Thom’s interpretation of the world is clear, striking and it changes the way you see your own surroundings.

By Lyndal Irons

A few things are immediately distinctive when meeting Studio A artist Thom Roberts. He takes your measure in unusual ways: by touching the crown of your head – (reading something I’m not quite literate in) and assigning you a new name (just one, which will be used and remembered forever). He’ll continue to be aware of your presence but will most likely go back to making art. Something he does relentlessly, with great focus and seemingly endless, enviable inspiration. If you are lucky he’ll associate you with a tower or a train type.

For Thom, trains are no mere form of transport but a place of contentment, inspiration and installation. In his art practice, Thom personifies trains as people and people as trains. From train stations to galleries, in this 2D, sculptural and animated works the artists friends and family are transformed into the very transport system he so loves.

Thom’s interpretation of the world is clear, striking and it changes the way you see your own surroundings.

“What is a Budgie Keynote, Thom?”

“Should I draw you one? He hits the string inside the piano. It was my father’s piano – and I used to break the hammers off.”

Thom’s parents refer to him as Rob. “Out of the blue he just said, ‘My name is Thom Roberts,’” recalls Frank, his father. “I don’t think he’d heard of the other Tom Roberts.”

Thom grew up on an island near Nowra as an energetic child with destructive tendencies who ran away at any opportunity. At four years old four psychiatrists offered separate analysis. His mother Nancy recalls: “One said he’d never get better than he was. The second said he’d develop but hit a ceiling. Another wanted to put him in an institution. And the fourth found him a place in a Sydney school.”

After graduating, his mother Nancy enrolled him in TAFE but it didn’t work out. “The head teacher put me onto Studio Artes and he’s never looked back”.

Thom gained representation through Studio A, was awarded an Amplify emerging artist’s grant in 2013 and has exhibited at Cementa Festival, Big Anxiety Festival, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, and Underbelly Arts Festival on Cockatoo Island.

Thom’s focus is a huge asset to his practice, says Studio A Principal Support Artist Emma Johnston. Fascinated by the photocopied image, Thom’s practice stems from a process of photocopying found photographs of people and then preserving these with layers of cello tape. These objects then become a source of inspiration for his painting practice.

Thom Roberts’ work will appear in The National 2019: New Australian Art


Lyndal Irons is a Sydney-based photographer and writer focused on local reportage and portraiture. She seeks out parts of Australian society that are familiar, accessible, yet not often closely encountered. By recording social histories and building legacies using photographs and words, her work encourages curiosity and a deeper connection to daily environment. Lyndal is a member of Lumina, a new Australian collective of award-winning photographic artists.
Published: 19 Sep 2017