Freelands Painting Prize 2021

RSA Finalist Tom Hall Boehringer has won the Freelands Painting Prize for his oil painting of the Edward Colston statue being suspended into Bristol harbour by Black Lives Matter protestors. “The new Freelands Painting Prize celebrates outstanding painting practice at undergraduate level, culminating in an exhibition at the Freelands Foundation gallery” and the winners of this year’s prize will participate in an exhibition at the Freelands Foundation gallery this Autumn. Tom’s stunning paintings often make a comment on current events – capturing and memorializing key moments that will soon be part of our history. We spoke to Tom about his work, winning the prize, and asked for any advice he could give us!

Tom Hall-Boehringer, Edward Colston, oil on paper, 2020, Photo: Maria-Alejandra Huijo
Tom Hall Boehringer, ‘Edward Colston’, oil on paper (2020), 450 x 310 mm
Q&A with Freeland’s Painting Prize winner Tom Hall Boehringer:

Please tell me a bit about you and your paintings. 

Well, I am a student at the University of Reading and have just completed my final year studying a BA in Art and English literature. My hometown is in Lincoln, Lincolnshire which is where my passion of painting began when I took Art for my A-levels at the Lincoln College. As for my work this is always a tricky question even in our artist statements! But if I had to summarize:

In a time of post truth, mediums such as video and photo have become less trustworthy and more malleable. The medium of paint is perhaps a less deceitful way of recording. Its language remains encoded as the marks I make are packed with thoughts and feelings. I view these as layers which come in and out of focus in a loop of information.

These feelings include nostalgia for my childhood. As a boy I spent hours looking at my mum’s art books such as the Pre-Raphaelites. This is perhaps why my paintings most often deal with romantic representation. My aim is to record a glimmer of this romantic experience amongst current forces which create uncertainty and weariness in our world. The forces which concern me particularly are the post truth era, political events, current affairs, global warming, queer theory, and the relevance of painting in contemporary art.

Tom Hall Boehringer, ‘The sixth star’, oil on canvas, 550 x 550 mm

Amongst all these concerns I seek some essence of truth. I believe this is what attracted me to decadent literature in my research. Decadents were concerned with heightened experience and aesthetic sensations without a regard for boundaries. However, Europe at the time had become world weary amongst changes such as the Industrial Revolution, Darwin’s Evolution Theory and as ‘unorthodox’ sexuality become more visible in the public eye. I see many similarities to my concerns and their subversive responses to these relentless changes. (this is a snippet from my statement which I believe gives a better idea of my concerns, I will attach it to this email in case you would like to read more).

As regards to this painting in particular: The work records a popular photograph taken in Bristol during the taking down of the slave trader’s ‘Edward Colston’ statue in 2020. The style and colour palette were inspired by a painting by Honoré Daumier called ‘Ecce Homo’ (1850). This painting depicts a scene in the Good Friday trial of Jesus when Christ is presented to the mob Pilate with the words “Ecce Homo” which translates as an accusatory “Look at this man”. I was interested in the visual similarities between the two scenes and ideas of how history might repeat itself. Daumier was very likely also influenced by the scenes of the French revolution during the period. For me painting is a way of encoding and looping ideas and feelings regarding this sensitive subject. It is perhaps more open to interpretation than the medium of photo or video.

photo credit: PA Media,

How did this opportunity come about for you? 

I discovered the opportunity through one of my lecturer’s emails advertising the painting prize. I’m glad I did because often these kind of emails tend to get lost amongst the many other emails we receive as students!

How did you feel when you heard that you had won the prize? 

I actually found out about winning the prize through a friend who had seen an Instagram post announcing the winners and forwarded me this. At first I thought they must have mistaken me for someone else, but I was then very excited after reconfirming on the Freeland Foundation’s website that I was indeed included. I suppose I still feel like a bit of an imposter at times as it’s an odd feeling having your work recognized like this.

What do you hope this opportunity will do for you and your practice? 

By the end of my studies this year I had decided that I will continue to paint over the next years. Hopefully this opportunity will aid me in this, perhaps making some connections that could be helpful in finding a studio space or gaining interest in my work. It will also be interesting to receive feedback outside of the closely knit university studio’s by having a larger audience – I’ve found that feedback while it often can be difficult to digest has most often pushed me to work harder and to think harder.

Tom Hall Boehringer, ‘Oprah’, oil on paper and gum tape (2021), 300 x 420 mm

Any advice for artists striving for similar success? 

As for advice, I would say to keep working on your practise quite consistently and keep gathering inspiration and information as I have found that eventually the clockwork begins to click together especially once you pick up on things that work and do not work. If you paint trust your marks as they are your marks and your language. And if you are a student like me I would say trust your tutors when they are critical that they have your best interest  at heart, and on another note, check your emails!

Take a look at Tom’s website and his Instagram to see more of his artwork!

This is a copied post. Original post at Reading School of Art’s student-led blog, here

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