We recently spoke to Tom Henderson Smith, an artist based in Cornwall specialising in landscape and seascape paintings. We learned more about his experiences in Africa where he spent part of his early life, his years in Italy after graduation and much more.
Early life brought me experiences of the tropics because my parents worked in Africa when I was a child. Then later we all moved to the north of England. My brother and I found the greyness and the smogs of the late '50s hard to take and used to go to the local municipal greenhouse to remind us of the climate we remembered. Later we'd go to the public art gallery and I learnt from both places that colours and textures could lift my spirits. Our mum had been an art student before the war (WW2) and had kept making watercolours and drawings on her travels so there tended to be art materials around. She always encouraged my art interests so I quickly learnt that the process of making art was something that was right for me and was appreciated at home. School in Yorkshire, college at Newcastle University and above all living in Italy helped me pursue and develop my art interests.
Those two years in Italy certainly had a bigger influence on me as an artist than college had. There was a feeling that art was an essential part of life there built on a civilisation that particularly valued the role of art as part of its buildings. Fresco painting and other traditions in Italy have a particular character unique to each city and that gave me a strong sense that art could be about expressing or celebrating the spirit of a place.
The twenty-four years I spent teaching were like an intensely practical apprenticeship for me as an artist. There's nothing like having to organise the creative activities of a class of students when it comes to valuing your own creative opportunities. So when the chance came in '99 to move on from teaching I was very ready for a career move to self-employment as an artist.
It's something that happens on a very deep level I think, certainly not consciously. However, whenever I put together a collection of work for an exhibition, I start to become aware that it pervades my thinking. For example when I created a show that I called Lived-in landscapes in 2010 it dawned on me that it was Buddhist teachings on the inseparability of life and its environment that lay behind the appeal of this theme for me.
For me it's something to do with finding a way for the piece I'm working on to take on a life of its own, independent of whatever plans or references have been involved up to that point. Then I know I just have to make sure that the qualities I'm becoming aware of in it are coming through clearly. After that it will be ready to leave the studio when someone wants to acquire it.
Cornwall has an extraordinarily varied coastal landscape and is a peninsula. So I find that there is always something somewhere here that appeals to me visually. Also Cornwall's industrial and cultural heritage both throw up themes that I delight in exploring. What I think of as the over-arching maritime light in Cornwall possibly comes from the fact that the sea is on both sides of us here and that has a subtle though powerful effect as well, bringing out the character of the place.
On a day to day basis I'm drawn to lively examples by a huge range of artists and the internet is a wonderful resource in that respect. Someone whose paintings and drawings I keep coming back to however is David Bomberg. His strong sense of design and his passionate involvement with colour are both aspects I'm strongly drawn to.
Yes, it's www.hendersonsmith.co.uk .
I'm working towards a new show at Bodmin Shire Hall in the early autumn. It will run from September 3rd to the 30th.
I've become acquainted with work by many artists through Wonderstreet and admire a good deal of it; the atmospheric power of Roderick Sutterby's landscapes, the sheer liveliness of Lisa Robinson's semi-abstract interiors, the intriguing kaleidoscopic paintings of Freya Pardue are just a few of those I've discovered. I look forward to getting to know many more and forming connections with them.
The images of my work you see above show something of the range of what I do. The website link on each of their Wonderstreet image pages takes you to its place on my website. From there in the case of the Yellow Submarine painting, the two charcoal drawings and the final landscape image you can access related short articles about them. The two festival paintings shown above are examples of my interest in celebrating Cornwall's extraordinary carnivals and festivals in paint, something I've done since 2002, often raising funds to support these events in the process. The two coastal landscapes with pines are examples of how I aim to use the painting process to not only depict aspects of my Cornish surroundings but also to cherish them.