the painting practice of neil ernest tomkins

Writing and Media

monster children interview by Jamie Preisz

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Neil Tomkins is an anomaly; that kind of laid back cool you’d imagine would be hitching a ride to a waterfall in the 60s.
– jamie Preisz


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By James Watkins

full interview here:



“The gaps that create a fortified terrain for our bursting cosmic engines are becoming more visible. We are a race of beings in a new stage of revolution. Our history has pinnacled. Our resources are in a state of flux. The Earth Mother is sending a new dance vibration as the world grid opens our visual reality. Prepare to fly.”


I’m sitting with Neil Tomkins, the person who penned that fairly profound opening statement, in his studio. We are veritably surrounded by saws, hammers, gnarled pieces of driftwood, succulents, canvas materials, aerosol cans, neatly arranged paint brushes, opened art books, milk crates full of old sketch pads, drawings and of course, countless paintings. He sits at a table; long unkempt hair, hand-weaved crystal necklace dangling from his neck, both wrists full of bracelets, singlet, a large platypus tattoo across his shoulder (which he designed), paint-covered pants and bare feet that look like they’ve spent plenty of time out of shoes. Staring down at a painting, he’s meditatively pushing red pigment over a previously painted brown when he begins talking.

“Even when I was a little baby, I was lucid dreaming. When I was just starting to walk I was having a lot of flying dreams. I felt very connected to the idea of astral projection, leaving my body in my sleep. When I was four, I used to create whole villages and civilisations out of plasticine”. He tells me, without looking up from his painting. “I’d get a board and I’d mould coloured plasticine and make trees and forests and villages and cities and temples full of warriors”. He seems to think that everything he’s just said was totally common behaviour for a four year old. It’s worth mentioning, that for the entirety of this interview he was constantly painting on a number of different surfaces. Wherever he is, art just seems to continually pour out of Tomkins, and it seems that is has always been this way. “I was always drawing when I was young. I was just always drawing.”


Collective Magazine interview

Rebels, Radicals, Renegades: Neil Tomkins (2009) from Tania H on Vimeo.
Interview at Sydney Collage of the Arts while studying painting 2009


“Every street is an adventure and every road becomes a trip.
Every turn we take and every decision we don’t make,
even the decision we don’t make, will bring us into the secrets of their town.
Every corner we turn will lead us, every corner we turn will lead us down the labyrinths,
and every desire that we earn will guide us alive, living, loving & searching”.
– Refused are fucking dead

padstow to panania (detail)

The “streets” exist as a passage-way and thoroughfare to our destinations, in this respect they are a vein to our desires. They ferry us towards common ideologies and in this sense they express a happening or spectacle. For within the movement of the self comes forth an intention, within that intention all is gained or lost.

We journey through the physical landscape. Its effects on the self grow and form ideas over time; these ideas become a spirit of self and leave marks on the greater environment. Our feet leave prints. Those prints exist as memory and as history. That mark whether it continues to exist for a month or a lifetime becomes something organic. It is perceived, eaten and becomes entwined with the public. For it is owned by the public.

Graffiti is a movement formed from the streets imbedded in the history of hip hop and street culture, and acts as visual attack and sabotage. ‘Hip hop culture developed its own D.I.Y outlaw art aesthetic that was particularized by graffiti art. These elaborate, cartoonish psychedelic paintings created with (frequently shop-lifted) spray cans were affixed to any unoccupied public “canvas,” primarily subway trains, commercial buildings, and the walls of large apartment complexes ‘ (1). That was and continues to be the “forum” as it acts as social advertising and free interchange of ideas. It is and has always been public forum for it exists within public domain

Street expression is a contemporary idea founded in ancient ideology. We have painted on cave walls for thousands of years. It’s only now that a culture becomes a sub-culture. The spirit of self-expression is seen everywhere, in the clothes we wear the way we talk and act and in our core desires. Graffiti artists project this expression onto the physical environment. Creating a “spectacle” a ‘ever-increasing mass of image-objects and co-modified experience detached from every aspect of life, fused in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished’ (2). There is only one course of action.

Graffiti art exists as a reflection on urban street life and generally acts as a threat to modern-day consumption. Guy Debord (December 28, 1931 – November 30, 1994) Author of Society of the Spectacle defines Recuperation as ‘the process by which the spectacle intercepts socially and politically radical ideas and images, commodifies them, and safely incorporates them back within mainstream society.. It is the opposite of détournement, in which conventional ideas and images are co-modified with radical intentions’(3) . It co-exists as social advertising with the marketable as a tool and symbol like a hammer or a Molotov cocktail. You gotta watch that.

“Sabotage will set us free
Throw a rock in the machine”

By Neil Ernest Tomkins


(1) Ken Goffman. Counter Culture Through The Ages. from Abraham to Acid House (U.S.A 2004).
(2) Richard Gombin. Analysis of Consumerism (1971).
(3) Robert Chasse, Bruce Elwell, Jonathon Horelick, Tony Verlaan. Faces of Recuperation in Situationist International #1 (New York, June 1969).


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