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The story of the Dome of Human Kindness

 

of_human_kindness_3D_reconstruction_for_blog-smallIn 1972 a recently qualified art student was living near Florence. He was in Italy to immerse himself in the great art to be found there and to develop his own work as best he could. Many of the paintings he most admired there were in monasteries and churches, often painted on their walls back in the 14th and 15th centuries by people like Giotto, Massacio and Piero Della Francesca. This reminded him of all the bible stories he had grown up with, for his parent’s had been Christian missionaries. He found that he needed to express the spirituality that discovering these paintings was bringing out in his mind.

Working with charcoal and big sheets of paper on the floor of his flat he drew out what were to become the compositions of the dome. Much of his last three years at art college had been spent drawing people and now he found that every mark he made suggested a figure. As he worked he realised that what he was reading at the time, a general introduction to Buddhist ideas such as the way that all things are inter-related, had found its way into the themes he had chosen – an interweaving of elements from the tales of St Martin and the beggar, the good Samaritan and the prodigal son. This was maybe part of a quest that was to lead him to embrace Nichiren Buddhism more than ten years later.

As a bit of a young hippy back in 1972 (his hair fell down to his shoulders at the time) he had absorbed much of the alternative technology of the 70’s. This gave him the idea to make his own small building and paint its walls with his stories of inter-related lives just as the church and monastery walls had been directly painted on. Someone he knew nearby had an overgrown tennis court behind their house and gave him permission to put up his dome inside it. The structure was big enough to crawl inside where he drew and painted away on the walls every day for many weeks. Later, when it was finished, he took it apart, rolled up its canvas panels and took it back to England where he re-assembled it in the art college he had attended and that had given him some money to go to Italy a year earlier.

The tutors and students at the college were interested but also puzzled because this was so different from the art that most people were making at the time. Later he became involved in other things, trained as a teacher, moved to Cornwall to teach, took up Nichiren Buddhism, brought up his young son and step-daughter and became involved in his local community by running a little gallery together with his wife. After twenty-four years in teaching he decided to move on and devote more time to painting. He had also made many friends by that time. Some were Buddhist practitioners like himself. Some were people of different faiths or none. Many were artists of various kinds of which there are a great many living in Cornwall.

The gallery that had been the pride and joy of himself and his wife had been in the town of St Just near Lands End but, after thirty years of living there, they felt ready to move to somewhere more central in Cornwall and to have just a private studio to paint in instead. It was then that he re-discovered the rolled up canvas panels that had been stored in their loft for all that time. He unrolled and photographed each one before rolling them all up again to store in the loft of their new home in St Columb. He found that he could create a mock-up of the original designs for the dome using the photographs. This time, however, he decided that, if ever he re-assembled the actual dome, it would be inside-out – with the pictures visible from the outside because he knew that many of his friends, who like him were quite old by now, would find it very difficult to crawl inside to see them.

In the meantime he decided to make scaled down-model kits of his dome, to have them printed and to sell them to raise funds for the building of Cornwall’s multi-faith centre, Dor Kemmyn, a name meaning Common Ground in Cornish. He called it his Dome of Human Kindness for that is one of the values that, in speaking with people of different faiths, he found was common to them all.

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Whose afraid of green, green, green….?

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For many years Tom felt he had shied away from green. That may sound strange coming from a landscape painter but if you take a really careful look at previous work on his website you will find that out of dozens of images there are only three or four in which greens have anything but a supporting role. Now that number becomes four or five because it was ringing the changes through shades of green that preoccupied him as he completed this small canvas entitled Farmland across the valley ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/farmland-across-valley/ ) . Perhaps what attracted Tom here was that as the year turned towards autumn there were so many subtle variations of greens interspersed with patches of burnt orange and violet to be found here in the Vale of Lanherne. The warmth that  persisted through September that particular year also gave him reason to use quite inky blues in areas of welcome shade that threw everything into relief.

Such features as these are what Tom considered to be matters of abstraction in its true sense; nothing to do with non-recognition of the imagery in a picture, everything to do with exploring those factors internal to a painting that create its appeal.

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Shapes at the edge of town

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Tom had recently emerged from painting one of the most complex of his Lafrowda Festival paintings to date (Lafrowda 2014 https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/lafrowda-day-2014/ ) and wanted to create something much less demanding and smaller so Edge of town, St Columb ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/edge-town-st-columb/ ) was a delightfully simple composition to create by comparison with the other piece. The two paintings do have some points in common though. Ultimately a love of community is a theme in both of them, albeit approached in very different ways, and rooftop shapes were one of the means that he used to address this theme in both. However in the larger picture these shapes are shown together with the kaleidoscope of human forms and artistic creations that make up the procession whereas in the Edge of Town picture they interlock with the shapes of the surrounding Vale of Lanherne countryside and human presence is suggested but not stated. In that respect it follows in that genre of what he called lived-in landscapes. The previous collection of Lived-in Landscapes can be seen at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/lived-landscapes-cornwall-chapel-row-gallery-bath-april-2010/ .

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A Lafrowda of the mind

This painting, Lafrowda Day 2014, is the successor to eleven previous Lafrowda paintings. That this one seems strangely different from its predecessors may be partly due to the fact that it was painted at The Lanherne Studio in St Columb rather than in the town of St Just where the festival took place and where all the others were made.

It was returning to St Just for Lafrowda Day in mid July 2014 that supplied the initial inspiration for the picture. Perhaps this time however the added element of physical distance during the weeks of studio work that Tom spent on it highlighted its independent existence. As with previous Lafrowda pictures the painting process was based on memories informed by digital references about the surreal images he had seen at the festival but celebrating all this material in paint here in a different town h enhanced for Tom the feeling that this was a Lafrowda of the mind. He mused: ‘Could there really have been such extraordinary juxtapositions? Did some of these figures really reach to the rooftops or was it indeed all in my mind?’

An aspect of this curious feeling as Tom worked and since completing the painting was a suspicion that this time the cast of characters who inhabited it were actually part of him!  ‘Are they archetypes?’ Tom wondered ‘or even personifications of old papa Jung’s ideas? Fascinating!’

As with most of  previous Lafrowda paintings, this one was sold to benefit the festival in future years. Many thousands of pounds are required to stage the two week festivities that culminate on Lafrowda Day in Cornwall’s most westerly town of St Just. Numerous local schools and other groups take part in a surge of creativity that is a great source of satisfaction for everyone involved as well as attracting thousands of visitors whose time spent there certainly boosts the town’s economy.

To see a larger image of the Lafrowda 2104 painting click on the image above or on https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/lafrowda-day-2014/ . To see images of all the previous Lafrowda paintings go to https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/ten-years-lafrowda-paintings-exhibition/ .

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Rooftops in the valley

Bright rooftops in the valley, Bosavern (
( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/bright-rooftops-valley-bosavern/ ),
was completed on the day that contracts were exchanged just before the house move that Tom and his partner, Gabrielle  made from St Just to St Columb in Cornwall in July 2013. The painting process was for Tom a way of exploring and expressing how he felt about the complexities involved, the interlocking lives that had to fit satisfactorily together, a complexity that had to resolve in reality on the purchase completion date which was only a week later.

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Summer cliff-top tree

The hot summer sunshine and humidity of mid July here in Cornwall made it all the more attractive to catch a sea breeze and Tom found himself aiming to express something of that in this 2014 canvas: Summer cliff-top tree, Mawgan Porth ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/summer-cliff-top-tree-mawgan-porth/ ). There’s perhaps an element of Mediterranean fantasy about the way he let himself push the colour here. The Cote d’Azure Fauvist canvases of people like Derain, Matisse and Dufy were, after all, some of Tom’s favourites.

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At last – an obby oss!

Tom had nurtured an ambition to make a painting based on the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss ever since moving to Cornwall more than thirty years ago. Of all the Cornish Festivals this is probably the one whose folk origins stretch furthest back into the mists of time. Now he found himself living only ten miles or so from Padstow and so Gabrielle and Tom hot-footed it over there  on May Day that year. Tom spent a lot of time mulling over the references he’d collected on that occasion and distilled  them into a Padstow obby oss painting ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/padstow-obby-oss/ ). A complex series of inherently unstable diagonals and a play of shadows and highlights seemed to offer a way of suggesting the teetering and swaying movement of this curiously primitive figure. His  disc-like frame seemed to swirl around precariously, charged  with spring energy. The highlights of red and white on both his costume and those of his attendants mark him out as the “red oss” as distinct from the smaller “blue oss” which appeared at other times that day and in other parts of the town. The strangeness and the play of shapes and colours here provided all the visual music and dance that Tom, as a painter, could wish for as material for a celebratory painting on this extraordinary theme.

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Oak tree above the valley

An emerging theme in work to be included in Tom’s March – April 2015 exhibition at Bodmin Shire Hall was that of landmark trees, those sentinels that punctuate the hillsides here in the Vale of Lanherne or that stand tall among a crowd of others in the woods. One of these is Oak Tree Above the Valley ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/oak-tree-valley/ ) in which the blond fresh leaf growth sings out against a lowering sky, ’emblematic perhaps of the persistent optimism that others point out about me,’ Tom reflected.

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Hollow lane charcoal drawing

It’s hardly surprising that some common themes were to emerge as Tom worked on his collection Through Trees to the Sea for his exhibition at The Camel Valley Gallery in Wadebridge, Cornwall in October 2014. There had been an Entrance to a Lane in a canvas made early in the year and a way into the community in the Dusky St Columb painting made shortly afterwards.  Now the way through the trees becomes a hollow lane that seems to tunnel its way through the darkness in his latest charcoal drawing. This piece entitled Woodland walk 3, hollow lane ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/woodland-walk-3-hollow-lane-print/ ) develops the series of drawings that were to accompany the collection of paintings that he put together for the Camel Valley Gallery exhibition in the autumn.

These new drawings were successors to previous charcoal sequences ( see https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product-category/drawings-and-prints-of-drawings/ ) that accompanied other collections. As demanding or more so than creating a painting, the charcoal drawing process requires that everything be communicated by the way this partly burnt wooden twig behaves; smudging the pristine whiteness of the paper, building layer on layer of tone, lending itself to bold gestures and making erased passages take on a positive mark quality of their own. Much has to be achieved with such simple means.

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Thoughts on the first Lanherne Open Studio event 2014

Tom and Gabrielle’s move to St Columb meant for Tom finding a lot of fresh inspiration for his paintings and drawings. Now he could at last begin to follow up on this in the space of their purpose built studio. The wooded Vale of Lanherne had already enabled Tom to begin getting to know the huge potential that trees held for him –  a theme with an immense range of expressive possibilities. The town itself intrigues him as well, with its hilltop location and fascinating variety of buildings. Tom was also excited about the possibilities of Castle-an-Dinas as a central location within Cornwall from which a huge variety of vistas could be explored, towards the coast, towards the moors, the clay country and so-on.

>>Click here to visit the New Work page that gives picture links for the pieces shown in public for the first time during Cornwall Open Studio Week.

>>Click here to visit the Lanherne Studio page