Tom Bass

News from the Archive

2011 Tom Bass Memorial Lecture

17th June, 2011

Thank you Deborah Beck for your presentation of the Inaugural Tom Bass Memorial Lecture at the National Art School. The Lecture was held in the historic Cell Block Theatre on June 7 and relayed the history of the the sculpture school from the time of Rayner Hoff through to Tom Bass’ connections with the school as a student and assistant to Lyndon Dadswell.

Tom Bass’ contemporaries were discussed and there were many wonderful historic photographs of the times In later years he was a teacher at the NAS and partipated in the exhibition in 2008 which celebrated the success of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme students.

The lecture was video recorded and a link to the film will soon be placed on this website


A little story from Tom’s early life that Deborah talked about when Tom was aged 16:

At the bottom of the street where we lived in St Peters there was an iron foundry. One day my brother Keith, who was about nine years old at that time, came home with several blocks of what looked like stone that he had picked up from the foundry’s rubbish dump. It was actually core sand which was used in the foundry process—sand held together by linseed oil—but it was rather like sandstone, though a little easier to carve. I had an impulse to carve this stuff. All we had was a hammer with a broken handle and a funny old screwdriver, but I started work on it and found myself having the most magnificent experience.

It was overwhelming, the most intense excitement I can recall. It was my first real act of creation and my whole world was changed by it. I had discovered that I could carve something. It was a time when I also discovered Balinese sculpture. Someone had given me a little book about it and my first work in the core sand was very much influenced by that style.

In my excitement at discovering that I could carve, I thought how marvellous it would be if someone would recognise that I was talented and had potential. At that time there was a famous man in Sydney named Rayner Hoff, a very good sculptor. He did the war memorial in Hyde Park and was also Head of Sculpture at the National Art School at East Sydney Technical College. So I put my carvings in my little globite school bag, found my way to Hoff’s studio and knocked on the door. I remember that the door was so huge there was another little door set into it and through which you actually entered and exited. A woman came out. I was very shy but I explained what I’d brought and how I hoped Mr Hoff would have a look at them. This person said she’d show Mr Hoff and I should come back in a week’s time.

When I came back, there was a different woman who didn’t know anything about it. She went away and was gone for quite some time but eventually came back with the little case. No message. Nobody knew if Mr Hoff had seen the carvings or not.

I went around the corner. I hadn’t seen my creation for a week. I was dying to look at them. I opened the little bag and the carvings were all smashed. So I wasn’t discovered. When I look at the carvings and drawings that I did at that time I can see the seeds of the kind of sculptor I was to become. They already have a totemic quality. I still have the drawings I did for my first commission, which I got at the age of sixteen when I was asked to carve a wooden pole which was set up on a property at Avoca Beach, near Gosford. I carved a totemic figure of an Aborigine out of a turpentine log which I now see as a forerunner of the things I would do later.