Tuesday, 24 June 2014


 "Carnival" Oil on Canvas 77x122cm Tom Cullen 2010
"Carnival" is part of a pair of paintings in which I further explored my boundaries in abstract representation. The Sean Scully "Walls of Light" works which I saw in the Dublin City, Hugh Lane Gallery in 2010 left a lasting mark in my creative unconscious. I was in awe at the scale of his works and the way he could convey
many different themes and subjects by simply reducing his paintings to blocks and stripes of colour. In the first of my two works "Mona Lisa", I chose to re-interpret the Da Vinci painting in a contemporary way, abstracting the colour and transferring to my own building blocks. The second piece, later to be called "Carnival" explored the boundaries of contrasting and subdued colours. I also focused more strongly on how the colours meet and merge with each other.

"Carnival" detail
I used chalk to divide the canvas into sections and when I was satisfied with the scale, I painted over an ultramarine base. The red and blacks are overlayed several times, so as we can see the contrasting colour shining through underneath. Although there is plenty of colour variation from one row to the next, I also chose to use toned down colour in the rest of the painting. In addition to warm and cool greys that appear, the yellow block in the lower centre has a glaze of black to intentionally reduce the vibrancy of the painting.

"Mona Lisa"
Understanding how each segment of colour touches the next was really important to me when working on this piece. The painter Mark Rothko, was the master of this colour field technique and an artist that I often turn to for inspiration and ideas. A sense of spirit is always important to me both when I am painting or engaging with another artist's work. Breaking the rules of linear convention, such as in the bottom two rows when the blocks break at the same point was also significant in my ambition to push my own artistic boundaries. 

According to Wikipedia, "Traditionally, Carnival is a festive season which occurs before Lent and involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of circus, mask and street party". Colour is integral to the vibrancy and ambiance of "Carnival". It seemed an appropriate title to this piece, having been through such a journey of colour, contrast and spirit. I hope the viewer, therefore may sense some of the energy and jollity associated with Carnival when engaging particularly in the light and colour of this painting.

"Carnival" is on show at the W3 gallery, 185 High St, London W3 9DJ  "Art of Carnival" Exhibition, now extended to July 25th.

Santana performing "Carnaval" at "The Oakland Coliseum, Oakland CA.

Above: Opening Night of "The Art of Carnival" at W3 gallery, London.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

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" 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.

                                        After a few variations of visual interpretations in the form of sketches, I settled on the above concept for the completed painting. So,"World like a dewdrop" emerged - a work about the basics of space, scale and possibility. When the opportunity arose to submit a painting for the "Celebrating Sanctuary" exhibition at the W3 gallery in Acton, London it became an appropriate choice. After all these are important elements which any refugee might face. The world can be a big daunting place, but also can be a small inviting place also. I hope in the context of "Celebrating Sanctuary" that this work might encourage us to look afresh at the refugee's dilemma. I also hope it might inspire new hope for those who seek safety and protection.
                            "World like a dewdrop" is on show at the W3 Gallery, 185 High St, Acton Town, London from June 5th - 22nd as part of the "Celebrating Sanctuary" Exhibition which is linked to Refugee Week (16th-22nd June).

"Through the Fire"

A film which tells the story of three remarkable Somali women who risk their lives to run essential humanitarian projects. When the world abandoned them and their communities, the refused to give up or walk away.

Above: Opening Night at the "Celebrating Sanctuary" Exhibition at W3 gallery, Acton, London.