Words and photos by Jamie Preisz | Art by Neil Tomkins.
Neil Tomkins is an anomaly; that kind of laid back cool you’d imagine would be hitching a ride to a waterfall in the 60s.
He’s a go-with-the-flow kind of guy and a lover of travel, but not in the bullshit millennial Airbnb way. He seems to enjoy the present; life’s ups and downs that he rides quite casually with no malice for anyone or anything. Sometimes people like this can be hard to get along with, but in Neil’s case, he’s is genuine to the core. Neil has a genuine insight into the world he sees unfold in front of him. Granted there’s some whimsy in that, but when the weight of current events seems bleak, Neil is a tall glass of water reminding us to see the world around us in technicolour and tell yourself everything is going to be alright. I caught up with Neil to talk about his travels and his recently opened show at the New Standard Gallery.
What does an average day look like for you?
Today has been a bit of an office day. Had some help putting together a booklet for the opening. I wanted to make a sketch style book that could inform my audience of my process and illustrative style in greater depth than the paintings portray. This series has been a real pairing back of my approach and feeling for the spaces in between.
What was the last time you felt genuinely in danger?
I’d have to say about two years ago in Mexico City, crazy place, I was staying in Zocolo. I accidentally started a bar fight through a miscommunication of Spanish. I found people often thought I was from Argentina and as such expected more of my communication skills, I was a bit drunk and talking a little too confident. A guy at the bar was chatting to my new friend, a cool Mexican dude with a gentle vibe. The guys took him to be gay and started slandering him and then me, being all drunk and pushy. I was trying to understand him and I guess he was trying to prove I was ‘gay too.’ Before I knew it people were holding us back then my friend whispered in my ear, “Look where you are, they have weapons it’s time to leave.” By this time the bartender had taken the bottles off the walls and put them in the cupboard and people around were arguing and waving bottles, I saw a knife. Things escalated and we snuck off. The next day there was tremor earthquake and I got the fuck out of Mexico city.
Can you tell us a little bit about the gallery you are now represented by and who/what they represent?
They’re called The New Standard Gallery and are located on Riley Street, Surry Hills. Phillippa and Sam run the place and they have a long history in the commercial side of the arts. They have a totally genuine approach and are coming into it from their hearts, I’m stoked to be working with such a good team.
Your work has previously explored a lot more Australian landscapes, yet in this series I can see you are painting from your travels overseas. Can you tell us a bit more about that and the difference between painting the Aussie landscape compared to elsewhere?
I’ve really wanted to paint the colour and the vibe of South America for a long time. This trip was my first time overseas and I landed in Argentina alone with pretty much no idea. I went with a clear vision of various places I had been drawn to for a long time. This series is a total celebration of colour, form and life. It was a joy to create and became a two-year obsession, it took many months to get to the point where I was even able to manifest the ideas. By the end of the series I ended up with a lot more work than I’ll show but this is ideal, as it means I can focus on the works that really sum up the series.
Your work seems to exist in a world of its own—bright, physics defying and a little whimsical even. Is this intentional and how do you see this world?
I pretty much paint what I see. I do like to distort and play with the subject but painting for me is a journey of perception, contemplation and all in all total expressive freedom. I more or less consider painting to be a mad joy.
After this series is exhibited are you looking to travel anywhere else in the world and if so where are you feeling drawn to?
I’m thinking I’d like to drive out to the Northern Territory. I want to do sweeping landscape, aerial stuff from planes and peaks, experiment with reds. I’m at a stage in my career where it would be good to dedicate a series to the centre, the heart and soul of this ancient complex land. There’s always the pull of Guatemala, I’d really like to go back there. I guess I’ll see where my feet carry me.
Who is your shout-out for an amazing up and coming artist and why?
I think Thomas Whelan, he has a really good grasp of his own mark, doesn’t mind leaning into art culture in a really interesting way and is big on experimenting.
Favourite beer? Where? With whom past or present?
Well, I’d have to say Young Henrys. Not only do they make a great product and have good community ethics, they are a brewery full of absolute legends. Like dead or alive? I’d say Siddhartha or Nikola Tesla would be the people whose brains I would like to pick.
What is your proudest art trade?
That’s hard. Trading works is a huge commodity and having a lot of artistic circles means art trades happen on the regular. I did with Jonathan McBurnie recently, swapped a large work for two amazing drawings that really depict the range of his styles really well. I also recently did a trade with Dan O’Toole, one of his portraits from Berlin of an old friend of mine, so it’s close to my heart.