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On completing The Dome of Human Kindness

Completed dome at Penmount

Below is some text from the conclusion of the booklet Tom was writing about Rebuilding the Dome of Human Kindness. Once the process of the reconstruction was complete Tom handed over the finished structure to Cornwall Faith Forum. You can read the full text and see the illustrations at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/rebuilding-the-dome-of-human-kindness/ . In accordance withTom’s wishes we hope to expand and develop this little publication in particular to include more photos about the interior colour scheme. The aim will be to use it as a fundraiser for the Dor Kemmyn Oval, the visionary multi-faith building that the Faith Forum is planning to build on the field that it leases from Cornwall County Council at Penmount.

One of the most remarkable features of carrying out the dome project was for Tom the way that it has brought the enthusiasm and combined skills of so many people together at each stage. There is in Nichiren Buddhism a concept of unity know as ‘Many in body, one in mind’ was amply demonstrated by this experience.

With its roots in a Christian upbringing, the concept of the dome has nevertheless taken on an aspect of Buddhist humanism now with the way its more public-facing display, shown externally, intrigues the eye, even from a distance. Its filigree of interlocking patterns seems to emphasise this, the Buddhist idea of dependent origination shown graphically with everything in life being interrelated. In carrying out the interior scheme, on the other hand, there was for Tom sheer enjoyment in the varied and juxtaposed colour areas that were created by his team of highly capable assistants. One human kindness leads to another. He saw hope for a transformation of society for the better.

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Reprieve at the old courthouse

Entrance to Reprieve Exhibition

The venue for Tom’s September 2018 exhibition was an old courthouse in the centre of Bodmin, mid Cornwall. He had shown there several times before. This time, however, it struck Tom as entirely appropriate that this space was once the public gallery, in a different meaning of the word, of what was once a courthouse.

Whilst  unfamiliar with the official records it must be the case that death sentences were once passed there. Perhaps some hapless plaintiff was once granted a stay of execution.  Tom felt at the time of this exhibition that he too had been granted a reprieve, at least for a while  in his succession of treatments for his illness, prostate and secondary bone cancer,  diagnosed in 2017.  Though the prognosis was that he was terminally ill, he fought his illness with incredible bravery and positivity, buoyed up by his Buddhist faith.   For Tom then, this exhibition was an opportunity to celebrate that he was still alive and painting but at the same time convey the wonder of that experience as well as his awareness of his mortality.

See all the paintings and installation shots here.

Tom was able to make a handsome donation to the charity Reprieve from sales in connection with this exhibition.

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New pieces in my collection for Reprieve

In this post Tom writes about three new additions to his collection for Reprieve,  his September 2018 exhibition held at Bodmin Shire Hall.

Winter dusk at St Columb ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/winter-dusk-st-columb/ ) was  a response to the darkest time of the year and in particular his sense of how the warmth of community life sustained him through such times, whether they were literally wintry or just sombre and worrying like the experience of serious illness that dominated 2017 for him.

Winter light, Mawgan Porth ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/winter-light-mawgan-porth/ ) aimed to express something of the awe and wonder that could occur to Tom in the presence of light, water and coastal landscape forms in a quite simple combination.  Such responses could, he found, be enhanced by the realisation that he was still alive and able to enjoy them!

Evening gardens, St Columb ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/evening-gardens-st-columb/ ) uses source material from the autumn to provide references to colours and shapes with which he could express the delight he felt about continuing to be involved in community life here while enjoying a remission in his illness.

View these paintings at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product-tag/reprieve-exhibition/ . A proportion of the proceeds of these sales was  donated to a cause that Tom supported, Reprieve ( https://reprieve.org.uk/topic/death-penalty/ ), a charity that campaigns against the death penalty that still exists in some parts of the world. It occurred to Tom that there was a poignancy about showing this particular collection at Bodmin Shire Hall, a former court-house where people have been condemned to death in the past and he wanted to acknowledge that by giving the donation.

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End of an era – start of a new one?

mad_aviators_at_lafrowda_2016

2017 was the year of Tom Henderson Smith’s final Lafrowda Festival Benefit Painting Auction. His reason for this was the founding of a new tradition here in St Columb Major  and he wished to support it in a similar way. More than three years after his move to St Columb from St Just, home of the Lafrowda Festival, Tom and his partner Gabrielle Hawkes with a group of friends launched the Our Town St Columb Major Arts and Heritage Project (https://www.facebook.com/ourtownstcolumb/?view_public_for=150213532127194 ) This was to become an annual Arts and Heritage Festival, the aim being to support cultural regeneration in this central Cornish community. The project’s first festival took place in August 2017.

This means that the metre square Mad Aviators at Lafrowda (https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/mad-aviators-lafrowda-2016/ ) painting that Tom made following the inspiration of the July 2016 event in St Just would, as he saw it, very probably be the last of that series. Starting in 2002, there were fourteen of these Lafrowda canvases emerging from Tom’s studio. You can see them all in the collection of ‘thumbnail’ picture links below the ‘virtual tour’ on the Ten Years of Lafrowda Paintings page of the website  (https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/ten-years-lafrowda-paintings-exhibition/ ).

That virtual tour itself records the exhibition that the Lafrowda Festival organisers asked him to put on at Cape Cornwall School in St Just in 2012. He subsequently added four more to the collection and each July since his move in 2013 saw Tom and Gabrielle back in St Just to soak up the excitement of Lafrowda once again.He was delighted that other artists still based in St Just started to do something similar for Lafrowda and he fervently wished that the tradition of supporting that festival would long continue in this way without him. Incidentally, prints of all those earlier Lafrowda paintings can be purchased by following relevant links on their image pages on Tom’s website.

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Evolution of Mad Aviators at Lafrowda

mad_aviators_at_lafrowda_2016
Link to image page

For several months in 2016 Tom worked on a metre square canvas that was inspired by a  Lafrowda Day procession in Cornwall’s most westerly town of St Just-Penwith. Mad Aviators at Lafrowda ((https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/mad-aviators-lafrowda-2016/ ) translates this spectacle into a riot of colour and shape. An apparent biplane, a ’red arrow’ and other miscellaneous forms of aerial transport process past his old studio in St Just-in-Penwith.

A wise artist-mentor he knew in his late teens once came up with the perceptive comment and prediction that although earth-bound in his approach Tom had a way of ‘sticking at things’ that in his painting  would one day lead to things ’taking off’. As Tom built up the layers of paint  this long ago insight came repeatedly to mind. Perhaps this is why the  Lafrowda image had appealed to Tom so much on the day of the festival.

Like its predecessors that can all be seen at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/ten-years-lafrowda-paintings-exhibition/ this painting was the subject of a benefit auction supporting the future of the extraordinary community celebration, that is Lafrowda Day.  Tom was a great supporter of this event,  firmly believing that creativity is sparked in the young by these festivals, cultural pilgrims to Cornwall are drawn in and small local businesses briefly flourish.  He saw the Lafrowda Festival as a  great celebration of creativity in Cornwall and the unique little town that is St Just-in-Penwith!

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Yellow Submarine memories

we_all_live_in_a_yellow_submarine

With the approach of Lafrowda Day 2016 on July 16th Tom had been recalling the extraordinary impact for him of the afternoon procession on the Lafrowda Day of the previous year. In particular it was the Yellow Submarine advancing down Fore Street in St Just that had appealed to him. What was it about it that had resonated so strongly for him?

Some of you may remember  seeing the original animated film when it was released in 1968 (Director George Dunning, Artistic Director Heinz Edelmann). At that time, Tom was a second year student in Fine Art at Newcastle University at the time. He hitch-hiked down the A1 and M1 one weekend, spent some time in the National Gallery and then went to see the Yellow Submarine film in Leicester Square that evening. Watching the trailer online brought it all back for Tom ! The Guardian ran a fascinating article about it just before the re-release ( http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/nov/19/beatles-yellow-submarine-simpsons-shrek ) which discusses the origins and making of the film.  All kinds of interpretations have been brought to it. For Tom, however, in addition to enabling the Fab Four to save Pepperland through music from the devastating effects of the Blue Meanies,  the Yellow submarine was simply a wonderful image of community inclusion.

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We all live in a yellow submarine

we_all_live_in_a_yellow_submarine

The fairly intense period of work on Tom’s 2015 Lafrowda Festival painting, ‘We all live in a yellow submarine’, had finally led to its completion in mid September.

Work on the canvas itself, following a period of playing around with the images on his PC after the mid July festival in St Just, had begun in earnest around the time of our Open Studio Week here at the Lanherne Studio early in August that year. First came the need to carefully plot out the composition with charcoal outlines. That was an ideal job to do in-between studio visitors because its complexity demanded interruption now and again to take a wider view.  After fixing the drawing and applying a transparent matt acrylic layer he decided on a deep yellow see-through ground over which he began blocking in the main shapes. This in turn became so complex that, in order to see it clearly in terms of colour and shape and not be distracted by ‘getting it right’ Tom decided to work with the picture and reference material upside-down for at least a week’s worth of painting sessions. Surprisingly, this method can really help with more rapid and accurate shape and colour-hue recognition. He understood that it’s something to do with the different hemisphere’s of the brain working together in a less self-conscious way. “I see you’re in Australia again” was his wife Gabrielle’s comment when she joined him in the studio one day.

Once things were right-way-up again it seemed Tom was on the home straight to resolving it all. Something wouldn’t quite gel however. It was only when he tried the picture on another wall back in the house, glancing across at it as he did the washing-up, that it became clear that the right hand side of the street in the picture needed a scumble of translucent and very light violet. Glazes of various yellows were also needed to pull together the form of the submarine itself. This clinched it!

Such was the curious process of painting this complex piece. Another fascinating aspect was the way that the theme of the yellow submarine, which of course refers to the famous Beatles number and the 1968 animated film, had attracted such a lot of speculation as to its symbolism. That, and his memories of the time when he saw the film as a student are the subject of another blog posting at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/yellow-submarine-memories/.

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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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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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Festival picture news (April 2011)

The  Viva Lafrowda painting inspired by the 2010 festival in St Just was exhibited in The Broadway Gallery New York in May 2011 in their May collection of art from around the world. Tom was proud to fly the flag for St Just, Penwith and Cornwall.

The same year The Ustinov Intercultural Centre at Durham University asked for examples to put in their Voices of the World Exhibition opening on April 21st . Tom sent a collection of prints of various Lafrowda paintings including Viva Lafrowda together with an original based on the  previous  year’s midsummer bonfire at Chapel Carn Brea.