For figurative painters, the subject of their work is often a solo figure, who may be painted as a portrait, from the waist up or as a complete form. This likeness can represent many aspects of the model or sitter, but is often a reflection of the inner state of mind of the artist. For Adelaide-based artist Tom Phillips, his figurative works are about his personal responses to the world, especially the vulnerability, fragility and loneliness of human beings.
His intense and expressive paintings almost always include a lone person, either in portrait or a full length study. He says, “I like things in between abstraction and figuration, I find the process creates nervous energy and a rawness of colour to express a psychological state.”
Phillips was always interested in art and during periods of unemployment in his younger years kept busy with sketching and drawing. He was inspired by Sidney Nolan and after periods of drifting through life made the decision to go to art school in 1992. Receiving a scholarship from Central School of Art, Phillips graduated with an Advanced Diploma of Visual Arts in 1997.
Coming from a working class background, art school was a revelation for Phillips. He not only learnt skill, technique and art theory but was introduced to modern painters such as Francis Bacon. He says, “Bacon’s mark-making had a profound impact on me, how he uses paint and space to trap the figure as if they are in prison gasping for air.”
Since graduating Phillips has shown with Cube Gallery and Praxis Art Space, has exhibited in art prizes and undertaken residencies. He has recently completed a residency at Sauerbier House in Port Noarlunga where he met with local people to hear their stories and paint their portraits. Meeting mainly with local men, Phillips created 15 portraits with titles such as ‘The Bottle Shop Man’ which have been on show at the Sauerbier House Gallery.
He is currently working on a series called Birthday Boy to talk about how loneliness can be amplified at birthdays. Phillips is tackling difficult and at times challenging subject matter, however there is positive and engaged responses to his paintings and he says, “People love the work, it gets them talking about subjects of isolation and loneliness, it connects them to their own emotions and inner feelings.”