TOM CROSS (1931 – 2009) – Fifty Years’ Work:
The Belgrave Gallery, St Ives (6 – 27 September 2010)

Catalogue Introduction by Professor Alan Livingston CBE

‘Shortly after Tom Cross died in 2009 his widow, Pat, invited Charles Hancock and I to visit his studio in Constantine. Pat was concerned to safeguard Tom’s reputation as an artist and to ensure that the quality and diversity of his work was fully appreciated by a new generation of artists and collectors. The visit provided a remarkable insight into a rich and productive life.

The paintings were carefully stored and protected, with shelves of sketchbooks revealing Tom’s determination to explore the compositional structure and form of everything he produced. It was a special privilege to discover his private obsessions, his pursuit of order and his frustrations at not always finding the perfect solution. His approach was rigorous and scientific in that every visual sensation had to be analysed, questions had to be answered in order to solve each visual problem.

Tom Cross could be regarded as an ‘old-school’ artist/teacher, belonging to a generation which believed that being a practising artist was both central and essential to one’s role as an art educator. As Principal of Falmouth School of Art, Tom still managed to maintain a working studio on site.

I was appointed as Tom’s successor as Principal of Falmouth School of Art & Design in 1987. He was very considerate of the new boy and helped me to settle into my post. With this in mind I am particularly pleased that Tom’s collection of sketchbooks, notebooks and other related ephemera has now been lodged with the Library of University College Falmouth.

Tom’s draughtsmanship and intellectual rigour were the result of a traditional academic training at Manchester School of Art, followed by post-graduate study at the Slade (refer cat. page 2, study for ‘The Bar Parlour’ 1953). During these early years he won numerous awards, with two major scholarships providing the opportunity to work and study in Italy and France. These trips enabled him to experience at close hand the work of the French modernists including Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne (refer ‘Massignano’ 1955 cat. page 5).

On returning to the UK, Tom became Assistant Director of the Welsh Arts Council – the first of a number of appointments as a senior administrator in the arts and higher education. During his time in Wales a more lyrical form of landscape painting began to evolve (refer ‘Cader Idris Evening’ 1963 cat. page 9) resulting in a series of wonderful freely abstracted landscape paintings (refer ‘Hammerhead’ 1964 cat. page 11).

A move to Reading University heralded another change in his painting. From the early 70’s his work became more formalist through his engagement with a group called ‘Systems’, a collective led by the painter and constructivist Malcolm Hughes. Perhaps this is not surprising, as his early training in architecture enabled him to identify with their passion for structure, architectural spaces, and grids. (see ‘Network’ 1972 cat. page 16).

This exhibition highlights an important dimension in Tom’s evolution as an artist. In his 2005 book ‘Helford – A River and some landscapes’, he confronts the many twists and turns in a prolific career: “…throughout my work abstraction and realism have gone hand in hand. From time to time one of these has been dominant but never wholly at the expense of the other. I feel there is no need to choose.”

Following his move to Falmouth in 1976, Tom pursued a more representational form of landscape and still life painting. His later work demonstrates a sophistication that is not only evocative of the subject matter but also maintains a profoundly intelligent art-making that reflects a lifetime of learning (refer ‘The Quay at Port Navas’ 2005 cat page 35).

In addition to his work as an artist Tom is also widely known as the author of ‘Painting the Warmth of the Sun: St Ives Artists 1930 -1975′ (1984). This publication created a renewed awareness of those artists working in Cornwall during this period, with the increased public interest contributing to the development of Tate St. Ives in 1993.

The range and depth of this exhibition will surprise and delight many people. Tom’s career as an artist, writer and educator, extending over fifty years, is worthy of our greatest respect.’

Professor Alan Livingston CBE

Click to see the paintings