"Tom Phelan's work is outsandingly open-minded and adventurous. He takes repeat patterns, silhouette motifs, and gestural marks and plays ingeniously with the ideas of symmetry, balance, and texture. He also has a sound and distinctive colour sense."
Aiden Dunne, The Irish Times, November, 2006
For his debut solo exhibition at The Molesworth Gallery, Tom Phelan combined his two great passions - art and surfing. The exhibition title, Quiver was surfing slang for a collection of boards of different sizes, shapes and vintages. The word also conjured the shimmering presence of his latest work - poised between the abstract and the real.
As he tackled the formal problems of abstraction - balancing colour, shape and composition into an unified whole - there were nods along the way to minimalism and colour-field painting. Underpinning each piece, however, was a visual reference to the sea or to surfing: the prow of a surfboard, a heaving sea-swell, a breaking wave. He works on Casani birch panels, using the grain of the wood to add texture and depth to the work and also to suggest the early wooden surfboards long since replaced by fibreglass.
All of his work is rooted in the real, in the artist's personal experience. Ten years ago, Phelan retired as studio manager and master printmaker at the Graphic Studio, Dublin, to concentrate on his own practice, after committing over twenty years to the renowned Dublin printworks. A move to Vienna followed, where he set up his own studio and returned to painting, as well as printmaking on a press kindly given to him by the family of his late friend Barry Flanagan, with whom he had worked closely.