Details in the Everyday

On the train coming to meet me for an interview, Tom Emmett stops momentarily at Taringa train station. He finds himself staring at the platform staircase, noticing how it curves inwards at an angle. He wonders why. Is it simply how the staircase is made? Does it make it easier for the way people step up or down? Or is it for rain water to run off? This anecdote demonstrates to me the way a design mind thinks, always looking at the small everyday details.

While a student in his final semester of Industrial Design at QUT, Emmett was also fast establishing his career as an artist. I caught up with him to discuss his artistic process and practice and how you can find beauty in the everyday details and the mundane.


Where art meets design

While Emmett pursued an industrial design tertiary education, he also knew he could’t stop making art.

“I’d like to do both. I can’t really stop making art. It doesn’t work like that,” says Emmett.

He explained how he is drawn to design because you can influence people’s every day life. That is, how they use things, what they use, how they interact with objects.

“Through better designed objects people’s lives can be enriched,” says Emmett.

“I read somewhere, and to me it summed it up really nicely – art is the outward expression of an inward search,” says Emmett.

Art on the other hand is an expression, something that Emmett cannot control.

“I read somewhere, and to me it summed it up really nicely – art is the outward expression of an inward search,” says Emmett.

Emmett’s artistic career took off with his first group exhibition in 2015. Since then he has had a sculpture exhibited in the Swell Sculpture Festival and his first solo exhibit, Mundanity Continued, which was held at Artisan’s Ivory Street Window in 2016.

Tom Emmett, mundanity continued. Image courtesy of the artist

For many of his artistic endeavours Emmett has worked with off-cuts. For example, for Mundanity Continued, Emmett has carved off-cuts of foam and transformed them into sculpted pieces of furniture.

“I think maybe my arts influenced my design in a way, because design is always linked back to function and it has to perform in a certain way. But art doesn’t. It can do other things,” says Emmett.

Swell Sculpture Festival

Emmett was one of the youngest artists part of Swell Sculpture Festival. The outdoor sculpture exhibit graces the beautiful beaches of Currumbin in Queensland.

For Swell, Emmett produced Hang Ten, a sculpture made from reject surfboards that represents the soul of the beach.

“The way they make surfboard blanks is that they only really take the best ones and the rest are called reject blanks. I could take something that had been a throw away – an object deemed inferior – and kind of transform it,” says Emmett.

Emmett with Hang Ten. Credit: Courtesy of Artist

Hang Ten Swell Sculpture Festival. Image courtesy of the artist


It was from this material Emmett made his sculpture, giving it deeper meaning; anything, even something deemed as unwanted, can be really special.

“My swell piece was a sculpture of the beach, which sounds funny but if you think about the beach or the landscape as being alive then people might care for it more or appreciate it in different ways. You wouldn’t throw rubbish on your friend, so don’t throw rubbish on the beach,” says Emmett.

It was this idea that inspired Emmett to create Hang Ten, showing the split second of the beach’s spirit materialising.

“I thought because the sand is always blowing along and it gets bigger and smaller, the spirit would be quite fluid in moving along with the beach. I thought perhaps with the sand blowing along it could kind of lift up and the sand could form a figure before falling back to the ground and carrying along,” says Emmett.

Swell Sculpture Festival is held outside, meaning it gains a lot of public visibility. When I asked Emmett what it was like, in this early stage of his artistic career, to see people interacting with his work, he replied, “I love it”.

“It’s really nice and really special. To hear people’s feedback, as well, is a really great feeling. I was down at Swell talking to some people, and how they respond to your artwork gives you new insights,” says Emmett.

Tools of the Trade

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In creating Hang Ten, Emmett mostly used his hands. In terms of technology, he used a camera and scanner so that he could draw an outline of a smaller version of the sculpture and blow that up to double the size on a computer.

“When I cut out the surfboard, the blank, that was all done by hand and carving,” says Emmett.

While Emmett could have modelled the surf board through programs like SolidWorks, which he is familiar with through industrial design, this would mean losing an element of human touch and quality.

“I don’t think there’s any way I could ever have modelled the curves that I shaped on the computer, because there’s that disconnect between your hands and the sensitivity on the material. You can’t really do that on the computer, I don’t think. Yet. Maybe in the future,” says Emmett.

It will be interesting to see what is in store for Emmett’s future and how both his design and artistic practices will continue to grow.

“I’d like to do the whole process more thoroughly. Doing it more in depth and I think in that way I could create stronger and more meaningful pieces,” says Emmett.

Tom Emmett, mundanity continued. Image courtesy of the artist

Emmett recently won a Royal National Agricultural & Industrial Association (RNA) and Lendlease competition for a carpark facade to be built early next year.

For the competition, entrants had to consider the meaning of place. In response Emmett has created a two dimensional sculpture that represents the RNA and the different people and goods that are drawn to meet and gather there.

“It explores visual cues from my sculpture work using a certain tension, fluidity, sense of connectedness and movement to create the piece. It’s quite surreal to think that I’ll have a public artwork built next year, and to see the transformation from my hand sketches to a large building will be amazing. It will cover three sides of the building, so literally hugging the block,” says Emmett.

To see more of Emmett’s artistic work, visit his website or check him out on Instagram @tomemmett_.