Looking for Spare Change with one of the city's most influential artists
Art is there to make people happy—especially yourself if you’re the one making it. That’s the first and foremost thing that the Reverend Thomas Foote believes about his work. He sees art as a form of self-expression, a way to express yourself to the rest of the world—and he thinks that everybody has a message. He shares his messages with the world in a variety of ways; with visual art, music, poetry, and Chattanooga’s most unusual independent magazine, Spare Change.
Tom spent his youth thinking his life was nothing that he would ever want to write about—that nothing in his life was important. He learned that there is something to be gleaned, something to be figured out, from everybody’s stories—something that you walk away with. Art to him is a way to share himself, a way for him to figure himself out, to learn and expand.
“I hope that my art is a document of me, a document of us, and a document of everything that we are trying and doing,” Foot says. “I think that we should make pyramids out of old broken drum kits, old broken bicycles, old broken amps that don’t work—so that two thousand years from now the archaeologists will realize what Chattanoogans are into. That’s beautiful; that’s what I want to leave behind, a record of what we did.”
Tom’s art is therapeutic—in fact, it’s what keeps him alive. Without what he created, he would have nothing. “We all have what we create,” he explains. “We all need to create a lot more, because we need to create what we want in this world. Physical things are nothing, but at the same time we live in a physical world so we should make it into what we want. That’s what art is all about—making this physical world into something that we appreciate and are a part of. I love Chattanooga, I love this community, I love having so many friends who are artists and musicians—they always inspire me at the right moment—having that inspiration and mentorship from my friends is beautiful.”
For a long time, Tom painted whatever came to mind. A lot of it was based upon things that he wrote. He spent a year writing Haikus, and eventually ended up writing 15 to 20 haikus a day for over 100 people. There were plenty of paintings that came from those haikus. After high school he started taking photographs and painting from them. He enjoys finding photos with weird things happening in them, like random rainbows and distortions—he loves to paint those distortions. His primary literary influence is Harlan Ellison, whose book Strange Wine made him realize that he wanted to write.
He began to produce Spare Change, an independent magazine which has become a household name within the local creative culture.
Tom never saw anything in his life as something he could write about. “I thought that I was living a boring life—don’t we all—but everything is different for everybody. You might think that you’re living this boring life, but then you might talk to somebody and they would be like ‘oh my god, you live this great life’—it’s different for everybody.”
“At first, Spare Change was me ranting and talking about my opinions about religion, music, and politics,” he elaborates. “After a few issues, I settled in and wrote stories. I like being a story teller, which goes back to the art. Everything that I’ve ever painted, everything I’ve ever done is honestly a self-portrait. It’s impossible for it not to be, because I am me, and this is what I do.”
“Even if it’s a story about somebody else, it’s still from my point of view, so therefore it is a self-portrait,” Foote notes. “It is my story. Somebody else may have a totally different story than that. Everything that you do is a self-portrait—if it’s not, then what are you doing? If there’s not you in that, then what do you have invested in it? I might not be painting soup cans, but if I did, they would look a lot like me.”
You can check out Tom’s paintings in person starting this Friday at the opening of his solo show at Mayfield’s All Killer No Filler Records, located at 199 River St. on the North Shore near Coolidge Park.