Primarily known as a sculptor and installation artist, Tom Arthur was born in Massachusetts, USA, and graduated from the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1969, where he majored in jewellery making and silversmithing. As a student he initiated his engagement with a sculptural production that was marked by the period’s radical expansion of the medium’s definitions to include new practices such as installation and performance. During his studentship Arthur established the principles of construction that, through refinement and elaboration, came to define his artistic practice. His work became characterised by an intricate method of assemblage, which was intrinsic to his jewellery practice and amplified in his sculptural forms, where meaning was developed through an elaborate construction of accumulated objects and materials.

Between 1969 and 1973 Arthur worked as an instructor in the jewellery and silversmithing school at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as well as a period as a school teacher. Amongst various scholarships awarded to him to this time, Arthur received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1964-65 and in 1973 a Travelling Scholarship from the Boston Museum School for his work Ikhnatan grey . Arthur travelled to Australia on the scholarship in 1974 and subsequently remained in Sydney.

Arthur first exhibited a series of sculptures and drawings in Australia in a group show at Bonython Gallery in Sydney in 1974. The exhibition established his practice as one extending from a philosophical inquiry into states of metamorphosis and the metaphysics of death, using a symbolic vocabulary of materials including bones, feathers, sand and glass. The impact of this work led to an invitation by the Art Gallery of New South Wales to participate in a project exhibition along with Alex Danko and John Armstrong in 1975. This provided Arthur with the opportunity to produce his first large scale installation: The fertilization of Drako Vülen’s cheese pizza , which was subsequently purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The heightened scale of Drako Vülen’s also broadened the ambitions of Arthur’s practice in terms of complexity of construction, theatricality of presentation and expansion of materials to include electrical components of intricately crafted neon lights. Warmly received by critics and audiences, Drako Vülen’s remains indicative of a period of neo-Dada tendencies in Australian sculptural practice, and of the bourgeoning milieu of object-based art at the time.

Drako Vülen’s promoted Arthur’s reputation as an artist of works of a complex philosophical inquiry combined with an engaging, absurdist humour. In this vein, Drako Vülen’s became the catalyst for an ongoing series of installations during the 1970s and 1980s which continued to explore the juncture of physical and metaphysical domains through an almost encyclopaedic accrual of object-forms which Arthur staged within increasingly labyrinthal and theatre set-like structures. The series reached cathartic climaxes with Goodbye carpet, goodbye small door at Newcastle Regional Art Gallery in 1983 and The entire contents of a gentleman’s room at the University Gallery, The University of Melbourne in 1987.

In four decades of studio practice, Arthur’s extensive exhibition history has encompassed survey shows at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1979 and 1981), with other significant group exhibitions including the Biennale of Sydney (1979 and 1988), Australian Perspecta (1981), The Serpentine Gallery, London (1982), Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney (1997) and at the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (2004). His work is represented in private collection in Australia, the USA and Europe, various state and regional galleries, and the National Gallery of Australia.

Arthur’s career as an artist runs in tandem with one as an art educator and academic. He began teaching at Sydney College of the Arts at the school’s inception in 1976 and continued as a senior member of staff until his retirement in 2006. He since remained part of the faculty as an Honorary Associate Professor in Sculpture, Performance and Installation.

Mimmocchi, Denise
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