LONG READ: Tom Robinson Studio Visit
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Heading through the heart of North Norfolk I pass the magnificent view of Blickling Hall and continue my journey along the winding, undulating country lanes before arriving at the farming village of Saxthorpe, just 10 miles inland from the coast. My destination is the studio and home of painter Tom Robinson. On my arrival, I find a picturesque setting and a stimulating, imaginative environment – what was a dilapidated 1960s bungalow quirkily redesigned by the Robinsons as their family home, children playing in the garden, a rope swing hanging in the patio porch. The first impression was that of a creative and considered lifestyle – people who care about every aspect of their surroundings. It seemed idyllic.
Tom was immediately warm and welcoming, with an easy relaxed manner, reflective of his kind and affable personality. We walked over to his studio – a converted garage in close proximity to his house. The southern side of the studio had been replaced with glass panels, painted white and the window had been boarded across to make more wall space. It created a studio environment akin to a large luminous box.
I glanced around and absorbed my surroundings. The paintings hanging on the studio walls offered a kaleidoscope of rhythmic colour exuding luminosity and with the energetic brushstrokes of their making animating the studio environment. Further canvases were stacked on the floor, a combination of work completed and work in progress. A mass of squeezed paint tubes formed a sculptural mound consuming one corner of the studio while painted ceramic plates hung on the wall – experimental ideas concerning colour relationships, each an individual artwork in itself. Paint splatters covered every inch of the studio – the splashed walls evidencing the activity having taken place in the space. The kinetic energy present on the surface of the works echoed in the studio surrounds. Tom stood camouflaged in his environment – his clothes similarly covered in paint including his fleece jacket which had clearly seen him through painting during the dark, cold winter months from which we were gradually emerging.
Tom is a serious and committed artist with a calm, unassuming personality.
We chatted freely and easily about his work, and about art and life in general, immediately connecting with a sense of shared mindset and outlook. It was not difficult to engage with his paintings and express my sincere enthusiasm. He revealed one large, stacked canvas after another, moving them around and either hanging them up or propping them by the wall. Through this viewing process, I gained further insight into the mind and motivation of the painter. I have never failed to get excited by colour, and here was an artist who truly knew and understood colour, each dynamic interaction of one hue against the next creating a new drama, set of tensions and intensity. The paintings were alive with the vitality of Tom’s approach, paint marks dancing across the surface, fresh and captivating.
We walked over to a large greenhouse in the garden where canvases hung drying – a surreal way to view paintings among the soil and plants, but appropriate – a coming together of nature and art, redolent of the priorities in his family life. The winter sun filtered through the glass, warming the greenhouse and brightly illuminating the works.
Our tour continued into the house where a sense of the creative life was again reflected. Older paintings and those more recent, canvases large and small, hung on the walls – a rich display of experimentation and development, past and present. The work offered touchstones to discuss and appreciate Tom’s journey as a painter and the narrative that forms the passage of time. He talked about the progression from his student work at the Byam Shaw School of Art and The Royal Drawing
School, his early experience of painting and the influence of painters including David Bomberg and Frank Auerbach to the evolution of his current practice.
I left my studio visit feeling enriched with colour, inspired by Tom’s approach and with a genuine sense of new friends established.
Tom has a new exhibition ‘In Between Them Doing’ opening on Wednesday 6 July.