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 Tom Herbert (Thomas) Fairs  (1925 - 2007)

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Lived/Active: England      Known for: painting, drawing, stained glass, teaching

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Ad Code: 4
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from Auction House Records.
The merchants garden
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is the obituary of the artist from The Guardian, London; Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tom Fairs
Reclusive painter of delights yet to be revealed
Tom Fairs, who has died at the age of 81, was that rare creature in the jungle of the contemporary art world: a reclusive painter who sought no publicity, never staged a solo exhibition - though many galleries would have queued up for the chance to do one - but who painted every day until his final illness, accumulating a wealth of remarkable paintings, most of which have still to be seen by the public. Dealing with the commercial world remained a mystery to Fairs. When finally persuaded to do a two-man exhibition last year, he expressed bewilderment at the percentages galleries charge, as if it were all quite new to him.

That we know of him at all is largely because for the past quarter of a century he annually sent in his permitted number of three paintings to the Royal Academy summer exhibition, where - just occasionally - the judges thought fit to hang only two out of his submissions. Anyone who knows about the lottery that characterises the summer exhibition will appreciate how impressive this record is, and how strong his work was to have won the approval year after year of such a notoriously unpredictable jury. His RA paintings were invariably snapped up, but because Fairs never pushed himself forward he remained a secret, largely confined to those who really appreciate good painting.

Fairs' lack of worldly ambition found its counterpart in a delightful indifference to material possessions. He owned very little apart from his clothes, some books and his painting paraphernalia. His artistic hero and mentor was Pierre Bonnard - with whom he shared a birthday and who, like Fairs, lived something of a hermit existence during the second half of his life.

Fairs was born in London, the son of a gas fitter, and left school at 15 to become a Post Office messenger boy - his mother was anxious he should have a job with a pension. He was saved from the GPO when his watercolours won first prize in an employees' open exhibition. Thus inspired, he enrolled for Hornsey School of Art evening classes, walking to his class from his home in Ponders End, north London.

In 1948 he was accepted full time at Hornsey, and in 1950 went on to the Royal College of Art. He specialised in stained-glass design, and subsequently received several public commissions, which included working with Geoffrey Clarke on the nave windows on the new Coventry Cathedral. Strong structural underpinning and luminosity of his later paintings bear testament to this work.

Fairs had a broad experience of the visual arts. From 1954 to 1987 at the Central School of Art and Design he was a well-regarded teacher of fine art and stained-glass, having become a senior lecturer in stage design in 1967. It was only when he retired from teaching that he began to produce the work for which he is best known. The relatively short time left to him make his achievement all the more remarkable.

Fairs had been unwell for many years, yet apart from some hospital spells he painted every day. His passion remained undimmed and painting was the one subject that animated him during his last illness. He is survived by his wife and partner of the last 44 years, the writer Elisabeth Russell Taylor, and by two sons from a previous marriage.

Thomas Herbert Fairs, painter and teacher, born October 3 1925; died March 15 2007


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

The following review is from The New York Times.

Art in Review
TOM FAIRS: ‘Drawings’
Published: June 2, 2011
73 Leonard Street, TriBeCa
Through July 15

You might mistake the small town-and-country drawings in this lovely show for the works of an early-20th-century follower of Pierre Bonnard or Édouard Vuillard. The truth is that the British painter Tom Fairs (1925-2007) did not begin producing art full time until after he retired from teaching at London’s Central School of Art and Design (now Central Saint Martins) when he was 60.

Working with soft pencils in sketchbooks ranging from postcard- to laptop-size, Fairs drew the Victorian buildings, cobbled allies and backyard gardens around his North London home and the woods and fields of nearby Hampstead Heath with an almost shocking avidity. Selected from hundreds that he made during his last two decades, the drawings here show him to have been as alive to the action of applying graphite to paper as he was to what he was looking at in the world. With each piece, it seems as if he were discovering drawing for the first time and, wonderstruck, teaching himself from scratch how to represent leafy trees, snowy fields, crowded rooftops and whatever else came into view.

There is an outsiderlike intensity to Fairs’s work. Different pieces call to mind Van Gogh, Charles Burchfield and some forgotten illustrator under the spell of Gothic Romance, but Fairs was never not himself.

Evidently lacking either the confidence or the ambition for worldly success, however, Fairs never had a solo exhibition during his lifetime. This is the first show devoted exclusively to his work. It is inspiring.


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