time she was a patient at the Claremont Mental Hospital linked to the then mental health facility of Heathcote. The small connection Dorrington had to Heathcote sparked an interest providing the foundations for this particular body of work.
Interview for Artbank Now - promotional magazine formerly produced by Artbank.
Published by Artbank Now in 2012.