Thomas Lumley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • Ash is fundamental. It is the ultimate rendering of anything, the sublimate of all things. Ashes blew in the wind after the sacking of Rome; the library of Alexandria was reduced to a grey powder. We burn joyfully in the wind; a handful of carbon is all that will remain of most of us in the long run.


    The poetry of ash cannot be ignored. Burned wood is smeared on the faces of the Saddhus in the feast of Kumbh Mela; it mixes with the Chrism on the eponymous Wednesday marking the start of Lent; they are cast on the water in the Hebrew Red Heifer; they are the embers glowing in the hearth at dawn. The carbon which copied the imprint of ancient animals in the fossil record.


    A single piece of charcoal is created by burning willow twigs in airless conditions. And so there is something gently poetic in the rendering of a tree in charcoal. It has the quality of a rite. The tree which gave it’s skeleton to this endeavour is not reconstituted but becomes the medium.


    It is simultaneously simple and profound, the kind of clear act which reflects an enigma. It is an echo of the mystery of life and the mystery of vision and it uncovers the secret of the reality which we face every day. Our eyes rest on the impossible, solid matter created by particles which of themselves have no substance. It is life from death; being from nonbeing. The miracle and the impossibility of miracles both.


    Lumley’s drawings are studies in the truest sense of the word. They are an investigation and survey of the topography of a miniature world. As surfaces they are simultaneously delicate and muscular. But there is another aspect to this exercise. They are also a meditation; a spiritual investigation of the geist of the tree, created by observing one and using the cremated remains of another. This is not an intellectual exercise. It is instinctive. The abstract and the actual are united by the work of the human hand.


    Charcoal is a humble material. It has none of the grand historic associations of oil paint or bronze; it is void of the modernist cachet of acrylic or aluminium; but every great rendering in history was almost certainly born out of it’scontrolled disintegration. Fundamentally it’s also an ancient material. The oldest discovered charcoal cave drawings, created from the stumps of burned firewood, date back almost four hundred centuries.


    Across this ocean of time discussing the oeuvre of artists from our epoch seems almost superfluous. But as Lumley reaches to the paper and makes his unique contribution to this continuum these moments are and continue to be current. From before remembered time, this is the artist’s thumbprint. The nameless ancients whose images reach to us across an eternity of experience would understand the purpose and the execution of these pictures. It is the black thread of the only true freedom which humans possess. The freedom to dream, to create; lit, hopefully, by a gentle flame, in the presence of family, with a full belly, in a safe cave.

    • Provenance, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Oak Study

signed and dated 'THL 21' lower right
charcoal on paper
87.8 x 102.5 cm. (34 5/8 x 40 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

HK$150,000 - 240,000 

Sold for HK$254,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023