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Picturing the not so picturesque

canopy_at_paddingtonA trip to London in September 2016 was an inspiration for Tom in an unexpected way. Naturally the exhibitions he had seen in the capital were stimulating as was the metropolitan environment, so different from Cornwall. In the end however it was a relief to be on the way home and it was pleasant to relax for a while at Paddington Station before catching a late afternoon train to the far west. It was during this ’chill-out time’ that Tom came to the surprising realisation that Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineered girders that make up the station’s overhead canopy could provide his next starting point for a painting and the sweeping arcs of this canopy with light playing through its glass roof-panels were to prove a pleasure to paint once he was back in Cornwall. It was a theme that seemed to demand a soaring vertical format and resolved itself as a kind of colour-chord of rusty reds, sky blues, neutral mixed greys and whites.

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Shows over – the show goes on

2016_shire_hall_posterReflecting on this exhibition, Tom wrote “The other day the exhibition I’ve worked towards for at least 18 months came to an end. All except the few sold items had to be carefully packed and transported back to my studio. Once that would have been a bit of an anti-climax. Now, fortunately the show goes on – online. The concept of the collection that emerged so tentatively, as each canvas came into being and added its unique facet to the whole, is still there. You can see what I mean at ( ). ”

The concept of this particular show was something that embraced and was informed by Tom’s experience of having to move out of his home for a few months earlier that year. You can read about that at which was also published in a booklet about the exhibition.

Tom liked to document his exhibitions in this way, sometimes with a virtual tour. All can be accessed through the exhibitions page link above.

It was sometimes the case that a collection was added to after the event of the exhibition itself, for example his Ten Years of Lafrowda Paintings show that happened in 2012. That’s because four additional paintings were inspired by subsequent versions of the festival.

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Evolution of Mad Aviators at Lafrowda

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 (( ) 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 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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at Work – at Home – in Cornwall (by Gabrielle Hawkes)


This was a new collection of paintings that Tom assembled to exhibit in the gallery at the Shire Hall. These canvases were the result of his personal reflections on his sense of home and about work as an influence on the character of landscapes and buildings around him. Both are themes that were highlighted by a recent experience of living in Cornwall, for Tom and I had to temporarily move out of our home earlier in 2016 and rent a place at the other end of our town for a few months while repairs took place following a serious pipe-leak.

Our home town , St Columb Major, is as centrally located as any town in Cornwall. It was Tom’s sense of being at home in these surroundings that comes across in the way he uses the interlocking shapes of buildings in these  paintings; a feeling of community emerges from the way they fit comfortably together, often highlighted by the warmth or vibrancy of his colour schemes. He picks up on these qualities too in the other towns and villages that we visited and also brings out the harmony that he feels exists between these Cornish houses and their environment.

Industrial landscape was a re-discovery for Tom, one that harked back to his West Yorkshire youth. During the extensive house repairs necessitated by the pipe-leak, whenever we returned to the studio, we could hear the hum of the industrial fans and dehumidifiers that were drying out our home. This sound resonated for him with memories of the factories where he had worked in his student holidays. He found himself further drawn to the intriguing patterns and shapes of certain industrial buildings. Fascination with their visual rhythms and colour variations became a vehicle for him to express something of the pride in our industrial heritage harboured by many a Cornishman. This he clearly identified with. Ancient and modern farming methods also found their way into the work in this show.

Tom gave the title ‘Lived-in Landscapes’ to a previous collection that he showed in Bath and Penzance in 2010 and these new paintings pursue that idea more specifically in terms of work and home. As in those previous paintings there is a sense in which he has literally lived-in these compositions, translating the images that sparked them into becoming varied areas of colour, tone and texture. “I find”, he said then, “that lingering over the colour mixtures, the paint layering and the brush or finger marks that I use begin to coax a feeling of life into what I’m doing. This is something that I enjoy and that gradually leads to a sense that the piece I’m working on is beginning to have a life of its own.” In a similar way his themes of work and home appear in the style as well as the subject matter of these more recent paintings in their rich layering of paint, their working and re-working and in the way he has developed each of them to a point at which we sense the rightness of the way everything fits together and seems to belong. These are landscapes that are lovingly painted by an artist who has come home.

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Yellow Submarine memories


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 ( ) 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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Morning light down Fore Street, St Columb


The inspiration for Morning light down Fore Street, St Columb ( ( ) came from a walk down through the Cornish town of St Columb. This was on one of many studio visits as Tom was about to move back towards the end of four months living at the other end of this community. Here the complexities of quirky architecture along the way seemed like an equivalent for another promising spin-off from the time he’d spent living away. ‘Spin-off’ refers to an art and heritage-related project that, together with Gabrielle Hawkes, his partner, he  initiated for the town that they had come to love. Here Tom describes how it came about:

Our days had been for weeks split between the studio at one end of town and our rented house at the other end so this made us more than ever aware of this community that we are part of. By-passed in the late 1970s, already passed over when the choice of Truro as Cornwall’s cathedral city was made in the 19th century and having lost far too many shops to the supermarket trade in larger towns all around it, St Columb cries out for regeneration. Together with a handful of art loving friends here, we are planning towards a project that we hope will make a difference. Encouraged by the experience of art related regeneration that occurred over at least the last twenty years of the thirty we spent in St Just-in-Penwith we aim to help release the creative potential within this community as well.

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Tom coined the phrase ‘dove-tailing’ for the process of interlocking shapes within a picture. This is a compositional device that once again occurred to Tom as he worked on a painting inspired by hillside trees and houses in a nearby Cornish town ( ). What struck him as he put the finishing touches to this new piece was how reminiscent it was in this way and in terms of colour to a canvas called Town shapes St Just ( ) that he painted in that far westerly town eight years ago. He had long since understood that the warm colour emphasis he brought out in that picture, as well as a similar dove-tailing of shapes, arose from the human warmth that he felt surrounded by in that far west community.

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Changes Upcountry from Redruth


Upcountry from Redruth ( ). Layers of landscape intrigued Tom.  It was something about the counterpoint of shapes they provide. Clustered houses here climb the foreground hill; wind-turbines lie beyond, something a little unexpected in a landscape painting, signs of change. There are distant blue hills. Upward progression becomes movement into space, an invitation to enjoy that magic of painting whereby surface interaction and exploration into depth occur together.

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Mackeral Sky over Lands End


Mackeral sky over Lands End  typified one of the cloud types that Tom found most inspiring, no doubt because of the possibilities of visual rhythm and pattern that such skies afford. Cirrocumulus Stratiformis, to give it the correct Latin term, forms “when moist air at high … altitude reaches saturation, creating ice crystals.” (Wikipedia) About this drawing Tom wrote: ‘What is so wonderful for a landscape artist is that with such conditions one can bring out as much visual interest in the sky as on the land or sea beneath, something I relished in working on this charcoal.’ drawing.

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Industrial Heartland, Cornwall

industrial_heartland“The heart of Cornwall is not a place” a friend told Tom when he was planning his Heart of Cornwall Paintings collection for the Bodmin Shire Hall exhibition in March 2015. Even though he’d moved to a central location in the Duchy eighteen months previously he found himself agreeing with his statement. The show then became Tom’s pursuit of an in depth view of the heart of Cornwall. An aspect that he knew had to be celebrated was Cornwall’s industrial heartland.

A bright winter morning walk up Carn Brea hill provided all the inspiration Tom needed to help him see this industrial heritage as an ongoing and living part of our culture and to aim to express that in a painting. The characteristic engine house and winding gear that he could see from there were not features of romantic ruin like so many that appear in Cornish landscapes but in working order, surrounded by other industrial installations and power lines. He could see that Cornwall’s industrial heart, a cleaner, healthier heart than existed in the past, was beating still.