My Father, Tom Oldham
"I am an objective painter and need to paint from direct observation in order to experience the immediacy of the subject," explains Tom. "I enjoy the sensual qualities of swiftly applied paint and am not interested in achieving a highly finished photographic effect. I like to be able to see the structure of a painting, how it was made, rather than to be ‘wowed’ by a work in which all evidence of the brush has been blended out of existence.”
A quote from Dad's last retrospective interviewed in the Westmorland Gazette,
18 March 2016 Link here:
My late father Tom Oldham had such a strong influence over my life but particularly in my painting, so I feel I have to tell you a bit about him here. I can hear his voice with his sage advice while I paint, and I still regularly use a number of his art materials, brushes, paints and easels too.
Dad loved nothing better than to paint. Whenever Dad had the chance, he would paint, preferably outside no matter the weather. The worse the better - and would tie a stone to his easel to keep it from blowing away.
His favourite medium was oils, but he enjoyed watercolour, oil pastels, dry pastels, gouache, pen and ink and acrylics. He loved colour, as I do, and loved the challenge of mixing to create colours. Of the endless range of colours available, he would usually only paint with six primary colours, plus white, and two earth colours, enjoying the discipline of mixing to create colour. And would challenge me to do the same! He would have described his style as ‘loose’ - best described as similar to the impressionist style.
Dad absolutely loved the buttery texture of oils and the smell of linseed and couldn’t wait to get back to it. For over 500 years, linseed oil has been the main binder in oil paint i.e. the liquid added to the powder before it’s put in the tube of paint.
Overall he much preferred painting landscapes and still life. Before he retired Dad painted whenever he could, but away on holiday he aimed to produce at least two paintings in situ a day. Painting outside was preferable even in heavy snow and high winds, and he really didn’t like working from photographs. He also loved creating the ‘humble still life,’ in his studio in the Cumbrian fells of Newbiggin-on-Lune, and going to life class with friends in Kendal.
For many years Dad was a member of the Lake Artist Society, as well as art societies in Kendal and Sedbergh. His final retrospective exhibition was in the ‘Scar Gallery’ in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria in 2016. My favourites are Dad’s still life paintings, I was especially inspired by those with light refracting through bottles, but the ones I liked all sold quickly!
The artists that really inspired him were the Scottish Colourists such as Samuel Peploe and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell. One of the photos opposite shows Dad at the same beach where some of the colourists loved to paint on Iona. He loved the light, the white sand and clear turquoise water similar to the Mediterranean.
Other artists who had influenced Dad included John Singer Sargent, due to his stunning watercolours, so fresh and so intense. Dad also admired Edward Seago with his beautiful big skies which reminded him of Norfolk and the Fens, just outside Peterborough, he loved the space and the sky as well as the boats, the harbours on the North Coast of Norfolk.
Dad’s interests included photography, pottery, printing, woodcarving and making furniture, classical music, theatre and more besides. He had really good friends in Cumbria who shared his cultural passions.
His eye was always on design and function, either appreciating something beautifully made, or working out how an item he already had could be improved. He would add to it with a soldering iron to hand, his rivet gun and his love of wood ensured endless supplies of screws, nuts. There wasn't much at home that hadn't been 'tweaked'. Dad was also very sporty and loved rugby, tug of war in his national service time, and later on squash, tennis and snooker on a Wednesday afternoon, and competitions now and then.
Early years - Dad was born in 1928 and lived to 2019, reaching the healthy age of 90. He was brought up in Luton where his father was a hatter (but learned to be a dentist during WWI), and loved visiting his Uncle Joe's farm in Colne north of Cambridge. He especially enjoyed helping with the shire horses and milking cows; he held memories of those agricultural ways and methods very dear to him. His parents later moved to Peterborough, where he went to school.
Dad initially trained as an art teacher in Leicester College of Art for four years, which included learning practical skills like book binding, ceramics, printing and painting. And during that time Dad had to do his national service. He loved that course and learnt so much, as well as a trip through Italy, which he loved and bought a Lambretta moped. When the course ended he became a teacher in Birkenhead. But sadly he didn’t enjoy it, having to teach art in the maths department, without all the necessary art equipment.
Although Dad was no longer an art teacher in a school, throughout the rest of his life he taught evening classes and gave demonstrations of setting up a still life and painting it. After the school he worked in printing company. He met my Mum in 1969, fell in love and married months later. My parents then moved north to Cumbria where Dad worked first in a gallery then we settled in Newbiggin on Lune, nestled in the Howgill Fells, where I grew up. Following that, Dad worked as a postman for 14 years, which allowed him to scope out prospective scenes to paint and also to sketch during his lunch break. Also, with early starts came early finishes, so while balancing family life he could sometimes paint in the evenings.
A painting holiday to Spain during early retirement in the mid 1990s, had a huge impact on Dad. It led to taking up Spanish lessons and annual visits for nearly 20 years. The Spanish class are good friends to this day. I joined him on his Spanish painting trips in later years. On retirement Dad also took up golf getting totally immersed in the game, and forever trying to perfect that swing! He would take me along to the Fells just outside to practice when I visited him.
Sadly as age crept up on him, Dad suffered from macular degeneration, which took away central vision from his retina. As his vision deteriorated he was unable to paint any longer and made the hard decision to stop. He continued with his Spanish classes and was determined to complete his homework though he was approaching 90 and could barely see.
And in closing - I learnt so much from Dad, about life and also creativity. He took everything seriously, giving it his full attention, particularly learning, right up to the end of his life. The qualities I admired most in him are his quiet gentleness and strength, and his innate desire to create and make the world better. His legacy continues to be a profound blessing.
Dad Oldham’s top (painting) tips:
- Look after your equipment, always wash your brushes.
- Keep your palette clean.
- To half close your eyes when looking at your subject to check tones and lose unwanted detail, so keeping to the
(as it is very easy to get caught up in the detail too early, or even detail that is “fussy”).
- Step back from your painting to see the painting as a
- Stop ‘knitting’ ie; adding too much detail and losing the energy and definition of the broad brush strokes, (that was actually Mum’s top tip to Dad, but it stuck, and he often would recall it to me many years after she died as a thing
to attain, its quite difficult to know when to stop!)
Click here to read my Father's obituary in the Westmorland Gazette, 8 April 2019