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Mathew Tom & the RA Schools Starr Fellowship

Published 6 July 2014

Vivid colours are coupled with formal simplicity in the recent artworks exhibited by Mathew Tom in the RA Schools studios.

  • As the current recipient of the Schools’ Starr Fellowship, Tom’s photographs are currently displayed alongside two films. Designed for emerging American artists, the Fellowship runs from October to July each year, with the artist integrating themselves within the art school and being provided with their own private studio. The memorable list of former Fellows include Tully Satre, Dushko Petrovich and Alexis Marguerite Teplin.

    Tom’s images depict men dressed in beautiful Indian suits, adorned with jewellery and placed within a serene, tranquil setting. Through artificial lighting, a deep, intense hue descends upon his photographs, encasing each lone subject in an ethereal glow that removes them from this world and confines them in another.

  • Mathew Tom, He Knows He Is Not Real

    Mathew Tom, He Knows He Is Not Real.

  • This otherworldly work has its origin in Tom’s long-ago journey to India, when the artist became interested in the creation of idols and a religious or cultural notion of utopia. As Tom explains, although the place he creates is meant to signify perfection, in reality it is “kind of boring, or imperfect… there’s no conflict.” Tom’s work highlights the irony in a search for paradise and beauty, suggesting that flaws can be concealed within a supposedly perfect image. In one of his photographs, an entrancing bust appears to have been enshrined on an altar, invoking ideas of spirituality and sacredness. This has been positioned directly opposite a photograph that depicts the sculpture’s iconoclastic destruction; the outer shell of the bust has been removed, revealing its grotesque underside.

    Prior to his experience at the Schools, Tom’s work mainly consisted of painting. However, the scope of equipment and assistance offered by the Schools enabled him to explore new areas of practice such as photography, film and mould-making. Tom states, “I’ve been able to realise ideas that I’ve had for a long time but wasn’t able to until now because of financial or artistic restraints.” Although he has displayed one of his earlier paintings in this show, the majority of the works presented demonstrate the brightly coloured aesthetic and variety of media that has become central to his practice since joining the Schools.

  • Mathew Tom, He Knows He Is Not Real

    Mathew Tom, He Knows He Is Not Real.

  • The Fellowship, which was made possible by the Starr Foundation, is devised as an experience that allows artists to fully explore and experiment with new ideas. Although not working directly with the RA Schools students, they are encouraged to engage with their peers, as well as participate in seminars and discussions. The Fellow becomes part of an intimate, tight-knit group; as Tom says, “It’s great to be part of a like-minded community. Since I’ve been out of school, it’s hard to get that kind of feeling again.”

    Mathew Tom: He Knows He Is Not Real is on show by appointment in the Royal Academy Schools from 4 - 9 July 2014.

    Elizabeth Hill is a contributor to RA Magazine.