Tick Tock Tom is a scrap metal sculptor from Ottawa. His creations have appeared as props in movies and music videos, and for the last five years he’s been making one-of-a-kind award statuettes for the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
I spoke to Tom over coffee on his visit to Toronto last week to drop off his latest commission: two sculptures based on the beasts from Dante’s Divine Comedy – the Lion and the Wolf.
When I ask how this series – which also includes the Leopard, completed earlier – came about, Tom laughs as he tells me about being inspired to read Dante’s classic poem because of a video game:
“I played this Xbox game called Dante’s Inferno, in which you play Dante and you hack and slash your way through hell. It’s all very epic. At the end of it I realized I was never forced to read the Divine Comedy in school, and my education from Xbox left me doubting. So I picked up the book.”
He found that Dante did not in fact hack and slash his way through hell, but journeyed through it. He even had a tour guide:
“There’s some amazing imagery in the poem, apart from the animals that I used as a kind of beginning exercise. This poem used to be such a guide for people’s lives: don’t do this or you’ll end up doing this in hell. And the punishments were all very appropriate. Fortune tellers, for instance, are punished for their crimes of trying to see into the future by having their heads twisted on backwards so they can’t see ahead.
“I had the first piece – the Leopard – at the TOAE (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) last summer and I wasn’t sure if I was going to complete the series. But when I told the client who’d bought it the plan for the other two pieces, he commissioned me to make the other two animals.”
The Lion has a door lock mechanism for its mane, hinges left over from a movie set for its paws and part of a motor in its body. Where do the various metal parts for his sculptures come from?
“I started out scavenging the trash for broken TVs and VCRs. Eventually if you tell enough people that you want their broken things, it just comes to you. At some point you have to say “Whoa, I only have so much space.”
“I’ve had a few jobs in assembly and manufacturing and some wonderful employers that let me dive into the steel bin every once in a while. But really it’s just a matter of keeping my eye open for things that I think I can use.”
Tom started making sculptures out of junk about thirteen years ago, with no prior art experience:
“I’d always taken my toys apart a little bit too much when I was a kid but I never planned to get into anything like this.
“A friend of mine had this old computer monitor lying around and he gave it to me and said, “You look like somebody who can do something with this.” I’m not sure why, but he just chose me. To this day, I will parade him and thank him for getting me into this.
“I took that computer monitor home and took it apart, along with a VCR I had that wasn’t working, and made this humanoid head and gave it to my friend who gave me the monitor. He showed it to his boss and I got my first commission.
“Since then, I’ve just been trying to make better and better things.”
Tom’s early sculptures were put together using hot glue, but he soon began to improve his technique.
“I think eventually my friend had to get rid of that head once all the teeth fell out.”
Employed in a succession of manufacturing and assembly jobs, Tom got to hone his metalworking and welding skills:
“I spent a year and a half in a metal fabrication plant working on a robot welder. The job itself was repetitive but every once in a while the robot would fall off its track and I’d get to go inside and reprogram it. From there I learned about the angles that one needs to weld at, the temperature, the speed. And ultimately I was able to translate that into my own welding: my own angles, my own temperature, how long I held there. It was a year and a half of sometimes-not-so-exciting times but what I learned out of it was invaluable.”
For the past five years, Tick Tock Tom has been making award statuettes for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The statues comprise a round metal plate representing an old-style animation wheel (phenakistoscope) mounted on a handle. Tom’s involvement in their design not only improved on the original fixed-disk arrangement but also made each award statue unique:
“They allowed me to just go crazy on the design. I wanted to come up with a better holder for the plate. The phenakistoscope originally had a viewer that you looked through that would break up the image to allow it to look animated [as the wheel was spinning] so I wanted to accent that and I wanted to give the idea that once you had this thing in motion it could function.