Engineer returns to Wilton – as an artist
An art exhibition at the Wilton Centre on Teesside has taken Tom French's life full circle.
For the 63-year-old began his working life as an apprentice fitter at Cargo Fleet iron works before moving into the oil industry.
Now, after 30 years travelling around the world as a consultant engineer, he is spending his retirement painting and drawing landscapes of his industrial heritage.
So Tom couldn't have been more delighted when the Wilton Centre, which overlooks much of Teesside’s modern process industries complex, offered to host the first ever exhibition of his art work.
For the next three weeks, workers at and visitors to the centre will be able to admire Tom’s figurative interpretations of the cooling towers at Wilton, the South Bank coke ovens and Redcar blast furnace. These are displayed alongside paintings of his father, grandfather and grandchildren, as well as a couple of self portraits. Rural and coastal landscapes too further emphasise his range of talent, in oils, acrylics, crayons and pastels.
Tom acknowledges that he had opportunities to capture on canvas all sorts of wonderful scenes as he travelled on business around the world, but foreign lands failed to inspire him like Teesside does!
"I love this area and the industry and feel very passionate about it. I hope that comes through in my paintings," he says. "But if, at the end of the day, my work is not popular, it won’t matter. Since I retired three years ago, I have painted day in: day out and will continue to do so!"
Tom, from Normanby, had no formal art tuition but was inspired to pick up a brush after reading a biography of the sculptor August Rodin, loaned to him by fellow shiftworker Jim Mulholland. He was then influenced and encouraged over the years by Jim's son, renowned artist David Mulholland. So much so that Tom has set up an internet gallery website dedicated to the work of David, who died in Staithes in 2005: www.communigate.co.uk/ne/painter
Dave Willis, Wilton Centre Manager, said art exhibitions were not a regular event but the synergy of the subject matter of Tom's paintings and the centre’s location had led to them making an exception for him.
"Tom has produced a huge and varied collection over the past few years and we hope that we have helped by providing an appropriate environment in which he can showcase his art. The backdrop couldn’t be better!" added Dave.