Exhibition: July 23–August 21, 2021. Opening Reception: Friday, July 23, 5–7 p.m. Visit lewallengalleries.com
Tom Palmore, known for his masterful paintings of animals and birds, recounts that when he had his first show in Philadelphia in 1971, he “went from being a bartender on Friday night to a professional artist on Saturday.” The highly successful show featured eighteen of the young artist’s paintings, many of which were of gorillas. Palmore lived in the City of Brotherly Love for thirteen years, and because of his fascination with those primates he gained the moniker “Gorilla Man.” His career flourished: his studio was in downtown Philly, and his work was represented in that city, New York and Paris. Today, his paintings are included in eighteen museums and public collections.
Birds and Big Cats
Palmore’s impressive background includes the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and several prizes, but his love of nature and animals began early in life. Raised by his grandparents, Palmore and his grandfather, a carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade, went fishing every weekend. His grandfather would point out various plants and animals. Palmore said came to realize that the weekend excursions were more about being in nature than fishing.
Of his decision to become a professional artist, Palmore says, “I never really considered any other profession.” When, as a young adult, he asked himself, “What do I really care about? What fascinates me What do I know about?”, the answers all led to the same conclusion: painting animals and birds. However, he felt that painting wildlife in a conventional manner was too limiting. He was determined to remain true to himself in his art.
That conviction is reflected in his work: each creature he paints comes across as a unique, distinct being and not simply a generic representation of its species. “It’s as if the animal came to me and I’m doing a commission of them,” says Palmore. That explains the care that goes into painting his subject’s “portrait”: their positioning, the lighting and the background. Palmore works from photographs, and for decades he’s worked with a couple of top-notch wildlife photographers, telling them what he has in mind. If they can’t do it, he says they tell him the name of a photographer who can. Palmore says that at present, painting birds and big cats brings him the most pleasure.
Palmore, who works in oil on an acrylic undercoat, says he paints the animal’s eyes first and then goes back and makes adjustments. The eyes are always expressive and arresting. His meticulous brushwork is testament to his close observation and attention to detail. He’s also known for his often-unexpected backgrounds, which can be amusing, ironic or thought-provoking. For instance, Santa Fe Opera features five bright yellow canaries. The “diva” is in the foreground, with the “chorus” behind her. One side of the blue curtain behind them is pulled back just enough to provide a glimpse of a Santa Fe sunset, instantly recognizable and meaningful to operagoers who know that performances begin as soon as the sun begins to sink below the horizon. Palmore says that with regard to the background, “The key image sort of tells me where it wants to go.”
When asked what people might not know about him or be surprised by, Palmore says that he’s always loved athletics. He ran track and played football in school, but what may be surprising is that when he lived in Philadelphia, he was an amateur boxer who was friends with several professional boxers. To this day, this talented, engaging Santa Fean remains active and fit — and enthralled with the creatures he depicts in his enchanting paintings.
For more information, visit LewAllen Galleries, 1613 Paseo de Peralta (In the Railyard Arts District), or lewallengalleries.com, or call (505) 988-3250.
View the exhibition catalog here: “Other Earthlings”
© All images are courtesy of LewAllen Galleries and the artist.