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Shape and direction in Tom Henderson Smith’s work

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An aspect of painting and drawing that Tom wished to write about was the whole business of shape and direction in both picture formats and forms within compositions. This was something he was very aware of in his own work and suspected it was important to a great many artists.

For example Tom found that, for him, the shapes of picture formats influenced the way he read them.

A vertical rectangle mazey_day-small.jpg hints at reading down or up the picture which can enhance the feeling of the energy of shapes grouped within it.

Likewise a markedly horizontal format  mackeral_sky-small.jpg seems to invite reading across the picture as in a panorama, so much so that with very long pieces Tom often broke such surfaces down into square sections partly to slow up the eye, partly to simplify shapes and allow for variations on a theme from one square to the next.

Then there’s the square format itself. To Tom equal height and width implied something very resolved and settled, a quality he sometimes used

to suggest contained stresses  small_down_wind.jpgand sometimes to underline a feeling of balance  floating_harbour-small.jpg already inherent in the shapes within the picture.

An interesting variation occurs when a square is tilted onto one of its corners.

Now its sides all become 45 degree angles often suggesting heightened tension and giving impact to the forms contained by them, either highlighting their stresses  lafrowda_04.jpg or livening up more low key elements such as seascape shapes around a horizon line  image2.jpg.

Such up-ended square compositions make a strong visual statement on any wall due to their marked diagonals whilst these diagonal sides also make them look very much at home hanging on a staircase.

Within any picture format the way that forms pick up on an implied geometry of proportion small_sea_salt_sail.jpg is also something that fascinated Tom and that he often used.

Another quality he liked to use is what he thought of as the dovetailing image3.jpg of shapes with other shapes.

To Tom all such phenomena create visual rhythms which complement the colours and tones he is using and together with them could give him a sense of the piece having a life of its own, re-presenting something he had seen in a way that might refer to a specific place or time but aiming at a celebration of it rather than a slavish imitation.

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Why Tom sometimes painted odd shapes

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tregeseal_tree.jpg The latest addition to Tom’s New Work page was the most recent in a series of what might seem to be oddly shaped paintings:

Some others have included chevron shaped compositions (which are simply square canvases that hang from one corner) like Leaving harbour, Newlyn, multiple chevrons (Kanorian Enev at Morvah) and triangular pieces (Stream flowing to the sea, Cot Valley). These were just some examples. In fact Tom had been experimenting with a wide variety of different formats since his student days in Italy when the altarpieces and sections of fresco decoration he came across in museums,  churches and monasteries inspired him in that direction. The shape of the painting surface became an important part of the idea behind each of his pictures.

In every case there was a good reason for his choice of shape. Whether it was one of the more unusual ones mentioned above or whether he chose to use a less unusual vertical or horizontal rectangle of particular dimensions, the choice will have arisen from something in the visual encounter that led to the impetus to create the piece.

In the case of the Cornish tree on the slopes of Tregeseal Valley the reason for the trapezoid shape arose from a wish to emphasise the way the tree had developed at this strange angle due to the saltiness of the wind from the sea. Tom also wanted to set this against the long diagonals of the hedges and valley shapes from lower left to upper right while keeping the contrasting lines of buildings and some of the distant field boundaries more abrupt for contrast.

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The Ordinalia & the Plen an Gwarry painting

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(click on the thumbnail for a much clearer view)

This painting was based on the second in the cycle of Cornish Miracle plays from the fifteenth century known as The Ordinalia. It was performed in the Plen-an-Gwary, ( playing place ) in the centre of St. Just-in-Penwith in August / September 2001 by The Ordinalia Company, made up of the people of St. Just and the surrounding area (and a core production team of professional theatre practitioners). The third play in the cycle, The Resurrection, was later presented in August 2002 and THE FULL CYCLE in August 2004.   

In the spring of 2007 the Ordinalia’s much loved director Dominic Knutton tragically died and there was an appeal for funds  to purchase the hut adjoining the Plen, which was used as a vital backstage area for the productions. The sale of Tom’s painting, along with funds raised by the community helped to bring this about.  The splendidly rebuilt and refurbished hut was renamed The Knut in memory of Dominic. It remains a much valued and well-used community and cultural centre for the people of St Just.    

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Adding a comment

Your comments were always welcome to Tom and we would like to continue this tradition, as we are always interested to know how you respond to his work and have faith that his paintings will continue to interest and inspire for years to come.  This is how to add a comment. Simply hover the mouse arrow over either the title of a “post” at the top or over the words “no comments” (if there aren’t yet any) or the word “comments” (if there are). The arrow in each case turns into a pointing hand showing you can click to go further. This brings you to a page where you can add your comment under what is  written and then submit it. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Tom’s folded valley pieces

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In 2007 Tom wrote: ‘You may have noticed that among my recent pieces are some that use piano hinges to join two canvases together. These valley pictures are literally folded landscapes, the latest in a genre that I developed around 2003 when I was working towards a show called Valleys and Horizons at the Mariners Gallery in St Ives. Why folded? Two reasons really – it all began with quite a large screen made up of several canvases that I intended to be free standing (I’ve long been an admirer of the so called “Golden screens” of Japan). Then I discovered that the shallow space created by the angle between the canvases somehow gave a boost to the painted space of the picture and that this worked best when the image was one of enclosed landscape space as in a valley. This valley image then became the raison d’etre for using this genre and I started making smaller ones that were designed to either hang on a wall or be free standing on a table or shelf. The new ones that use piano hinges are just the latest generation of such works. An example of these earlier two part images is Cot valley folded diptych. ‘

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Starting out blogging

me.jpg Tom was very pleased with what was in 2007 a new feature of his website, the weblog or blog for short. He wrote: ‘It’s an area where I hope to interact with visitors to the site rather as I would with visitors to my studio’ .  Although Tom is no longer here,  we aim to continue the tradition and will do our best to answer any questions and respond to your comments.  It will be good to know that Tom’ work lives on  and continues to inspire and interest you.