Ahead of his first solo exhibition at Jermaine Gallacher Showroom, rug-maker Tom Atton Moore talks to Milly Burroughs about his beautiful floor coverings
Dear Magnolia is the latest offering from Jermaine Gallacher’s ever-enchanting Lant Street showroom. While the delayed opening of the show – rug-maker Tom Atton Moore’s solo debut – is itself a reminder of the pandemic’s far-reaching shadow, the visual poetry presented in each unique work is enough to remind even the most cynical voyeur that it is well worth clinging on to beauty, however drastic times may be.
“A lot of people, traditionally, use rugs to tell a story and I’m telling a story of now,” says 24-year-old Atton Moore, who left his own home in south-east London to move in with his parents, close to Ebbsfleet, just before the first of the year’s national lockdowns. While he was persuaded by his mother to make the move, it proved a rare source of inspiration in a time of relative creative static. “When I first came down to the countryside I was looking for inspiration from something, but nothing was ever moving here. The one thing that was changing was the massive magnolia tree we have at the bottom of the garden. It blossomed really early this year and it fell really early. I just started collecting the petals as they fell and withered and was using them to make the imagery. I documented the death of the flowers because it was the only thing that was happening. That’s where all the imagery in the show stems from. It’s an ode to treating the magnolia like a person.”
At a glance, Dear Magnolia – which is essentially a room of Atton Moore’s beautiful rugs set among furniture, and therefore not theoretically groundbreaking as a concept – does not obviously present itself as a death scene captured by turning withering petals into works of art in his parent’s basement, but that doesn’t matter to Atton Moore. As he explains, this is a eulogy written in an ink of his choosing and how the audience reads it is entirely up to them, “I like the idea of documenting things, but not in an obvious way.” He adds, “I think I used to have more fear than I do now. To be honest, I’m not really bothered if people don’t like my rugs. I’d like to hope, if people take away anything, that it’s how they can have more fun in their own environment. Even if they don’t look into the story behind the show or anything, maybe they see the rugs situated against the wood walls and the wood floors and realise they have that at home, and that they can use it and have a bit more fun.”
Atton Moore studied illustration at university in London, but the bourgeois career fairytale embraced by his tutors and peers was not one that he related to. “I felt like at uni they were always selling this romantic ending, that everyone’s going to end up a successful illustrator, but it’s not always that. So I really wanted to make something that everyone can understand a bit, and has the versatility of where it can be used.”
Drawn to gallerist Gallacher’s enviably eccentric approach to curation, Atton Moore applied for an assistant’s role at the Lant Street space, but was quickly rejected on the basis that he should be showing his own work at the showroom, not working for it. “I think everything nowadays is too nice and liveable. As a living environment, nothing’s got this ... fun – this kitsch!” he says. “I like things that can be a talking point. I don’t think you can have too many talking points in a house. Jermaine’s showroom is a little bit odd, and you’re asking questions about everything in the room, but it all comes together really nicely. I’m just really used to people painting everything white and having neutral colours. Where did we lose this excitement of having odd objects and having colour, of almost making people feel uncomfortable?”
This exhibition has been a long time coming, with the rug-maker working in almost complete secrecy for around two years, predominantly from a dusty Lewisham bedroom, in order to create something he was proud to present to the world. But his penchant for curiosity means that he’s nowhere near done yet: “For a while I want to continue with the rugs, I don’t feel like I’ve explored as far as I can yet,” he says. “I want to expand on environments. Why do we live in something that’s so set out? I want to start making environments that are liveable, but don’t look like they’re liveable, playing around with shapes and forms and their function.”
Tom Atton Moore: Dear Magnolia is at Jermaine Gallacher Showroom, 59 Lant Street, London, SE1 1QN, from December 10-20. Open 11am-7pm, by appointment.