Neil Tomkins - Now Here - Nowhere
Neil Tomkins: In Praise of Beauty by James Watkins
In the simplest possible terms, as a painter, Neil Tomkins faces the immemorial challenge. To confront an unlimited universe of opportunity and render a single image onto a two dimensional plane, through the medium of paint, via the limitations of his human form. A stimulating invitation that has for millenia enticed imagemakers back to caves, cathedrals and canvasses or any surface that could feasibly hold pigment, in an effort to further their understanding of this mysterious endeavour. The unpredictable alchemy, infinite scope for experimentation and rewards for risk taking...as well as its potential to act as a vessel for emotion and the euphoria of the process itself, are but a few of the ways in which painting continually lures its participants back to the dialogue with their own impulses. Fortunately for those who come into contact with Tomkins’ images, the most exciting elements of painting as a medium are always at the forefront of his work.
Within the realm of landscape painting, Tomkins has created himself a framework to respond to both the world and himself, whilst exploring the potential for paint as a spirited bridge between these two connected entities. The familiar motifs of land, sea, trees, sky and manmade structure are all present...but it is the self-granted permission to break into abstracted worlds of experimental composition, improvised palettes and sublime texture which allows his works to transcend the chastity of decorative landscapes and hang pridefully– with a full-bodied romance sans cliche where the superficial falls away and only the essential remains.
Tomkins’ paintings are positively alive with his affection for painting and brim with the confidence of an experienced experimenter continually pushing themselves in their practice. His ability to combine illustrative delicacy with large immersive spans of colour allows admiration of the work to flourish with both the micro and macro gaze. His immediacy of mark, confident hand and clear willingness to delete, let go and paint over himself to create new opportunities enables the unexpected to flourish and the occupation of space in counterintuitive ways. His fervent devotion to colour as a means of imbuing the inanimate with ecstatic enthusiasm elevate his paintings as they become objects of superb refinement. The core aesthetic of his work remains an engaging combination of seminal masters, Australian painting heritage and an honest pursuit of his own creative intuitions– revealing a painter with a simultaneous eye on the past and future, at the sharp end of their potential.
Tomkins achieves success in some of the most difficult artistic pursuits: allowing the sophisticated to appear simple, and capturing the subtle frequencies of life in a way that does the undefinable poetry of our fleeting moments justice. Whilst navigating the intersection of naiveté and complexity, he remains open to opportunity, allowing for the possibility of spontaneous release, creating renditions of reality filtered through countless unfiltered urges. Uncompromisingly virile, his work is a studied stylisation of what comes innately to all humans: a gratifying sense of play and the grand appeal of freedom to the human experience. We’re talking about genuinely celebratory images expounding on what is possible with a dedication to process and the bravado to flirt with unknowable entities. If the question posed was, “is there a degree of salvation in creation?”, his paintings, awoken portrayals psychedelic in their praise of beauty, act as nothing short as a resounding “yes”.
His latest body of work radiates with sentiment for the intangible character of place and the relationship between nature and man. Oscillating between intensely charismatic renditions of Australian vistas (for which he has on obvious affection), and intriguing works depicting the amalgamation of disparate locations and visual ideas utilising collaged, autobiographical photographs as reference material. Here, Tomkins has found a way to disrupt the pattern of his own practice, presenting the viewer with pleasingly unfamiliar images; foreign enough to feel fresh, but familiar enough to allow the viewer a journey inwards– filling the space left by Tomkins with their own experiences, memories and the subconscious emotional responses to the visual cues.
In an increasingly fractured and digitised world, his paintings pierce the horizon like obelisks of optimism emphasising and bearing witness to the beauty of our surroundings. They are willing us to open our eyes, to return towards something elemental– disclosing the forgotten potential for joy in expression and empowering us to take up arms against our own self - imposed limitations. They are contemplative offerings nostalgic for a more hands - on, grounded existence– manifestations of the inherent magic of object, honoring the analogue, commemorating craftsmanship and reminding us of the physical appeal of something we can still hold and touch in the 21st century.
In possession of an ambiguous destiny, a painter can carry no torch but their own to illuminate their future, and must always return alone to their practice armed only with an internal barometer as an abstract indicator of success and failure. When Tomkins is at his best, it’s as if he pours himself onto the canvas with every ounce of strength available, with all his accrued knowledge of paint, full of reverence for his ancient continent, paintbrush in hand...entreating himself to empty his psychic reserves in a
frenzy of anticipation to see what happens when a human attempts to charge an object with 100% intensity and love. When we create in this unbridled manner, and make art honestly we are our most authentic selves, and it’s this authenticity which is at the heart of why Tomkins’ work is so compelling. His paintings aren’t mere cosmetic commodities destined for a wall in a well-heeled home ; they are sincere reflections of the individual who sat within the atmosphere of the landscapes, energetic revelations of what he learnt whilst enamoured in the process of painting them, and nothing short of material testimonies to the painter he’s become upon their resolution.