Tom: “This is a picture of me meeting John Carlos at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill in May 2012. John is the ‘Black Panther’ athlete from the 1968 Olympics.”
Power of Protest
“I was impressed by how John Carlos said that his protest with Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico Olympics was not necessarily just for black people; it was for the human rights of all people. He said to me something along the lines of how important it is for anyone to use what chances they have to bring some justice and good into the world.
“If you have a moment in the spotlight, and you perceive injustice in the world, then use your moment for the greater good. Be true to yourself. Get out there, follow you heart, face challenges, be prepared to screw up from time to time, and never forget who you are.
“Despite being about as white as you can get, I do feel some connection to his background. I am aware about the struggle of African American people and the civil rights movement from my interest in history and jazz/soul music, and my experience as a trombone player. I also spent time living with the black community in Philadelphia in 1999, when I did an exhibition about soul music at the African American Art Expo. I was the first white person to take part in the annual exhibition.
“Something else John Carlos said that stayed with me is that the Olympics is a corporate exercise for big companies to make money, and the system uses us to pay for it through taxes. Well, I thought, there’s probably a lot of truth in that, but I’ve got a commission from them that will make me some good money. That’s what I need to keep going as an artist, which is difficult enough in today’s economic climate! So I’m thankful for that.
“I can use this money to help fund certain non-commercial projects, such as my new experimental abstracted style, ‘art jams’, and creative projects with disadvantaged children here in England and abroad.
“Otherwise, I’ve been doing commissions and my own meditative oil paintings about the river Thames, which I love to do to get back in touch with my homeland and how it feels to be back. I’m also developing new techniques with my abstracted ‘colourfields’ pictures, which involve mixing watercolours, inks and oils on the same canvas. They are partly based on real places, and partly imagined.
“Following on from the last Polymath article, I certainly have been able to return to England on a new level, and see it from a new perspective.” TF