Tom Chambers The Eyes Have It

Tom Chambers 'The Eyes Have It'

“I think I am in hell, and therefore I am in hell”

From section: Night in Hell, A Season in Hell, by Rimbaud


The catalyst for these studies evolved in the first instance from a fragment of a conversation with a friend, the late Scottish painter Steven Campbell. We had been reflecting on the powerful imagery which flows from the work of the late 19th French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the surprising omission, or relative silence, in T S Eliot’s prose writing (particularly The Sacred Wood, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism or Selected Essays) regarding the significance of Rimbaud’s contribution to modern poetry.

The early drawings of blighted landscape and self portraits were a response to Eliot’sThe Waste Land and The Hollow Men explored through graphite and chalk, a departure for me suggested by the texts explored. These poems both led me to Dante, a major source of inspiration in European literature and art. Through reading again Eliot and Dante, I came to the view that Rimbaud had in fact, grasped the essence of the myth of hell (the quote above).  My own position is that there is no hell other than that of our own making. For me, and of what I understand of Rimbaud, hell is a projection of the fear of the disintegration one’s personality, concerned with the question of identity.

In spite of Dante’s ubiquity and significance in the pantheon of poets, I feel that he established his position at the expense of Virgil, his ‘mentor’ and guide. Though dependent on his mentor’s guidance through his own ‘dark place’, “changing his mind with every changing whim”,  but when Virgil chides him he “entered on that savage path and onward” (Canto 11). Later Dante constructs a scenario where Virgil’s authority is challenged. His characters, the lustful, the gluttonous, are all aligned in their proper place from hell to heaven, but his choices are as political as theological. His hero, Augustus, has his own past to reckon with, as does Caesar, both glossed over in the trilogy but they are no more innocent than Brutus and Cassius. In these drawings, I have placed them together. These drawings then offer both a revisionist view of Dante’s hell, which will be followed, later,  by a homage to Virgil and Rimbaud through readings of the former’s pastoral poems and in the latter a more cosmopolitan perspective, returning to my typical use of colour and painting.

As these studies developed the focus became concerned with a sense of identity expressed through the eyes, as when challenged Virgil is described “His eyes were downcast, and his anxious brows shorn of all boldness...” in the drawing of ‘the fading star’.

Tom Chambers, MBE.

About the Artist

Born:                Lanarkshire, Scotland
Resident:         Helensburgh / La Dordogne, France

Tom Chambers graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1965, winning The Haldane & the Royal Scottish Academy Diploma awards.

Since then, his prime motivations have been the making of art and education through art. He has taught in Higher education in Canada and Australia, and in secondary schools in Glasgow.

He co-founded the Bellarmine Arts Project (Glasgow), working on successful cultural and environmental projects over ten years, while teaching at Glasgow School of Art & tutoring at the University of Strathclyde.

He has participated in European lectures and workshops on the environment with Napier University, and collaborated for the last three years with the University of St. Lucas, Brussels/Ghent.

In 2006, in recognition of his contribution to education in Scotland, he was awarded an MBE.

He is also honoured as a Trustee of The Steven Campbell Trust, to work with artists and emerging artists in the U.K.