Tom Bass


Early influences

Tom Bass was born in 1916 and, after various jobs during the depression and army service during WWII, he began his career as a sculptor upon graduating from the National Art School in 1948. Bass was greatly influenced by what he had learned from Dattilo Rubbo, whose art school he attended in 1937-40, and he also benefited from being taught by Lyndon Dadswell. Bass was Dadswell’s assistant in 1949-50, after which he taught at the National Art School until 1953. From 1951 to 1964, he held various executive positions with the Sculptor’s Society, of which he was a founding member.


Tom Bass’ work as a sculptor has been concerned with communities, namely schools, universities and government and corporate and religious institutions. In the late forties, Bass developed his philosophy of working as a sculptor in making totemic forms and emblems, namely work expressing ideas of significance to particular communities or to society at large. Examples of his work include The Trial of Socrates and The Idea of a University at Wilson Hall, Melbourne University, the winged figure of Ethos in Civic Square, Canberra, representing the spirit of the community and the Lintel Sculpture at the National Library in Canberra, representing the “idea” of Library.

Over a twenty-five year period, this concept of the totem remained virtually the single focus of his work and is clearly represented in Bass’s many works in Australia and overseas.

Some significant dates

In 1980, Tom Bass had a one-man exhibition at the David Jones Gallery in Sydney. Since the late ’90’s, Bass participated in exhibitions with Defiance Gallery in Newtown and with Sculpture by the Sea both in Sydney.

In 1974, Bass founded his school on Broadway, relocating to Erskineville in 1998. Bass’s aim at the school was to teach the fundamental principles of sculpture in a workshop tradition. Over the thirty years, many people have passed through the school, which has a unique place in the world, and his teaching has achieved mastery over many years. Bass has continued to review his ways of being a sculptor and making sculpture, this in an era which has seen radical change in modes of social communication and which has required new and different forms of expression. Whilst Bass has continued to produce many significant works, the main focus of the last 30 years is and has been the communication, through his teaching, of the ideas and concepts vital to his tradition.

In March 2003, he handed over the School to a Management Committee as it became an Incorporated not-for-profit Association. In this way, the management of the school was provided for and, in his 88th year, Bass continues as an iconic presence and a dedicated teacher.

In 1989, Tom Bass was made a member of the Order of Australia for his services to sculpture.

In 1996, Bass published “Tom Bass – Totem Maker”, which was co-authored by Harris Smart (Australian Scholarly Publishing). In 1998, Bass published “Occasional Prayers”.

In 2006 his first major retrospective Tom Bass Retrospective – Sydney Celebrates the Sculpture of Bass was staged at the Sydney Opera House. At the end of 2007 into 2008, the Retrospective toured to Bathurst Regional Art Gallery.