Art Notes: Paintings From His Back Pocket

  • White River Gallery in South Royalton is showing 2-foot-square paintings by Chelsea artist and children's book author Jasper Tomkins.

  • "Still Life with Persimmons" is among the works on view at Howe Library's Ledyard Gallery, which is showing "Beauty Will Save the World," paintings by Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink, through May 3.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2017

In an Amazon review of the children’s book Nimby: An Extraordinary Cloud Who Meets a Remarkable Friend by Jasper Tomkins, a fan, identified only as Sally Y., asks, “Where is Jasper Tomkins? Everyone should know his world.”

Well, Sally Y., Jasper Tomkins, who has written and illustrated 11 children’s books, lives in Chelsea. And he is painting. And doing sculpture. But he’s thinking about maybe doing another children’s book.

And he also keeps little pieces of paper in the back pocket of his jeans so that he can jot down ideas and drawings when they occur to him. And sometimes he takes those little scrawls and blows them up and turns them into extravagantly colored paintings that are 2 feet square.

Tomkins has an exhibition of acrylic paintings made from those scrawls at the White River Gallery in South Royalton.

Called “Expansions,” the show includes 12 works that communicate a whimsy and flights of fancy similar to the paintings of Paul Klee, with odd little creatures and shapes that seem to have been conjured up in dreams.

“Everything I’ve ever done is about showing delight. I get fascinated by just about everything,” Tomkins said in an interview at the Chelsea Library.

Although he has lived most of his life in the Pacific Northwest, Tomkins and his wife, Dian Parker, who also curates the shows at White River Gallery, moved to Chelsea 10 years ago, preferring the quieter life of Vermont to the increasingly crowded West Coast.

He starts his paintings with the rapidly-sketched, one-inch-square drawings on scraps of paper. He transfers the drawings to the canvas, using a grid system. “I look and see what’s in the little square and by hand make the same shape on larger canvas,” Tomkins said.

“It’s a way to try to get as close as I can to that little drawing,” Tomkins said. “I’m trying to loosen up from designing something.”

He prefers the freer feeling he sees in the paintings, and he has always liked working on a smaller scale. He’s not afraid of using the brightest hues and shades, sometimes placing side by side colors that you wouldn’t think would be complementary, but somehow work.

“I just love color,” he said.

Tomkins is a nom de plume. His real name is Tom Batey, but for the purposes of this story let’s refer to him as Tomkins because Tomkins is the artist who goes out and about while Beatty lives a more secluded life.

Tomkins picked Jasper because he’d traveled to Jasper, British Columbia — home of Jasper National Park — when he was a child with his family, and Tomkins because it contained his first name and sounded sort of child-like, like Kitty-kins or Munch-kins. He did so at the advice of another children’s book author who said that he might want to adopt a pseudonym because children’s book writers can attract so much unsolicited attention that it becomes a burden.

Tomkins’ parents both taught at Washington State University in Pullman: his father was a chemist and physicist and his mother taught English and writing.

Tomkins studied science at WSU — including taking a physics class from his father, which was, he said, a nerve-wracking experience — but then he took an art class and that set him on the path forward. He’d spent plenty of time in elementary school classrooms doodling so it wasn’t as if making art was a foreign impulse to him.

He transferred to the University of Washington, Seattle, where he graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration, and then walked his portfolio around Seattle in search of work.

When that didn’t turn up a job he followed a friend who’d gone to New York City, and on the day he began looking for work he spotted an ad in the paper from a publishing company looking for graphic designers.

He brought his portfolio into Bantam, and the same day landed a job as an in-house illustrator. Famous authors came in regularly, and seeing this near daily parade inspired him to think he could do the same.

“I decided I just had to do it,” Tomkins said.

He lived in New York from 1971 to 1973. While the city amazed him, and both Bantam and Harper and Row had expressed interest in his first children’s book, he realized he was homesick when he looked out the window of his apartment and saw “not even a mountain in the far distance.”

He returned to Seattle and through a series of fortunate events, happened to meet a well-known Seattle children’s book writer and illustrator, Eden Cooper, who encouraged him to show his first book The Catalog to Cooper’s publisher in San Diego.

The Catalog began as small sketches of three small hills adjacent to each other. He turned the hills into three lonely mountains which order from catalogs giraffes, turtles and bears to keep them company. In another stroke of good fortune the book won the International Children’s Book Award at the 1981 International Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy.

Over the years 10 more children’s books followed. For his work, Tomkins has been awarded the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, the National Parents Choice Award and the National Children’s Choice Award. He was also invited to China to give presentations at the international schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

In such books as The Sky Jumps Into Your Shoes at Night and Nimby, Tomkins shows an exuberant curiosity and imagination, as he reminds children that the sky isn’t just up there but that air and light are everywhere, and that clouds are capable of transforming themselves into different shapes because they feel playful and happy.

But Tomkins gave up doing children’s books when he moved to Vermont. He’d tired of the routine of touring schools nationally with his books, and he wanted to go in a different artistic direction. He has been showing sculpture at Studio Place Arts in Barre.

Of late, though, he has been thinking about doing another children’s book with the tentative tongue-twisting title of Black Bug’s Blood. He’s run the title by children, and, he said, “it makes them hysterical.” It’s mocked up and ready to go. Now all that awaits is the actual painting.

“Expansions” is at the White River Gallery at BALE in South Royalton through April 30.

Openings and Receptions

Until March 24 ArtisTree Gallery in South Pomfret is inviting people in to paint their walls. You read that right. In a spirit of experimentation and discovery you can paint on the gallery walls. The gallery schedules this during the time of year when northern New Englanders typically begin to get itchy for spring and go a little crazy. There will be a closing reception on Friday, March 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon will begin exhibiting the artwork available for sale during the Silent Auction on Saturday, March 25. In the meantime, if you can’t wait to see art at AVA, the gallery is exhibiting vintage posters from the collection of Alfred J. Quirk in the second floor library.


Aging Resource Center, Lebanon. The Senior Art program exhibition is on view through mid-March. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media, including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

Baker-Berry Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover. “Tibetan and Himalayan Lifeworlds” runs through March 31.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Story Lines,” which features work by Ed Koren, Randolph cartoonist Phil Godenschwager, Burlington’s Alison Bechdel and other faculty and artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, is on view through Saturday.

Center for the Arts, New London. The center shows work by Penny Koburger at the New London Inn, and pastels and oils by Gwen Nagel at the Lake Sunapee Bank on Main Street. In celebration of Youth Art Month, work by students from New London Elementary School is also view at the Whipple Gallery in New London. All three shows end April 29.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The winter exhibitions include stained glass by Kathleen Curwen; wildlife paintings by Bradley Jackson; watercolors by Kathleen Fiske; a selection of work from the Vermont Watercolor Society; photographs by Seth Goodwin; pen and ink drawings by David Cooper; and photographs by Ruth Connor, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine, who spent time in Western Kenya documenting the work done by I-Kodi, a grassroots non-governmental organization dedicated to improving education and healthcare in the region. Through March.

Howe Library, Hanover. Boston artist Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink, who also spends time in the summer in the Sunapee area, exhibits paintings in the library’s Ledyard Gallery through May 3.

Kilton Library, West Lebanon. A selection of work from Hanover Street School and Mount Lebanon School will be exhibited at the library: Hanover Street students show their art through Wednesday; Mount Lebanon students’ work will be on view April 6 through May.

Library Arts Center, Newport. “Kent Stetson: The Art of Handbags,” through March 24.

Long River Gallery and Gifts. “As If — Weavings From Oz,” by Henniker, N.H., artist Doug Masury, continues at the Long River store in White River Junction. An exhibition of paintings by Stephanie Reininger continues at Long River Gallery and Gifts in Lyme through March.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. A show of work by South Royalton School students continues through April 14. There will be a public reception on March 30, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. The gallery has re-opened after a short hiatus.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art generally ends when foliage season does, but 80 percent of the show is still on view. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Two Perspectives of Rural Vermont,” a show of multi-media collages by South Strafford artist Jeanne McMahan, and pen and ink drawings by Peter Neri, of Sharon, runs through March 26.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. An exhibition of prints by Sheri Tomek runs through March 31.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. “The Spirit of Odanaksis,” an exhibition of work by members of a group Upper Valley plein air painters, is on view through May 10.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.