Painter Tom Dee's Ireland journey captured in pastel
by Leon Nigrosh
CONNEMARA SAFARI -- A COLLECTION OF
PASTEL PAINTINGS BY TOM DEE
At First Show Gallery at C.C. Lowell, 258 Park Avenue, Worcester, through
Whatever would possess someone to spend an entire week's
vacation bicycling 170 miles throughout western
Ireland? According to Worcester Court of Appeals prosecutor Tom Dee, it was the
best way to see his ancestral homeland, instead of traveling by car or by motor
coach. The leisurely pace, along with the physical activity of cycling, gave
him the opportunity to clear his head of all things lawyerly and enjoy the
wonders of County Galway's Connemara region.
Touring with a small group of like-minded folks, Dee recorded his experience by
taking nearly 200 photographs of the ever-changing countryside, its tiny
villages and its animal inhabitants. Back in Worcester, Dee chose a baker's
dozen of these shots and transcribed them into the soft pastel drawings
currently on display at the First Show Gallery.
Largely self-taught in this finicky medium, Dee has developed a style similar
to that used by one of his favorite pastel artists, Edgar Degas (1834-1917).
Instead of attempting the filmy, gossamer effects of delicate application
usually associated with pastel, Dee, like Degas, uses a firm hand and multiple
layers of different colors to build a sense of volume and depth. This is
especially evident in his long, narrow view of the Cliffs of Mohen.
Blue-black, these three sheer, geometric bluffs jut into a sea almost as dark
as the stone, while gray, threatening clouds roll in. The only bright spot is a
patch of green field at the far left.
Much of Ireland is often gray, damp, and rainy. Dee easily captures the climate
in his drawing. But he also shows us the bright spots, too. His rendition of a
West Coast Sunset splashes streaks of bright orange and yellow through
the deepening night sky, silhouetting a small cottage that blends into the
already black landscape. In A Rare Glen, Dee shows us just how rich the
greenery can be when bathed in sunlight. Trees and grass are dappled with
bright yellow patches, and one tree is so sunstruck he rendered it totally
His Two Bikers also turns what might have been a bleak landscape into a
tour de force experiment in single-point perspective. A long, straight stretch
of road cleaves the brownish pastureland in an ever-narrowing band. Almost at
the vanishing point, we see two tiny dots: one red, the other yellow. These are
two bicyclists dressed in their rain slickers as they pause to take in the
sight of a grazing, long-wool sheep.
Sheep also take center stage in Dee's 13x30" Galway Sheep. At first
glance, these blocky white animals appear to be a convoy of Conestoga wagons
making its way through the brownish pasture. But, in fact, they are grazing
away oblivious to the gray haze descending over the purple mountains in the
distance. These animals appear in Pasture as well, but this time they
are little more than white dots peppered throughout the green fields loosely
defined by meandering low stone walls.
Stone plays an important role in ancient Irish constructions. In Dee's drawing
The Dolmen, he uses a range of dark tones to portray the great weight of
the granite stones, and leaves us to ponder how the anonymous ancients were
able to raise such a large capstone. In an earlier pastel drawing, Blarney
Castle, rendered all in black and white, Dee casts a pall of gloom over the
stone ruins, the effect heightened by a single raven.
Dee's use of short, firm strokes with his pastel sticks can appear to be a
jumble of inconsequential marks, but a few paces back and his gestures blend
into a near-seamless field of colors and shapes. As if to show us his maturity
as an artist, Dee has included an earlier work, Street in Seville,
painstakingly smoothed and smudged to give a Photorealist appearance.
Fortunately, his approach today is far more assured, creating light and shade
through strength and simplicity, rather than timidity and overworking.
As to whether Dee will pursue art as a profession, he says, for now, pastels
are "my relaxation, my alternate life -- I'm an artist stuck in a lawyer's
The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.,
Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to
6 p.m. Call 508-757-7713.