MEET Tom Murray-White, street artist, the VCAL teacher who’s collaborated with local artists and young people over eight years to bring Wonthaggi its laneway art. “A couple of those students are doing amazingly original work,” he says. “That’s rare!”
Or Tom Murray-White, twice winner of the Great Southern Portrait Prize, having fun challenging the conventions of portrait making. One of his entries, titled “I Love Claudia”, was a glass jar full of tin lids each with a drawing of his wife. Tom never signs his work. He likes the fact that the judges have no idea who the makers are.
There’s a third, very different art maker. This is Tom Murray-White: visionary painter, whose work is to be exhibited in Wonthaggi from next weekend.
The son of two gifted artists, Tom loved making things from very an early age. He started exhibiting in his teens but became increasingly unsettled by the orthodoxies of the art industry and marketing that strangled creativity.
His work as a psychotherapist kept him in touch with the depth and power of people’s stories and for a time he tried to capture some of this energy and empathy by telling his story realistically. His exhibitions at the Dickerson Gallery in 2004 and 2006 featured whimsical depictions of his personal life.
In the end, though, art as he knew it focused too much on the words and not enough on lived experience. Or, as he puts it: “The part of my brain that makes the words isn’t the part of my brain that makes the picture”. So he quit the Dickerson Gallery and gave up on being a professional artist. He and Claudia made a lifestyle choice. They would move to the coast, focus on family and be free of “art stuff”.
Ten years on, a forthcoming exhibition at the Coffee Collective in Wonthaggi shows where he’s at now. Taking stock of his simple materials – pencil, house paint and wood – coupled with his simple, repetitive methods, Tom apologises to no-one.” The pictures I like to make for myself are not the one that will win the prize. I’m driven to go somewhere else, unexplored. It may not look as good but I’m compelled to go there.”
His life down here opened a gateway to another way of seeing things. Immersed in his family, his community and his love of the water, he feels carried along by a river of energy.With fewer expectations, ideas come freely.He can give himself over to pure expression.
This journey has brought him to the point where he can own his own artistic vision, what he now understands to be his own unique way of seeing the world – “an intensely alive, shimmering, miraculous vision, with ripples and waves of energy surging through and over all things”.
For Tom, the sea is the most natural subject for him to depict how he sees this energetic, sparkling world. “The beach is where I feel most grounded, where the world makes more sense.” It’s the timeless repetition of nature which he finds so beautiful and reassuring. And “dancing on the edge of realism,” he attempts to follow nature’s lead.
“I don’t know whether I’ve succeeded,” he says, “but I’ve had a great time doing it!”
Tom Murray-White’s exhibition is at the Coffee Collective, 50 McBride Ave, Wonthaggi. Opening 11am on Saturday, August 26.