Tom Robinson

- Present

Tom Robinson lives in Norfolk, England. His work space is a large garage-turned-studio without windows where light is drawn through opaque panes of glass in the ceiling. The work in progress is hung on each of the four walls surrounding the artist, creating an intense if sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere. The arrangement allows the works to speak to each other across the room and for different bodies of work – small and very large paintings; paintings on panel and canvas; paintings in vivid colour and in black and white – to proceed in concert.

Robinson describes his work as ‘reaching for something beyond the surface: the meta image’. His process is rooted in an intuitive approach in which formal elements are manipulated until an image emerges, hovering between stability and the possibility of a further realisation. It is an instinctive yet considered way of working. The paintings start from an inchoate impulse to use a particular colour, movement or tone and, through the process of adding and subtracting, go on to establish a structure and logic of colour. Robinson places great importance in taking colour off the surface, as well as in applying paint. His understanding of colour is subtle and often surprising. The forms move against each other: coming forwards and receding to create space, and giving the surfaces a three-dimensionality akin to relief sculpture. His paintings often feel compact, elevating rather than mitigating the tension and visceral energy of the fluid, moving paint. One is left with the impression of complex, rhythmic planes of colour that generate light.

Robinson’s influences are myriad and eclectic and include literary and musical sources as well as the plastic arts. He first found the Greek and Assyrian reliefs in the British Museum as a student in London, igniting an interest that has shaped his understanding of rhythm and surface since. The overlapping forms and the particular perspective found in classical relief panels are tangible markers central to his paintings.

Robinson attended The Byam Shaw and The Royal Drawing School in London. He lives and works in Norfolk. He was shortlisted for the the Gilchrist Fisher award in 2010 and the Contemporary British Painting Prize in 2021.


Artist’s Statement


I am interested in art that takes you to your senses: that registers as some sort of shock or force (subtle or strong). This could be a line; the outline of a jug against a wall; a rhythm; a colour. The list is endless. When you swim in a river, you connect through your senses — touch, nerves, you feel it through your skin and you are aware of the surface of the water and the light thrown off the surface and the dark under the trees. All of those sensations come before any thought. I am drawn to paintings and sculpture that seem to enter one through the senses.

I’ve thought for a long time about opposites and that a painting might be the sum of its opposites.  That any formal element has an opposing counterpart (think of complementary colours; but the principle isn’t confined to colour: thus thin is opposed by thick [whether that’s a line or a field of paint]; light to dark; still to movement; fast and slow movement [movement is realised when it is arrested]; wet and dry; hard and soft edges; saturated or dull colour; a loose or tight structure; harmony and dissonance; near and far. But also less tangibly something unexpected might be funny — make one laugh — and others be oppressive. Matisse’s cut out show is a case in point – the paintings had this unparalleled force: certain colours and forms were the optic equivalent of strong drink; others seemed to overwhelm: to drive one into the floor. These opposing forces speak against and with each other. They create different voices, different registers. They create tension.  somehow they create light. Painting can create skins of paint over an underlying skeleton of form.  Painting can make concrete forms — a structure – within paint that is intrinsically liquid. Sometimes light is coloured; in other work white light is generated, the equivalent of daylight — Cézanne repeatedly made white light in his paintings.

I am drawn to music that does something similar. I have been listening to Karin Rehnqvist’s choral music. Its often harsh, but it seems to have a quality where it hovers and grips right on the edge of one’s nervous system. You feel it as well as hear it. Its beautiful and slightly ugly and strong and weird.

The process of painting: continual reiteration — something accrues; improvisation and finding something new. I think there are concerns — probably the light that each painter generates — that don’t really change, despite all the more superficial developments you go through. I feel quite close now, to the landscapes that I was making outside ten years ago and the drawings I was making in the British Museum of the Greek reliefs fifteen years ago as a student.  At the same time you learn new aspects of the same things — about light or of putting things together — like learning the same thing over and over in a slightly new way. It’s perhaps akin to being in a dark room that gradually gets bigger as you learn to do more things; but you have to work to make sure you are always touching the walls.

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