I quit my job, I spent three months in bed, Thought I’d take up fine art painting instead, got myself a paint brush
and a bottle of paint – five minutes work is gonna make me a saint! Baby
I’m a fine artiste...” R. Crumb & his Cheapsuit Serenaders
me a little about yourself. How did you get started in your particular craft? How long have you been pursuing your craft (training,etc.)
? Were you inspired by any one person to pursue your craft, or was it a slow process of transition?
the early 1980's, I was the victim of a hit and run automobile accident. I was walking across the street one night and a car
came careening, out of nowhere and mowed me down. I bounced off the car's hood and hit the pavement hard. It was a long wait
for the ambulance and I was fighting hard not to lose consciousness. I remember
laughing hysterically and feeling higher than I ever felt before.
but not without breaking a leg. For more than a year I was on crutches. It was a humbling experience for me, as I was always
on the go ‘til then. On my bike, on the bus, I had places to go and pals to meet all over town for laughs, good times
and "Happy Hours". All of this changed and I became a stay at home, completely
bored out of my skull.
of course, all of Raymond Chandler, all of John Fante and all of Nathaniel West and I played my Merle Haggard and George Jones
records, but nothing killed this feeling of terrible apathy. Days dragged on to months, and then something wonderful and unexpected
limping, as usual, through an alley behind
Hollywood Blvd, and I found a child's watercolor kit there among the garbage. I took it home and
started painting. First I did a portrait of my cat, Luigi and then my pal Rob
Wray, then more pals, then movie stars and insects, babies and boxers, strippers and go-go boys, cowboys and old folks. I
haven't stopped painting till this very day.
did you arrive at the work you're doing now? Evolution? Inspiration? Sheer Luck? Describe this process.
a while, I was living a double life. At this time I was in
Miami, in the early 1990's. I was a bartender
by day, painter by night. I was not wedded to my art then, and suffered because of it.
As a mixologist, I could make the perfect martini and I even took an interest in the football and soccer games on the
giant T.V. over the bar. "Surely," I said to myself, "Tomata, this is living!" I
was wrong, and my once broken leg let me know just how much. I started to feel tremendous pain in that very same leg as I
limped from customer to customer behind the bar, and the martinis were no longer perfect. I had lost my touch.
Paul Adrian told me: "Tomata, maybe you are afraid to walk into the future?" This advice I thought was nuts. As a kid I spent
time on the midway, and I found that his comment harkened back to a "fortune" I once got from a boardwalk mystic, you know
those mechanical gypsies imprisoned in their glass booths. At the time I wasn't buying it.
But dagnabit! Paul was right. The day I quit my job and became a fulltime
painter, the pain completely vanished, never to return.
me about your feelings on your own creative process. Does the way it wors ever surprise you? Do you find that it's easier
to "seize the moment" when creativity strikes? How do you capture and retain these inspirations?
course, now that I didn't have a job, how was I gonna survive? Well, I couldn't live in
even more expensive than
Los Angeles. I remembered
Orleans, which I had been to briefly a few New
Years prior. Ii did some quick research and found that rents were amazingly cheap and I hopped the next train to "The City
That Care Forgot."
to the Bywater neighborhood and found a shot-gun house with a broken down shed in the backyard. That shed became "Estudio
duPlenty" and I started cranking out the art. I now knew that to get by I had to sell my art. There was no other way.
on the phone. I worked up my courage. "Tomata, you can do this!"
myself. I called
Miami. I called
Angeles. I called
I was in the "art biz" and I was lining up shows. Many times, I booked the exhibits
in advance, not knowing what I would come up with art-wise. It was get the gig, then do the art.
been an issue of waiting for "creativity to strike." I can not afford such a whimsical luxury as that.
simply pick a theme, say something as simple as "Elvis Presley". Then I thought what would be better than one "Elvis" , but
"101 Elvises" and presto that would be the show title and the work begins... and now I fly or take the train( many times I'm
still painting on the train for the upcoming exhibit) I'm jammin' my art into 3 suitcases, and I'm always carrying on much
more. I show at galleries, bars, restaurants, laundry-mats, store-fronts, the street, you name it.... and God, She is good
to me. I'm makin’ a Livin’!
most of the people I interview exist in a sort of "fringe" area of the arts, how does being identified with the "fringe" affect
what you create. Does it help or hinder the process? Is there a camaraderie in your particular slice of the world that you
can rely on for inspiration, or is it by necessity a lonely path?
not on the "fringe" of anything. I'm right there in the thick of it. Workin' it! I work alone, but I have pals here that are
always a great source of inspiration, although none of them are artists.
important is the creative process to you? Do you think that it is something that needs to be addressed in the new century?
Do you think that it is part of a healthy mental balance, to have a solid creative foundation on which to work, and more importantly
is it an issue that is being addressed by our educators, government and people?
don't understand the creative process. I know some folk who haven't done a darn creative thing in their whole lives. Maybe
it's because they are works of art. Mama duPlenty used to call people "sketches". I now know what she meant. I am all for
educators, governments to foster the creative process, but I'm not naive, in thinking that some kind of "Creative Utopia"
made a living (modest or otherwise) from your chosen brand of artistic expression...Do you think it's possible in today's
"Mega-hit" oriented entertainment, business/society for the artist to actually make a living within the avant-garde arena?
indeedy! Avant-garde or otherwise. My studio now, is a small room my landlady
rents to me, with a working sink included. What more could an artist need. It takes me about 6 weeks to create an exhibit.
I paint about 10 major pieces and anywhere from 100 to 200 watercolors for each show. The money I make from selling all this,
pays my rent months in advance.
about the internet? Do you have a site or webpage on the net that are readers can visit?
do have a website:
http://www.tomataduplenty.com or folks can
email me at
email@example.com I have sold art on it, folks have been great. Of course I'm all for it.
moment I'm painting a "Fatty Arbuckle" & "Steve Buscemi" for two different collectors. Fun stuff.
any new projects planned?
Novemnber, I go to
Miami Beach for a show on
Lincoln Road called "Frank, Sammy,
Dino & Tomata" -the Headliners- the Showgirls - the Comics. Then I go to San Franscico for an exhibit to honor Jack Kerouac's
birthday on March 12th. It will be at the legendary Cafe Vesuvio. I will be doing
a benefit exhibit for "Beyond Baroque" in their gallery, Summer of 2000 on my favorite characters out of novels. Finally, in May 2001, I do my exhibit on opera at the Brand Gallery in
working with my own production company "Shecky & Shecky" on a film project starring Vampira. As I write this I feel confident
that all of this will come to pass and it will be a hoot!
do you draw your inspiration from these days?
days I'm inspired by a good barbecue, the kids from the "special school" who play in the park across the way, my landlady
who sometimes takes me to lunch at Wendy's, a 'Nawlin's "Second-line" brass band and my trips to the AIDS clinic where I get
my protease prescriptions refilled. Today, I'm just happy to be here at all.
RD: How does having a potentially terminal
illness affect your "vision" as an artist? In other words, do you feel more focused
on the daily life, "live each moment to the fullest" type of thing, or do you just see it as a nuisance?
not sure how it has affected my "vision" as a painter, but as a person, I now have to watch it health-wise. No longer can
I be the "Falstaff" I once was holding up my end of the bar, or even the great "Don Juan" I thought I was in all matters of
the heart. I think though that the two greatest things that ever happened to me was the death of my very best friend to AIDS
and finding out I'm HIV positive. Some folks will understand this, it's something I cannot explain in words.