We live in a world that’s saturated with disposable digital images. Is there any wonder that a growing number of people are attracted to the authenticity of painted portraits? Once only the rich and influential could be immortalised in oils. Now we can all outlive ourselves, so I decided to catch up with Tom Richards to find out how it’s done.
A teacher at the Florence Academy of Art, Tom has an MA in Art History from the University of St Andrews. Previously he studied with Charles H Cecil, a former colleague of Florence Academy director Daniel Graves. In recent years Tom has exhibited his work in London and undertaken numerous commissions in Europe and beyond. He works exclusively from life whether painting figures in his studio or working in the open and he divides his time between London and Florence.
When, where, and how did your passion for art begin?
As a child I always loved painting and drawing, but the whole thing got more serious (in a life changing way) when I visited Florence, aged 16, on a school art trip.
When was your favourite art produced?
I would love to be transported back to 1635- Van Dyck, Rubens, Ribera, Rembrandt and Velazquez (and many more...Bernini) were all alive and operating on or near peak power. The aesthetic beauty, technical sophistication as well as the thematic complexity and emotional range of their work can compete with any other moment and the pictures have incredible power and relevance today.
Which recent exhibition has impressed you the most and why?
Ribera at Dulwich last year. Way back, in 1999, the Rembrandt self-portraits at the National Gallery made me want to paint people. The figures in the paintings seemed more alive and compelling than anyone in the room. Makes me sound like I prefer art to people- a psycho!! The Prado remains my favourite museum and a friend is curating what will be a knockout show on Fra Angelico, it opens at the end of May.
So I want my portrait painted, where do we begin?
It’s a negotiation, I’ve learnt (the hard way) that it’s crucial to come to a shared understanding of how a project will proceed. It will include discussing and agreeing an overall design, the component parts (clothes, setting) and also a sense of the timeframe. Often these discussions will reveal the elements of a sitter’s character that end up in the painting.
What has been your favourite commission to date?
Two favourites, and for very different reasons - a drawing for an Oxford College gave me a wonderful (and incredibly intimidating) insight into how a first-rate mind works and expresses itself. More recently I have been working for a client from Hong Kong who has a unique understanding of what the process requires from the sitter with regards to time and energy. The working time in this case also taught me a huge amount about Japanese prints and heightened my appreciation for Eugène Boudin (Monet’s teacher).
Which other artists inspire you?
Above all Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez. Any artist that is continually making the things that allow them to say ‘this is why I’m an artist’ is doing something special. Infact to be any kind of artist requires bravery and resilience. I teach one day a week at the Florence Academy of Art and am surrounded by people, students and faculty, who are on the most inspiring journeys.
What is the biggest challenge that you face professionally?
To improve, I feel very incomplete on so many levels. If I died tomorrow I worry that my body of work to this point doesn’t amount to much.
If you could ask any artist just one question, what would it be?
It wouldn’t be a word thing, I’d love to watch Michelangelo draw a shoulder, Van Dyck paint a nose or a finger.
To view more of Toms work you can visit https://www.tawrichards.com
Nick Cox / Period Portraits May 2109.