Sam Thomas’ Brass Glove is a continuation of the artist’s series of repousse, or embossed, paintings. These works comment on the art object as a receptacle for value and status, but their eclectic figurative content suggests a network of personal connections and ideas percolating beneath their reflective surfaces.
Thomas’ work is both materially and conceptually related to the idea of plasticity. Repousse is neither an additive nor a subtractive process; rather, it exploits the ductility of metals—their ability to stretch and change shape while retaining their original volume. In art, language is as often a hindrance as a help, and has the ability to stretch and distort a meaning just as Thomas’ metal punches and hammers reshape a metal sheet. Like jokes, some artworks are best appreciated in the moment, seen whole and unmediated, without the intermediary voice of the critic or the artist themselves intervening to direct a potential response.
For Thomas, the process of titling works and shows is one of iteration and progression, tempered by a constant awareness of the distortions that language can inflict on works of art. During the production of Brass Glove, Thomas experimented with several titles for this group of works, and examining the ones he tried and discarded may help to shed light on his thinking around the relationship of language to his work.
Thomas’ initial thought was to title the show Diptych diptych, and to pair the works; in this way, he found that “by stringing them together they gained different significance, as words do in a sentence” That Thomas chooses to deploy a linguistic analogy in this context is probably no accident. His work lends itself to narrative comparisons and constructions, and often develops a single idea over several works or groups of works. In this sense, the works seem to develop a flexible grammar of their own, generating new potentialities through their interactions with one another.
The next iteration in the titling process was the idea of artificial intelligence—conceptualised as a synthetic process of information gathering. In this framework, Thomas would place the artworks themselves as informational nodes: “It occurred to me that the very first form of artificial intelligence could in fact be art works, as they’re made by people and each one possesses valuable information.” The idea of artworks as “intelligences” is suggestive in the context of Thomas’ choice of subject matter. The images he chooses—fruits, vegetables, logos, faces framed as though by phone camera snaps—are in a sense void of meaning, empty vessels waiting to be filled by our desires and fantasies like the smooth, blandly accessible icons of an emoji keyboard. However, Thomas seems to suggest that these kinds of devalued symbolic systems might also contain vestiges of their own obscure purposes and meanings.
The penultimate evolution of the show’s title was Bootleg, a phrase that suggests, in Thomas’ view, the idea of “kitsch-ness, like faked or stolen artefacts that could be bought in bulk at a roadside tourist store.” The idea of the object as a “fake” is intriguing; in a contemporary image-making context, where everything is infinitely replicable and replaceable, the status of the original is problematised. This title also suggests a connection to the body, a literal item of clothing that would draw the viewer back towards a more visceral interaction with the work.
Ultimately, readdressing the work’s physicality was what led Thomas to his final title, Brass Glove. The idea of a glove is multivalent in this context, suggesting both a container or protective sheath for a complex tool (the hand), and also a trace of that same body, vanished but still present. A glove is a bounded absence, waiting to be animated by an exterior agency or intelligence—but perhaps also possessed of some intrinsic memory of its own.