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Tom Polo (b. 1985, Sydney Australia) works across painting and installation to explore how conversation, gesture and emotional exchange can be transformed into recordings of social interaction and the self. Polo’s practice is characterised by his distinctive style of abstracted figuration, rendered in bold, expansive fields of colour. His paintings depict partially obscured and fragmented figures – a painted index of limbs, eyes and hands – through a conceptual and physical merging of observation and imagination, to encourage sustained moments of looking and being.

Polo holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons. Class 1) and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales Art & Design. Since 2007, he has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Australia and internationally.

Polo was a recent finalist in the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize and the National Works on Paper Prize in 2022. He was a finalist in the Ramsay Art Prize, Australia’s premier prize for emerging artists (2021), and has been a finalist several times in the Sir John Sulman Art Prize (2021, 2020, 2017). Polo was the winner of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, presented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2015); The Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize (2014), and the Art & Australia/ Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award (2011). 

Significant exhibitions include the 2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free State, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2022); The National: New Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2019); Primavera 2017: Young Australian Artists, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2017); and Painting, More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2016). He has undertaken residencies at Palazzo Monti, Brescia; Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris; and ACME Studios, London. 

Lured in chorus

Gina Mobayed on Tom Polo

In this new body of work, soft secrets, Tom Polo works exclusively on paper and continues his investigations into figurative abstraction. Every panel has been treated with the hallmarks of his practice; broad, vibrant washes of colour and confident line work gently merge into suggestive figurations. Each work in soft secrets is a unique character, their role authored by Polo through the gesture and directional gaze he creates especially for them. These characters are informed by the artist’s ongoing and consuming observations of the people and interactions happening around him. Polo is interested in acts of looking and how this can inform our very being within lived experience. He distills this broad, conceptual realm into nuanced mannerisms responding to stimuli — the way a hand might curl its fingers, how expression can settle in the lips or the flash of darting eyes.

Over time Polo has built a significant swathe of memories and documented gestures that he recalls and reinvents as he forms each figure, or character. This series presents a deepening intensity between the artist and his reference material, exemplified in the variation of marks present from panel to panel. Polo currently works with acrylic, Flashe and wax pastel. This trio of materials lends itself to many dilutions and intensities which he embraces in process, deciding when to build or layer upon his workings of the paper, or to erase them. There are moments where Polo has diluted the paint to just an inkling of its original hue, in dissolve and disappear yellow settles as an aura over the figure. In contrast, it is over the intensity of the blue coloured paint in wallow, swallow and its response to the paper that Polo sketches a more defined figure in wax pastel. Polo brings definition in and out of soft secrets with deftness but maintains a hovering sense of desire within each character, to be both the stimuli and the stimulated.

~

Gina Mobayed is a curator who works with living artists across all facets of creative practice and production. She was the Director of Goulburn Regional Art Gallery from 2017 – 2021, a co director of Firstdraft, Sydney and has held roles at Artbank, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia and Grantpirrie Gallery, Sydney. She is currently completing postgraduate studies in cultural theory as it relates to contemporary art at the University of Sydney. 

CV Tom Polo

Born 1985 Sydney, Australia

Lives and works in Sydney

EDUCATION

2009-11

Masters of Fine Arts (Research) – College of Fine Arts, UNSW

2003 – 07

Bachelor of Fine Arts – Painting (Honours Class 1) – College of Fine Arts, UNSW

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2022

soft secrets, Art on Paper, Brussels, solo presentation @ Galerie Transit booth
will you, fill me, Yavuz Gallery, Singapore

2021

linger, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
stains, stages, strangers, Station Gallery, Melbourne

2020

exit strategy, STATION, Melbourne

2019

I still thought you were looking, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
It’s all a costume though you see, STATION, Melbourne

2018

of defence and doubt, Galerie Transit, Mechelen, Belgium

2017

(These things) tell me more about you, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Mornington
Emotional Patrol, STATION, Melbourne

2016

Recent Positions, STATION, Melbourne
What Goes On Here, Tom Polo for Spectrum Now, Art Gallery of New South Wales

2015

The fool faces sideways, STATION, Melbourne, VIC

2014

Even the best of us, STATION at Spring 1883, The Hotel Windsor, Melbourne
Spring 1883, The Hotel Windsor, STATION, Melbourne

2013

Ways, KALIMANRAWLINS, Melbourne
Many Hands, West Space, Melbourne

Future Figurative (New Personas), Gallery 9, Sydney

2012

GESTURES AND MISTAKES, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne

2011

DISAPPOINTED WITH EVERYTHING (It Happens), GRANTPIRRIE, Redfern
DISAPPOINTED WITH MANY PEOPLE & THINGS, ACME Project Space, London, UK
Hit & Miss, Parramatta Artists Studios, Parramatta, NSW

2009

The 2009 B.E.S.T Contemporary Art Prize, MOP, Sydney
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN, GRANTPIRRIE, Sydney
One-Liner or Suggestions for Conversation in Social Situations, Firstdraft, Sydney

2007

An Excessive Aesthetic, Firstdraft, Sydney

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2022

Free/State, 2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia (forthcoming)

2021

Ten Year Show, STATION Gallery, Melbourne

2020

A Painting Show, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Contact Us, Cement Fondu, Sydney

2019

Sydney Contemporary, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
The National, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
The Whiteley at 20: Twenty Years of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney
Art Brussels 2019, Galerie Transit, Mechelen, Belgium

2018

Beyond Reason: exploring the logic of the imagination, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane
WORD, Hugo Michell, Adelaide
Meditation on a bone: Albert Tucker beyond the modern, curated by Glenn Barkley, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Melbourne Art Fair, STATION, Melbourne

2017

Primavera 2017: Young Australian Artists, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Masters of Three Worlds, COMA, Sydney
‘Looking at Me Through You’, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney

2016

Painting, More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne
Narratives, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Green Eyed Monster Eating Its Own Tail, Art Month Sydney

2015

NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) Exhibition, Artspace, Sydney
STATION at Spring 1883, The Establishment, Sydney
BWTAS Finalists’ Exhibition, Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney
Che Cosa, Wollongong City Gallery, Wollongong, NSW
West Space Annual Fundraiser, West Space, Melbourne
Façade, Parramatta Artists Studios at Artereal Gallery, Rozelle, NSW
Glazed and Confused, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney

2014

Art Bar curated by Lara Thoms, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney   
The List, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, NSW
Ready Player One, Station, Melbourne
Contemporary Fiction, Breezeblock, Sydney

2013

Art & Australia Collection 2003-13, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney
The NSW Visual Arts Fellowship for Emerging Artists, Artspace, Sydney
Face Off, Wellington St Projects, Sydney
Sedition, BUS Projects, Melbourne
Extended Operations, KALIMANRAWLINS, Melbourne
As Above, So Below, MOP Projects, Sydney
Uncertain Pastures: Matthew Hopkins and Tom Polo, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne

2012

Time & Vision: New work from Australian Artists, The Bargehouse, London, UK
Facial (with Matthew Hopkins & Mary McDougall), TCB Art Inc, Melbourne
As Above, So Below, Alaska Projects at Good Children Gallery, New Orleans, US

2011

Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship, Artspace, Sydney
I was here, The Lockup Cultural Centre, Newcastle, NSW
Trophy Wife, curated by Sarah Jones, Death Be Kind, Melbourne
For The Lulz, Tin Sheds Gallery, University of Sydney, Sydney
Dot Dot Dot, curated by Lisa Radford, Lismore Regional Gallery, Lismore, NSW

2010

Friends, TCB Art Inc, Melbourne
Campbelltown Arts Centre Project Room, Melbourne Art Fair, Melbourne
Breadcrumb Winner, PLATFORM, Melbourne
SafARI, curated by Lisa Corsi and Danielle Hairs, Firstdraft Gallery, Sydney
No Right Turn, Penrith Regional Gallery and Lewers Bequest, Penrith
Territorial Pissings, Utopian Slumps Gallery, Melbourne

2009

I AM THE MESSAGE, Lismore Regional Gallery, Lismore, NSW
Why do we do the things we do, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, PerthNo Identifiable Culture, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney
This is what the edge of your seat was made for, Boxcopy, Brisbane

2008

Current: Sculpture Projects in the River City, Parramatta, Sydney
The Year of the Bird, Hawkesbury Regional Gallery
Laith McGregor, Tom Polo, Emily Portmann, Jackson Slattery, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

2007

Winners are Grinners (December Show), Gallery 9, Sydney

CURATORIAL PROJECTS

2015

It’s funny, like HA-HA funny, January Artbar, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NSW

2012

There’s a hole in the sky, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, Sydney
Anything, Everything and One Other Thing (Parts 1-5), ALASKA Projects, Kings Cross, Sydney

2011

YES I CAN/NO CAN DO, Blacktown Arts Centre, Blacktown, Sydney

2009

I’m worse at what I do best, Parramatta Artists Studios, Sydney, Sydney

AWARDS, GRANTS, PRIZES AND RESIDENCIES

2021

Sir John Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (finalist)
Ramsay Art Prize, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (finalist)

2020

Sir John Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (finalist)
Parramatta Artists’ Studios, Parramatta, Sydney

2018

Palazzo Monti Residency, Brescia, IT

Archibald Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (finalist)

2017

Sir John Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney (finalist)

Art Space residency, Sydney

2016

Cité Internationale des Arts residency, Paris

ACME Studios residency, London

2015

Creative Fellowship Fund, Parramatta City Council, NSW, (winner)

The NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging), Artspace, Sydney (finalist)

Brett Whiteley Traveling Scholarship (winner)

2014

The Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize, National Art School, Sydney (winner)

2013

Parramatta Artists Studios, Parramatta, Sydney

The NSW Visual Arts Fellowship for Emerging Artists (finalist)

Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards – Visual Arts (finalist)

John Fries Memorial Art Prize (finalist)

Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, (finalist)

Hazelhurst Art on Paper, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery (finalist)

2012

Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (highly commended)

2011

Art & Australia/ Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award (winner)

Australia Council for the Arts Skills & Development Grant – London Studio Residency

Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship, Artspace, Sydney (finalist)

The Lockup Cultural Centre, Newcastle, Sydney

2010

QANTAS Spirit of Youth Award – Visual Arts (finalist)

Fishers Ghost Art Prize, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown (finalist)

Parramatta Artists Studios, Parramatta, Sydney

2009

Australia Council for the Arts Skills & Development Grant – London Studio Residency

Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) for Postgraduate study, College of Fine Arts, UNSW

Fishers Ghost Art Prize, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown (finalist)

The 2009 SMAC Awards, hosted at Gallery Barry Keldoulis (finalist)

The Blake Prize for Religious Art, The Blake Society, National Art School, NSW (finalist)

Queen Street Studios at Fraser Studios, Chippendale, Sydney

2008

Fishers Ghost Art Prize, Campbelltown Arts Centre (finalist)

Churchie National Emerging Artist Exhibition, (finalist)

2007

Parramatta Artists Studios, Parramatta, Sydney

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

2019

Justin Paton, ‘Tom Polo,’ in The National: New Australian Art, 2019, pp. 130-131. Exhibition Catalogue

Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung, ‘Ways of Seeing – Tom Polo,’ Artist Profile, no. 48, 2019, p. 84-89

Tom Polo – Paris Drawings: The Most Elaborate Disguise, Perimeter Books, 2019

2018

‘Artists use text in Word’, Art Guide Australia, Zara Sigglekow

‘Critic’s Guide: Sydney’, Frieze, Sarinah Masukor

2017

Pesa, M., ‘Tom Polo: Emotional Patrol’, Art Almanac, July

2016

Preston, S., ‘Get to know Tom Polo,’ Broadsheet Sydney, March, https://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/art-and-design/article/studio-visit-tom-polo

2015

Forrest, N., ‘Tom Polo wins 2015 Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship,’ BLOUIN ARTINFO, http://au.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1216935/tom-polo-wins-2015-brett-whiteley-travelling-art-scholarship

2014

Rugendyke, L., ‘Artist Tom Polo wins 2015 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship,’ Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/artist-tom-polo-wins-2015-brett-whiteley-travelling-art-scholarship-20150813-giyjac.html

Forrest, N., ‘Vernon Ah Kee and Tom Polo Win 2014 Redlands Art Prize,’ BLOUIN ARTINFO Australia

Galvin, N., ‘Tom Polo eavesdrops for arts sake,’ Sydney Morning Herald

Miller, C., ‘50 Things Collectors Need To Know (Cool Hunter Predictions)’, Art Collector Magazine

O’Sullivan, J., ‘Spring 1883 is the enticing boutique art fair down under,’ Artnet, http://news.artnet.com/market/spring-1883-is-the-enticing-boutique-fair-down-under-79214

Raschella, ‘A. Installation Art Comes to South-West Sydney’, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-04/installation-art-comes-to-south-western-sydney/5790918?nw=0

2013

Barkley, G. ‘Emerge Profiles: Tom Polo,’ Artist Profile Magazine, 2013, Issue 23, pp 48 – 51

Britton, K. ‘Review: Tom Polo, Future Figurative,’ Raven Contemporary, 2013

Frost, A. ‘An Artist Walks Into A Bar,‘ Art Guide Australia, 2013, http://artguide.com.au/articles-page/show/an-artist-walks-into-a-bar

Frost, A. The A-Z of Contemporary Art, ABC Television, Australia. First Aired, 12 June 2013

Frost, A. ‘What makes us connect with an artist?’, Australian Culture – The Guardian, 22 July 2013

Rule, D., ‘In the galleries,’ The Age, 24 August 2013, https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/your-weekend-in-the-galleries-20130823-2sfqe.html

Stanton, E. ‘Great Western Drawing, Runway’, An Australian Contemporary Art, 2013

Magazine, Issue 16: Disappearance, 2013, 86 – 89

2012

Gibb, S. ‘Art & Australia/Credit Sussie Private Banking Contemporary Art Award,’ Art & Australia magazine, 2012, Volume 49 No. 4

McSpeeden, S. ‘S&M,’ Un Magazine, 2012, Issue 6.1, 82-87

Rule, D. , In The Galleries,’ The Age, Melbourne, Feb 11, 2012

2011

Bentley, S., ‘Tom Polo,’ New Planes, issue 1, 2011

Rolfe. D, ‘People to watch,’ the (sydney) magazine – Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 27, 2011, 42

Stein, M., ‚Polo Opposites,’ The Blackmail, April 2011

Walcott, R., ‘Tom Polo: A portrait of the artist,’ October 2011

2010

Frost, A. ‘What’s next?’, Australian Art Collector, October 2010, pg 124-125

Lerkenfeldt, L. ’Tom Polo interview,’ Un Magazine, Issue 4.1, July 2010

Lopes, S. ‘Perspective: Steve Lopes on Failure,’ Artist Profile, Issue 10, 2010, 96-97

O’Sullivan, ‘J. NSW WRAP, Polo’s Double Projects,’ Australian Art Collector, Issue 53, 2010, 246

2009

Cover Design ‘The Best Thing Ever’, commissioned for Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2009 catalogue

Costantino, T. ‘Why do we do the things we do review’, The Daily Serving, 2009, https://www.dailyserving.com/2009/09/why-do-we-do-the-things-we-do/

Cunningham, D M. ‘The Best Thing Ever,’ Artnotes, Art Monthly Australia, April 2009, 57

Frost, A. ‘Everyone a winner with an arts lottery,’ Sydney Morning Herald, November 20, 2009, 19

Frost, A. ‘Being a success is overrated,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, July 22, 2009, 9

Snell T. ‚Show prises open the studio door,’ The Australian, August 25, 2009, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25974870-16947,00.html

‘You have already won,’ The Art Life, 2009, http://artlife.blogspot.com/2009/11/you-have-already-won.html, November 14

Wolifson, C. “Interview: Tom Polo for ‘I’m worse at what I do best’”, Das Super Paper, Issue 10, 2009

Featured on Vasili Kaliman’s Art Patrol, October 8, 2009, http://artpatrol.blogspot.com/2009/10/tom-polo-24september-24-october-2009.html

Von Sturmer, John. ‘West is When is West: A Trip Report’, Art Monthly Australia, Oct 2009, 21-23

2008

Frost, A. ‘If I Could Have (Animal Art),’ Australian Art Collector, issue 45, July 2008, 308 – 309

‘There’s A Winner In You’ series, Runway Magazine, Issue 10 Romance, autumn, 2008

2007

‘Space is the Place,’The Art Life, 14 December, artlife.blogspot.com/2007/12/space-is-place.html

COLLECTIONS

Artbank

Joyce Nissan Collection, Melbourne, Australia

Private collections in Australia, Belgium, United Kingdom and United States

Redlands Grammar, Sydney, Australia

Terrace Towers Group, Sydney, Australia

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