Friday, 10 June 2011


Stanza Acrylic on Canvas Tom Cullen 2011   

                                                          I completed the above canvas "Stanza" after producing some sketches at the Slade School of Art, London earlier this year. These early sketches experimented with linking painting to poetry and selecting colour on a more random basis without a mathematical sequence or any pre-conceived ideas.
                                            When working on the completed canvas,after placing the black acrylic underlay, I painted the first red square in the top left and I continued painting left to right. During this process, I selected  colour which simply seemed to work, ignoring any other rules such as whether the colour was warm or cool, primary or secondary, contrasting etc. As the lines developed, it became more complex because the colour selected had to work in relation to the others and it became important to maintain the overall balance in the painting. There is a pattern to the placing of these squares in 8-9-9-8 line format which links to the suggested concept of poetry. In addition, each colour is painted freely which hopefully conveys a sense of primitivism or even a child-like quality.Using a wide palette range of vivid colour on top of the black base provides vibrancy. In addition, I avoided  linear convention by breaking symmetry between the top and bottom /left and right of the canvas.
                                                           This  work is fundamentally, an exercise in the nature and life of colour itself to convey a sense of rhythm, harmony and freedom often expressed in poetry.Hoffmann once said "It is not the form that dictates colour but colour that brings out the form".Colour can set a mood,attract attention or make a statement. It can be used to energise or cool things down. By selecting the right colour scheme, you can create a feeling of elegance,warmth or tranquility or even convey a sense of youthfulness. Given this, I hope the viewer might feel a sense of some poetry whilst engaging in this colourful piece and maybe even the excitement of the child within.

"Colour is crucial in painting, but it is very hard to talk about.There is almost nothing you can say that holds up as a generalization, because it depends on too many factors: size, modulation, the rest of the field, a certain consistency that colour has with forms and the statement you are trying to make"
                                                                   Roy Lichenstein

Acrylic sketches on paper exploring colour and poetry

"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of colour to express myself more express the love of two lovers by the marriage of two complementary express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a dark express hope by some star........someones passion by the radiance of the setting sun"
                                                                                                    Vincent Van Gogh
" Colour helps to express light, not the physical phenomenon, but the only light that really exists, that in the artist's brain"
                                                                                                         Henri Matisse

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Hymn to the Mother of God

Hymn to the Mother of God  2008 oil on wood   99x68cm

                                            Coming home, one May evening I found these panels of wood - part of an old defunct garden door lying carelessly by the kerb.It is always exciting using found material for painting and I could almost sense this door was waiting for me to inject a new life. After giving it the usual preparation and treatment,I primed it in a black matt paint,waiting anxiously for it to dry.
                                            I painted the blue and white stripes thinly in oils, allowing visibility of the black underneath and allowing the colour to float, hover and vibrate.Next,I worked on the purple horizontal bands, using a darker tone allowing the viewer to be drawn towards the centre panels.Finally,I painted the very top and bottom panels in a subtle grey to push these areas back and to give prominence to the blue, white and purple panels.I intentionally did not alter the holes in the left side panels leaving it raw and incomplete.I regard the work therefore,as being unfinished, but maybe this conveys a sense of honesty. In addition, doors themselves can be symbolic and are commonly used as metaphors in many cultures and art forms.  
                                        So does the abstract painting "Hymn to the Mother of God" metaphorically represent a Madonna for the twenty first century? Does it echo the music of John Tavener?  Is there a suggestion perhaps, of a value in connecting with ones spiritual roots, wherever they may lie?  Maybe it is not a religious painting at all but questions our own psychological state and values. However, that is for you the viewer to decide. All I know is that if I had changed my route home that summer evening, I may not have found this material and painted "Hymn to the Mother of God" at all. And you may find both these films deeply moving.    

Hymn to the Mother of God" is a piece of music by John Tavener released in 1995. Drawn to it's mysticism, Tavener joined the Orthodox Church in 1977, studying and setting music to the writings of the church fathers.His "Song for Athene" was memorably performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Subsequently,he composed a piece based on William Blake's poetry "Eternity's Sunrise" dedicated to her memory. Although remaining Orthodox, Tavener has more recently explored Hinduism and Islam.    
Mary, a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee is identified in the New Testament and in Islam as the mother of Jesus through divine intervention. Christians believe that she conceived her son miraculously through the Holy Spirit, whilst Muslims believe she conceived by the command of God. The bible records Mary's role in the events of the life of Jesus from beginnings to crucifixion. Apocryphal writings tell of her subsequent death and bodily assumption into heaven. Many Christians believe Mary as mother of Jesus is the Mother of God. Muslims regard her as Virgin Mother of Jesus, who is considered a prophet of Islam. Throughout  the ages, the image of Mary became a significant subject in art,music and literature. Although not recorded in the Gospels,the image of her cradling the dead body of her Son is a common symbolic motif in art called a "pieta" or "pity".   
       Source for material in italics: Wikipedia 2011.                                                                                                                  

Medugorje in western Bosnia & Hertzegovina has become a popular pilgrimage site since 1981 due to reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local Catholics. Mirjana Soldo reports receiving messages on the 2nd of each month as demonstrated in this film from October 2010.


Friday, 15 April 2011

San Jose 33

San Jose 33 Oil on Canvas 122x76cm Tom Cullen 2010

                                           I painted "San Jose 33" towards the end of 2010,after making a small acrylic sketch in which I experimented with contrasting colour tones and tonal values. This colour combination seemed to work and I changed the profile from horizontal to vertical from the original sketch to improve the composition. The intention was to be very simple,direct and explore some freedom during the painting sessions.
                                                Whilst I was completing this painting, news updates were coming through with regard to the miners trapped in Copiapo,Chile.On the 5th August the mine had collapsed leaving thirty three workers 600 metres underground.Once it was known that they were still alive, the rescuers implemented a comprehensive plan to 

Study for San Jose 33 Acrylic on paper
both nurture and release them. The whole world was now focused on this mission, whilst the miners beneath endured severe food rationing and isolation. However, the moment of global joy came some sixty nine long days later, when one by one, the miners were brought to the surface over a period of almost twenty four hours. For once,the media had something positive to focus on and the world celebrated this success of this mission.
                                                It seemed appropriate therefore to call this painting"San Jose 33". After all it appears from the beginning, it may have been an inner exploration of personal entrapment and the desire for freedom. Given the pain and sacrifice these miners endured during this intensive time of confinement, it is more than important to pay homage to them and also to those who secured them safely.

 Both the study and original painting "San Jose 33"are showing at the "Global Dimensions" Exhibition at the W3 Gallery, 185 High St, Acton Town, London W3 9DJ until June 18th.

"Song for San Jose Miners" by Jack Warsaw

Above: Opening Night at the W3 Gallery, "Global Dimensions" Exhibition June 4th.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

World like a dewdrop............

World like a dewdrop    Acrylic on canvas    122x76cm     Tom Cullen 2011

"World like a dewdrop
Though it's only a dewdrop
Even so,even so."
                                         I painted "World like a dewdrop" recently in 2011, having read and been influenced by  Japanese haiku poetry. I wanted to explore and interpret some of the principles of haiku in a visual way and through my own language of abstract expressionism.The question of scale interested me. I wanted to develop a relationship between a small entity in the painting and the larger expanse of the canvas itself,using vibrant colour to dictate both harmony and contrast.
                                Haiku poetry emerged in Japan in the 16th century and has it's roots in  the tradition of Tanga and the developments of Renga.In original format,it consists of three lines of five,seven and five syllables respectively.There are nine haiku rules, which include stating that the poem should be simple and immediate. It should also have connections with real events, sights, sounds or emotions.Another technique used is the contrast between the large and the small, the cosmic and the individual or the profound and the everyday.By comparing the world to a dewdrop for instance, we are forced to change perspective.This may alter our pre-conceived ideas and meanings about our relationship with the world.
                              There are also links with the Zen Buddhist concepts of Change and Impermanence,Suffering and Compassion,Simplicity and Momentariness,Non-self. Everything is in constant state of change and suffering is key to human existence. Compassion for ourselves and others is essential to combat pain.By learning to live with a little ,keeping life simple and by trying to live in the moment we can also come to terms with the human condition.Ultimately,the idea of a permanent self and ownership is an illusion.

                            "World like a dewdrop" is on show at the W3 Gallery, Acton Town,London from June 5th as part of the "Celebrating Sanctuary" Exhibition.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


 Essaouira   Acrylic & Oil On Canvas  43x153cm      Tom Cullen

                                       Essaouira,the north Moroccan fishing village is renowned for it's narrow streets, multi-colour doors and tall stucco-coloured houses.Situated on the Atlantic coast,the water is cold,the waves vibrant and yes,it can be quite windy.The light however, is fantastic and it is not surprising that it is a popular place among artists.Many of them now live and have galleries there. From the mid 60's  it became a haunt for musicians like Jimi Hendrix and later Bob Marley to chill out and find inspiration. Nowadays,the annual Gnaoua (African Sufi) music festival is just part of the special magic of Essaouira.
                                       I visited  Morocco in 2007 and painted "Essaouira" shortly afterwards.I wanted to avoid any linear convention or symmetry in this painting,allowing the colour to take charge of the balance. I used acrylic to create the flat pale grey-blue background and I took advantage of the vibrancy of the oil paint to convey a sense of light and dazzle.Pushing everything back to basics,hopefully we are left with something that evokes some of the spirit of Essaouira - this bright, beautiful,colourful,and creative place in Morocco, North Africa.


Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Dead

Detail from "The Dead"  Tom Cullen   Oil on Canvas 2007

                            "The Dead" is a short story written by James Joyce as part of the "Dubliners" collection published in 1914. It is the last story in the book and unites the previous themes covered in the collection. The intention in writing Dubliners, Joyce said was that the city of Dublin seemed to him the centre of paralysis. By this, Joyce meant the inability to act, move or grow beyond where one is spiritually and emotionally alive - the inability to live fully.Considered one of the most beautifully executed stories in the English language, "The Dead" was the culmination of Joyce's critical and ironic portraits of everyday life in the turn of the century Dublin.
                             I wanted to interpret this short story in a way in which the American abstract artist Mark Rothko might have done, but also using my own expression and particularly giving attention to the last emotional lines.In this,the central character Gabriel reflecting on his wife Gretta's tragic love, suggests that the living might in fact be able to free themselves to live unfettered by deadening routines and the past. In every corner of Ireland, snow touches both the dead and the living uniting them. The painter Rothko, tragically commited suicide in 1970 whilst nine of the famous Seagram murals were being transported to the Tate gallery in London. The film "The Dead" was the also the last film which John Huston directed, released posthumously in 1987.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Bacchus and Ariadne

                                Bacchus and Ariadne                Tom Cullen        Oil on paper. 2008.   

"Bacchus and Ariadne" is a contemporary interpretation of the painting by Titian which hangs in the National Gallery,London. According to the classical writers Ovid and Catulius, Bacchus,the god of wine emerged with his followers and falling in love with Ariadne on sight, leaped from his chariot towards her.She had been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxo by Thebes.Titian's painting shows her initial fear of Bacchus,but he raises her to heaven and turns her into a constellation, represented by the stars above her head.
I intentionally used lively and vivid colour to metaphorically represent and evoke the spirit of this classical painting by Titian.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Bacchus and Ariande by Titian 1520-1523