“For as long as I can remember, I’ve played the same people-watching game. I image what strangers walking past do, who they love and what’s in their pockets. My work is a development of this simple idea, I paint characters not figures. I present their stories.”
Naomi Tomkys grew up in London where she attended Central St. Martins School of Art. She now lives and works in Cambridgeshire. Her inspiration comes from the day-to-day moments that make her smile.
Tomkys engages with a broad range of subject matters from tourists punting to festival goers. She portrays a world of authenticity reflecting moments in time as joys and the idiosyncrasies of daily life. Her influences are eclectic ranging from the humanity of Edward Hopper to the narratives of Paula Rego.
Although her subject matter varies, a merging of past and present plays a significant part in all of Tomkys’ work acting as shorthand for our cultural familiarities. It can be seen in a child wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt on a school trip or a group of Cambridge men in their uniform of Panama hats as the sun comes out. Each painting reflecting a cinematic approach to her own interests in dynamic composition, nostalgia, and storytelling.
“My aim is to reflect a sense of personality in my paintings by collecting drawn people and inviting you to see what you will. I want my work to muster a familiar happiness, to laugh at the small things and feel a little warmer”.
Tomkys’ work straddles realism and impressionism with changing looseness of brushstroke reflecting the tales being told. Tomkys uses traditional oil painting techniques including chiaroscuro, imprimatura, mass tone and glazing to explore her subjects. A limited classical palette, primarily focussing on skin tones, results in a controlled, explorative and joyous body of work celebrating colour.
Tomkys has shown in group and one-man shows both nationally and internationally, including The Mall Gallery, Sak and Catto Contemporary, and in exhibitions and collections as far afield as Texas and Dubai. She exhibits regularly with the Cambridge Drawing Society and Open Studios. In 2022, Tomkys received an Arts Council Award to develop her practice.
Born in Ely, I moved with my family into my grandparent's home in London at three. I had two obsessions, the first 1980's TV, Starsky & Hutch a true highlight and my grandma's brush pot. Grandma painted. She had a collection of large paperbacks on how to paint in oils. Each book covered a different topic from snow scenes of the alps to how to paint your dog. She was prolific and the smell of her jam jar full of turps and well used brushes rocked my world each morning.
I attended a St Trinian's styled school but spent my time there camping out in the art rooms with my first big and unrequited crush...my art teacher. Mr G was a middle aged man with foppish hair, cardigans that smelt of summer and a level of seemingly permanent distraction that I still find quite attractive. Now of course the age is rather more appropriate.
At 19, I had a lucky escape to Central St. Martins, an artistic lifestyle I had always imagined as Shangri-la. In reality, I was very cold, painted constantly, worked night shifts in biegal bakeries, made industrial props in factories and was very broke indeed. Eventually, college fees become unsurmountable and I left art school.
I managed to get an art department job in film and TV. I worked on everything from music videos for Feeder to a BBC sci-fi series. I continued to paint whenever I could and finally got my break by winning the Apthorp award in 1998. I gladly hung up my travelcard for good.
I now had my own jam jar of brushes in turpentine. I painted prolifically. Enormous portraits of fashionistas, neon flooded bowling alleys, Glastonbury high wire acts, larger than life paintings of whatever was in my fridge or moulding away in the fruit bowl…endless, beautiful days.
Then things changed a little with a baby on my hip and a husband typing away in the attic. The canvases kept coming. They were stretched, adorned and picked up from our very small country terrace in a discreet van and taken to London. Oh, and the shows...how much fun. Champagne with red currants, tiny food, women with red soled stilettos and everyone named ‘darling!’
Fingers sore every day from canvas tacks and stained with paint. Perfect. In those short but very happy years I produced over 120 canvases.
Then, when Max my eldest son was 6 everything changed. Max slept in stripy red and white PJ's which made his blue lips look so strange when we found him in bed that night. Max had had his first seizure. After the ambulances, the consultants and the tests, Max was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of epilepsy. The learning disabilities and autism would come later.
Looking after him became all I did. I tried to paint for a while but the canvases had lost whatever it was that they had. There was a sadness to them that I couldn’t hide. I felt oddly betrayed by my jam jar of brushes and packed them away.
As the years passed, Max stabilised and I started swapping tips and ideas that helped Max with other parents who had disabled children. This grew into a Facebook page, then a website and eventually into a charity called Sky Badger. I named it after Max’s superhero alter ego. In short, by 2017 Sky Badger had helped over 1 million families in the UK.
Painting was simply a distant memory
I divorced in 2018. Single parenthood and Sky Badger, that was it. I wasn't great at being alone though and my boys weren't happy either. Together, the three of us made a 'Mary Poppins wish list' of the man I hoped to meet (with or without a parrot headed umbrella). Our imaginary charming man needed to be good at computer games and science and have a daughter, the boys wanted a sister you see. Then with the cajoling of my terrifying warrior women friends, I started dating online using our 'wish list' as my profile. And that is how I ended up furious in a Dublin bar.
On a rainy afternoon in November, I sat in a hotel bar next to a charming man I had met some months earlier. He gave me a sketchbook and announced that there would be no more conversation until I had done a sketch. Livid, I drew the scene in front of me and it all came back, like the taste of chocolate, like an old friend. That day I fell in love with drawing again as well as that charming man.
So, now we are here and you are up to date. This modest little website is where you can see what I have to show, some old work and some new. I’m painting again. I can't wait to see where this leads me this time around.