It’s a strange winter in the Berkshires, defined not so much by a single season but by the confusion of seasons: winter comes and goes in angry droves while spring dots the weeks in odd, muddy bursts, leaving us cold, snow-slapped, gray and bitter, without the vast, total emptiness that makes winter so special. Winter is the time of hibernation, of huddling to drive off nature’s dead sleep as the world outdoors, comprised of negatives — cold and unyielding —ferments its energies. Since the new year Tom has captured the fascinating, brutal dual nature of winter and harnessed it to the benefit of his craft.
When I met Tom last fall he described his recent series as seasonal, and I noticed the autumn colors and nodded and set the thought aside; his latest, however, is elemental: on grand, spare canvases he divides sparse subjects with gaping swaths of pulsing negative space, rendered in chalky whites and dense, rough-hewn blacks. What subjects do appear — through labyrinthine line-work or distant possibilities of shapes or once, iconically, the abstraction of a snowshoe — are charged with elegant desperation, and we cling to them like lonely lights guiding us through a blizzard. The work balances the beauties and dangers of such austere landscapes and serve as reminders of how little we control of our environment.
More than representation, however, Tom’s work benefits from the solemnity of the season. This is work that’s been given time and focus, and much as nature ferments this work ferments; the first blush of snow-white has become a rich, ponderous black. His canvases have built layers upon layers, building up a system caught underneath the topmost layer of paint and filled with patient electricity. Nature does not give itself up so easily in these months, and demands our patience. For an artist this close to his environment, patience allows truth to emerge, truth which speaks to the endless silence of snow and the endless space of darkness. Tom’s in communion with the season, and his work has the purity that only Winter can provide: when all is silent, Life’s details, its moments of being (all respect to Virginia Woolf) are made distinct. Tom’s captured these distinctions and rendered them through his aesthetic. The work speaks to the immensity of nature and our insignificance. They speak to the relationships we have with our world, the relationships we often forget. There’s power in them. It’s humbling.