July 17 2003, Ancona, northern Italy. A 31-year-old Englishman withdraws 150 Euros from a cash point. This everyday event just over a decade ago has huge significance for the Moore family because it was the last financial transaction Tom Moore is known to have made; the last sign his parents and siblings have that he was still alive. Tom has not been seen or heard or from since.
Next week, Tom’s brother Ben is renewing the search for his sibling with an art exhibition featuring high profile artists as well as rising stars of the art world. The aim is to raise both awareness and funds to mark the tenth year since Tom’s disappearance. Proceeds from Art Wars, a collection of Star Wars stormtrooper helmets transformed by internationally-renowned artists, will be auctioned for the Missing Tom fund.
Ben, founder of public art enterprise Art Below, has collaborated with Andrew Ainsworth, creator of the original 1976 stormtrooper helmet, to produce the show. Art Wars launches at the inaugural Strarta Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery next Wednesday (October 9), with works showcased via a series of billboard posters at Regent’s Park underground, coinciding with Frieze London.
“Stormtrooper helmets are iconic, international, instantly recognisable and timeless,” explains Ben of the medium and the message. “I’d been working with Andrew Ainsworth since 2007 and it was always in my mind to do this show with big artists; I had access to these iconic objects and I knew that there were artists who would like to be involved because it’s something we all grew up with [the Star Wars films]. When I realized it was the 10th anniversary of Tom going missing, I needed to catapult myself into action and do something to get the search for Tom re-energized.”
Artists, all of whom were issued with a helmet cast from the original 1976 moulds, include Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Paul Fryer, Mat Collishaw and David Bailey. Other participants are English multimedia street artist D*Face, Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, Turner prize nominee Yinka Shonibare, street artist Inkie, Mr.BrainWash, East London’s Alphabet Street creator Ben Eine, BP Portrait Award winner Antony Micallef and upcoming star Oliver Clegg.
The money raised from Art Wars will enable the family to travel in the search and to publicise their efforts to find Tom. Ben also hopes to bring attention to the Missing People charity, which has supported his family. There is also a new website Missing Tom to help locate the now 41-year-old.
As Diana Brown, Ben and Tom’s older sister, writes on the Missing Tom website, the Moores were, and are, a close knit family. “Tom and I growing up, had been as close as it possible to be as brother and sister,” Diana writes. “There was a curious closeness that comes, from having a brother seven years before another two brothers arrived. We were the lucky products of a military family [the sibling’s father was a colonel in the Royal Marines]…We moved house frequently, but were always secure in the knowledge we had loving parents and family all around us.”
Tom was, by all accounts, a genial child (“Tom was blonde, small for his age, good-looking, with a quirky sense of humour, a born actor, musical…with his beaming smile and his floppy fringe. He was thoughtful, kind and never hurt a soul”, writes Diana) but he found it tough at his all-boys school.
After school came a gap year to India where Tom “full of hope and promise”, as Diana writes, grew “disheartened at the huge confusion that India presented to him” and was affected by the drugs he found in Goa. He returned to live with his parents before going to Lancaster University to study theology. There, as Diana found, his mental turmoil was obvious. “He played music, he studied and he went about his daily routines, but he found life very hard. I found my brother, confused and suffering from the onset of mental illness. He left university early and came to live at home.”
The following few years sound like a fragile mixture of travels, doctors and medication, with Tom’s family struggling to find the right balance between supporting their son’s desire for freedom and realising that medication might help bring some stability to his mental health, the “daily dark thoughts” which Diana describes on the website.
A few months before he went missing, Tom had travelled to a shrine in Bosnia, where Ben eventually found him in a nearby town. Ben explains: “When he went away again a few months later, I thought I could find him – but the months started turning into years.”
“The last time I saw Tom, we had game of chess and although I didn’t usually beat him, on this occasion I was winning,” says Ben. “It was a particularly slow game and now I look back at it I realise he wasn’t mentally present, he was quiet and absorbed in other thoughts. I often wonder if I should have kept the pieces how they were, so we can finish the game one day.”
Ben spent the three years following his brother’s disappearance looking for him, visiting well known religious sites across Europe knowing of his brother’s interest in religion, and following various trails (like the cash point transaction). At one point, he says, he was only two weeks behind him, but the demands of work and his own young family meant he eventually had to put the search on hold.
“I still have great hope, confidence and faith that I am going to see Tom again, but we need to get out there and figure out where he is,” says Ben. He wants his brother to know that his aim is to make sure he’s okay, rather than simply dragging him back home against his will. The disappearance of Tom, says Ben, has left a gaping hole in their lives: “I used to rely on Tom for certain things – he was there for me, I wouldn’t go to my dad in a certain situation, or my sister or mother – there things that only he had the remedy for, I miss that.”
As Ben explains in a short video (above and on the Missing Tom site), life as a family of a missing person means struggling with constant uncertainty mixed with optimism: “Searching for Tom is like searching for the holy grail…I see homeless people in the street and wonder if they are on the same journey.” Although a memorial has been held for Tom since he disappeared, his brother refused to grieve for his missing sibling: “He is still alive, that is what I believe.”