This resurrective retrospective presents the New Orleans-born painter, who died in 2001, as a documentarian who strove to capture the under recognized vibrancy of his lived environments, capturing iconic tropes while amplifying the often strange, bizarre, or overlooked.
Series like the palms and the construction works not only exhibit his years and dedication for Santa Monica, his chosen home of two decades, but a connection to the Mission of San Francisco, where X was trained as an artist early in his career at San Francisco Art Institute. The perspectival palm plunges characteristic of Santa Monica can be found east of Mission Street on South Van Ness looking to Bernal, or on streets that drop down away from Buena Vista Park (“The Long Walk”) . Palm trees are a token symbol of a curated environment, being ubiquitous, especially in California, yet native only to the tropics. Construction is the second largest theme in X’s work. He spent years documenting the arc of first destruction, often by Swinerton Construction, then continued, with focused fascination, to observe and paint the reconstruction of the new edifices—“Moonlight at the El Tovar”, “Entrance to the Old Getty,” and “The Sea Castle,” to name a few on view. This theme of destruction and reconstruction aptly reflects Tom X’s own arc of life, having deconstructed his given identity, Tom Johnson, and rebuilding himself as Tom X away from his nascent home and its preserved history. Throughout the nineteen-eighties and nineties, X lived in Nevada City, painting with a group of radicals, in Santa Monica, where he built a collaborative studio with friends and there began the most prolific painting years.
Tom X left behind over three hundred works on canvas and around eight hundred original prints. Living and painting across the U.S., from New York, New Orleans to Nevada City, the Bay Area, and Southern California, he painted and used his works to develop relationships with friends who became his dedicated patrons and collaborators, leaving behind a colorful footprint across the country.