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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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About Cumulus and rooftops painting

Cumulus and rooftops ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/rooftops-and-cumulus/ )

Tom was invited to give a demonstration to members of Newquay Art Society. Trawling through the archive of his digital reference materials he came across shots taken a few years earlier that seemed to provide a promising starting point. It was during a summer afternoon visit to the cliffs at Bedruthan Steps. He had been recording the forms of the spectacular coast and sea when  a clap of thunder made him turn around towards the National Trust café there. The mass of cloud above and the rooftop forms of the buildings below provided an image of the kind of identity and difference that fascinated Tom.  Re-discovering this image, it seemed to Tom to ‘fit the bill’ perfectly for this demonstration. Tom explained about his interest in how the illuminated cloud mass was in some ways similar to, in others very different from, the roof structures below, the ’lively greys’ suggested by billowing cloud forms taking centre-stage between these two areas of the painting.

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About Silvery cloud above winter trees

Silvery cloud above winter trees ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/silvery-cloud-above-winter-trees/ ) arose from Tom’s response to colour interactions on a bright wintry afternoon near my studio here in Mid Cornwall as he walked with our dear elderly collie ‘Rags‘. The joyful clarity of most of the sky above this hillside meadow, adorned with leafless trees and illuminated by the glow of the gradually sinking sun, seemed at first marred by the cloud forms moving across it. Then Tom realised what was going on and that it could be brought out through the process of painting. He always strove for what he called ’lively greys’, finding ways to achieve them optically and sometimes by mixtures other than those of white and black. The cloud bank here provided an opportunity to place such greys in relation to the cool brightness of the open sky, the sombre warmth of winter trees and the earthy golden greens of a foreground field. There it could hang suspended, warmer than the azure blue, cooler than the earthy hues beneath, enigmatic and intriguing.

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Lived-in Landscapes

Tom was steadily accumulating a collection of new work towards his next exhibition.

He writes: ‘What’s been guiding my approach to image making since October 2008 has been a fascination with all those aspects of landscape that suggest human presence. Having a stronger than ever awareness of this aspect as I roam the countryside now has led me to see it as what I’m calling a lived in landscape.  This all started with realising that the theme of a cluster of buildings, that was present in some of the collection that made up my previous exhibition at Falmouth Arts centre last October, was something I wanted to explore further. Then, as I began to pursue this theme I found myself drawn to depicting other features reflecting human presence and influence such as field patterns, tracks through the landscape, the maritime landscape of Mounts Bay and an incident in the mining history of the area. So this thematic element is one lived-in aspect of this new collection.’

Another aspect of which Tom was becoming increasingly aware was more to do with the process of painting or drawing. This related to the fact that translating these images into varied areas of colour, tone and texture involved literally living in these compositions that derived from the landscape. His hope was that the experience of lingering over the colour mixtures, the paint layering and the brush or finger marks that he used would begin to coax a feeling of life into what he was doing. This is something that he relished and that gradually led him to a sense that the piece that he was working on was beginning to have a life of its own. Tom’s aim was to bring this quality to a pitch of vividness which was unique to the painted image and not simply a reflection of the life situation that he was depicting.

The part of Cornwall where he was based has a rich and varied history. Centuries of farming and a long history of mining have left a clear imprint. What attracted Tom to explore this aspect of the landscape ranged from field patterns  to hollow lanes, to people working on the land, to ancient sites,  to

clusters of buildings, to people celebrating on a summer evening, to maritime activity in Mounts Bay and finally to  a haunting image from the tragic history of tin and copper mining in the area.

Two books had resonated for Tom with the experience of living with these landscapes. One was The Making of the English Landscape by W. G. Hoskins which was recommended by a visitor to the studio back in the spring of 2009. Its reference to the great antiquity of some of Penwith’s field boundaries in particular struck him and then led to a sense of how pervasive human influence has been in forming many aspects of the landscape. The other was a novel called John Pascoe by J. C. Tregarthen whose imaginative recreation of a young man’s experience of life in 19th century Penwith helped to make more vivid Tom’s sense of this as a truly human landscape.

When the collection reached completion and the gallery had been booked at Trereife House near Penzance as the venue for the exhibition from May 28th – June 10th 2010, Tom felt that this had been a delightfully varied journey that he had been on.  He reflects ‘What all these pieces have in common for me is a sense of the life-states of those who have lived here, of their persisting reality being reflected back to me and lived-in again through the process of painting.’