Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Tom Polo: A Portrait of the Artist...

by Rhianna Walcott

06 Nov 2011


Tom Polo

Grantpirrie, Sydney

22 September – 15 October 2011

Sydney based emerging artist Tom Polo is primarily known for the humour and irreverence that runs through his text-based paintings, performances and installations. Recent works from his mid-2011 solo exhibition at Parramatta Artists Studios examined the self-help industry and the ideas it encapsulates: motivation, success, failure, personal growth and the human condition. His paintings utilise witty yet double-edged one-liners and his practice is characterised by a spirit of humble self-deprecation, vulnerability and truthfulness. Part of the appeal behind his work stems from the way in which these ‘text portraits’ pin down universal ideas and thoughts with which we can all identify.

His most recent exhibition, DISAPPOINTED WITH EVERYTHING (It Happens), presents a selection of new works including text-based neon and paintings. Recently returned from an Australia Council for the Arts London Studio residency, many of the works in this exhibition reflect on notions of displacement, absence and distance.

The text based neon from which the title of the exhibition takes its name, Disappointed With Everything (Not Everyone), examines the way in which we often exaggerate the reality of our own personal situations to the point of hyperbole. This is an observation that can sometimes only be made through the act of distancing ourselves and re-examining our priorities (are we really disappointed with everything?). A collaborative piece that involved both his parents (the neon was made using a sample of his father’s handwriting, whilst the wall based painting behind the neon incorporates elements of a drawing made by his mother), Disappointed With Everything (Not Everyone) is both a self portrait and family portrait. Although communicating Polo’s own sense of frustration and disappointment, the work also acknowledges that cynicism is a key part of how the average person views and interprets the world, and leaves the viewer to decide how the phrase relates to their own life particularly.

Other works within this exhibition continue the artist’s fascination with social portraiture. Painted inLondon, a small painting of a figure looking back over her shoulder at the viewer encapsulates an outsider’s experience of a foreign city, capturing the ambiguous faces of multiple personalities, both familiar and unfamiliar. With the figure reminiscent of Susan Boyle, the painting hints at the rigid class structure embedded in British society and the tension between this traditional hierarchy and contemporary life.

Another text based painting reads “Somebody once told me that even one bad painting in an exhibition will stop people remembering an otherwise stellar show. We were standing in my exhibition at the time.” And so, in classic Tom Polo style, humour, irony and self-deprecation are used to create a work which is at once a self-portrait, a portrait of all artists and a portrait of the contemporary art scene itself.