A 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.
In creating the painting entitled Sailing home ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/sailing-home/ ) Tom came to realise that, although the image had come from a walk along the banks of the Camel Estuary, what in fact resonated for him here were memories of boyhood holidays along the South Devon coast; he and his brother Richard half living, half imagining Swallows and Amazons type adventures as their parents and younger sisters looked on from the nearby shore. Here again it was lingering over colour and form that brought this resonance to mind. He aimed to embody his enjoyment of such resonances in the way he painted these pieces. Of course viewers aren’t going to know about such personal references unless, like yourselves they’ve been informed about them. Nevertheless Tom felt confident that, as long as he could bring his sense of joy into making each painting, people would be able to bring in their own associations to enrich their viewing.
This painting ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/summer-evening-corner-st-columb/ ) grew from an occasion when Tom was within earshot of a chamber music evening given by Harmoniemusik, an ensemble that visits St Columb every summer. The resonance here was clearly related to the music he could distantly hear. In this painting he aimed to let the interlocking planes of stone and hanging slate, gable-ends and roof sections sing together through colour and pattern.
Reflecting 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 ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/exhibitions/work-home-cornwall/ ). ”
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 https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/at-work-at-home-in-cornwall/ 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.
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!
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.
Following the successful conclusion of the Lafrowda Festival Benefit Painting Auction on July 16th 2016 Tom felt drawn to make some gentle pastoral pieces.
So, back at his Studio after all that excitement, his priority was first of all to ’chill out’. Valley shapes, St Columb(see above) came from this impulse in which simple bands of colour, on quite a small scale, interpret the ’soft weather’ of a damp July day here in mid Cornwall.
A little more ambitious, though still using modified bands of colour that step straightforwardly into the landscape space, was Summer storm over Castle An Dinas . A suggestion of movement from right to left became a pre-occupation here, hinting perhaps at the drama of the back-story, the ancient fortified settlement that later served as a Roundhead encampment here in a strategically central location within the Duchy.
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.
The inspiration for Morning light down Fore Street, St Columb ( ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/morning-light-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.
New houses at dawn from Carloggas Way ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/new-houses-dawn-carloggas-way/ ) was, for Tom, about the sense of promise that accompanies a new day, especially one in which long planned for events are about to occur. In this case it was the return to his‘proper‘ home after four months at a rented house to enable refurbishing to happen following an insurance claim. The glow of early morning sunshine that picked out the hilltop houses here from those still bathed in cool shade on the lower slopes was for Tom a vehicle to contain the hope he felt. For him they were perhaps symbols of the positive potential inherent in this situation as he and Gabrielle prepared to move back.