One of the most influential painters to come to New Zealand was British born Riduan Tomkins, a graduate of Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art London in the 1960’s. He exhibited at the Whitechapel and Waddington Galleries in London as well as being represented by the renowned art dealer Betty Parsons in London and New York. His list of solo and group exhibitions reads impressively – London, Toronto, Dublin, New York, Montreal and Nova Scotia, including “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture” Museum of Modern Art(MOMA), New York.
A prolific worker, he mounted five solo exhibitions in as many months, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Tomkins’ international pedigree is unquestionable, as is his influence upon a younger generation of New Zealand painters including Shane Cotton and Seraphine Pick. From 1985 – 1995 he was senior lecturer in painting at the University of Canterbury. His painterly approach coupled with the intellectual rigour of his work, left an indelible impression upon new painters emerging from Ilam from the mid 80s to the present. Something of a gypsy, he moved to Indonesia in 2001 where he was a founding member of the Central Kalimantan Cultural Collective. Recognising the needs of local artisans and artists, Tomkins put forward a proposal to develop the underused museum into a cultural centre and open an arts department at the Kalimantan University. The community liked the proposal so for five years he worked with the local people to help establish the centre.
The paintings are lyrical puzzles, likened to the freshness of a summer’s day, in contrast to the calamity of an emergency ward on Saturday night, they are free of anxiety, if full of uncertain truths. They counterpoise abstraction with figuration, reason with yearning, and theory with dictum.
Tiny figures make statements about existential space, crinolined figurines question the religion of art history, cows imply a generosity of spirit as they circle their square, and oscars stand as awards to paint in resolution.
These fanciful works are historically conscious, romantic, rational and decorative. After the increasing sterility of Minimalism and Conceptualism, Riduan Tomkins reintroduces a non-Western concern for life into his art. This allows him to combine formal observations with spiritual attitudes, which he paints in reflective dialogue, within each canvas, for enjoyable viewing.