Town Hall Gallery Assistant Marion Piper recently had the pleasure of conversing with artist Tom Wells about creativity, life and his beautiful watercolour painting The Itinerants (1971) that is a feature of the Town Hall Gallery collection.
Marion Piper [MP]: Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Tom Wells [TW]: I have had a close association with the arts throughout my life as painter, art teacher, lecturer in Architecture, curator of a university art collection and its gallery director. I am in retirement now and continue to find satisfaction in participating in painting.
[MP]: How did you get into making Art?
[TW]: Interest and participation in making art at an early age was encouraged by teachers and family.
An art scholarship to the School of Mines in Ballarat initially assisted in the technical management of art mediums. Training to be an art teacher followed with experiences at RMIT and Melbourne University (Fine Arts) started to mould the direction I would follow. I began exhibiting at this time in group shows which led to my first one man show at the Johnston Gallery, Brisbane. There have been thirty three solo shows which have followed since in galleries in Eastern Australia.
[MP]: What is your preferred medium and why?
[TW]: Watercolour began as my preferred medium because of its transparency and freshness and was the agency of my successes in art competitions in winning the Crouch prize for watercolour and the Camberwell Rotary prize for watercolour among others.
More recently I have used acrylics, oils and pastels in addition to watercolour. I have also experimented successfully with my own brand of burnt acrylic which produces a character of its own.
[MP]: What inspires you?
[TW]: A desire to communicate a message that reflects personal experience and interest. The inspiration comes from observing people (the human condition) and places where the environment has special characteristics.
[MP]: Do you have a studio? If so, what is it like?
[TW]: Yes. It is a purpose built space of 36 m2 detached from the house and contains the easels, work surfaces; storage and lighting that facilitate the working processes.
[MP]: How much time do you dedicate to your art making?
[TW]: The thinking process of gathering and processing the ideas goes on most of the time but the action of putting ideas into practice varies and is conditioned by location (field trips) motivation, comfort, climate and other life demands.
[MP]: We have exhibited your work "The Itinerants" numerous times - what does the work mean to you?
[TW]: This work was probably a turning point in my career because I dared to be different and in succeeding it gave me much confidence. For example, the size of the painting was much bigger than that which was considered standard for a watercolour. Next, it was about a subject that was not necessarily popular: Two lonely figures in a swampy environment. No beautiful gum trees here. It set out to make a statement about the human condition in the way [Sir Russell] Drysdale would have considered a theme to be explored.
[MP]: What is your favourite art movement from history, and why?
[TW]: The impressionists and post impressionists. They were the innovators, the breakers of traditional boundaries who gave us new thoughts about colour, subject matter and application of paint in its varying stylistic ways.
[MP]: If you could give any advice to an artist just starting out, what would it be?
[TW]: First, like playing music, it requires some basic skills and practice which will develop to make the important things happen.
Second, one must firm up on what you want to say or express in your own art and not follow necessarily in the footsteps of other artists, although you can learn from them.
Finally, you must develop stylistically your "makers mark" that identifies you as artist/creator. For example, how do we identify a Van Gogh, a Rembrandt, a John Brack or a Monet? Their fame is enshrouded in their "makers mark" or those distinctive characteristics in their art which makes them unique.
[MP]: Finally, if you could have dinner with any artist, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
[TW]: J.M.W. Turner - a superb manager of painting in theme, composition and atmosphere.
In his later works he dares to explore the metaphysical in landscape e.g. the notation of good and evil. He changed the way we could see and experience art and set the stage for the impressionists.