The ‘Divas & Heroes’ in artist Bob Tomlinson’s life

Members of the public still have some time to visit the work of painter Bob Tomlinson at Viridian Gallery, 548 W. 28th St. in Chelsea. Exhibiting 22 oil and collage figurative paintings, entitled: “Divas & Heroes,” the artist’s fifth solo show at Viridian Gallery runs until June 8.

Tomlinson’s series of portraits span the ages, from the historical to the fictional to the symbolic, from the mythical to popular culture. Embraced by history, he takes his inspiration from many sources to portray his heroes, including literary, and his divas, be they flamboyant heroines.

Among his more contemporary subjects, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, and jazz musician Chet Baker share the gallery walls with Cleopatra, her son (and of Caesar) Caesarian, Marie Antoinette, and Toussaint Louverture.

Of his subjects, some were in exile–forced to flee. Others were in an internal exile like his symbolic “Remembering Soweto” and writer James Baldwin–fleeing American racism and homophobia.

“James Baldwin is the only one I’ve met,” he says of his subjects. The portraits of novelist, playwright and social critic Baldwin, along with seven other of Tomlinson’s paintings have sold, thus far.

His paintings are combinations of areas painted in oil, elaborately textured and printed papers, as well as computer manipulated photographs. Form, rhythm and subtle colors are elements in his representations.

Of Jamaican heritage, his parents arrived in the early part of the last century. The artist is Brooklyn-born, raised, and educated. It was after Pratt Institute and a trip to Spain in 1963 when he landed in Paris on Bastille Day and “they were dancing in the streets.” He stayed five years and his immersion in French culture set the trajectory for his life.

Tomlinson makes it clear that his 20-year stint as a French professor (a scholar of French literature and aesthetics) at Emory University in Atlanta does not mean he led parallel lives as an artist and academic. “My scholarly research was interdisciplinary and art was always integrated into it,” Tomlinson makes clear. “At Emory, I didn’t have to hide that I was a painter. They were open to the fact.”

In a return to an environment and adopted cultural roots that had and continue to provide so much for the person, on retirement from academia, the artist has moved back to Paris where he’s been for 10 years. In a personal and conceptual way, expatriation finds its way into his work.

Tomlinson’s life has taken the artist from Brooklyn to Paris to Atlanta and back to Paris. Of his ancestral roots, he says that Jamaican is a strong culture that has impacted who he is. With pride he enumerates these influences: from every Sunday eating rice and peas in Brooklyn, to calypso, ska and reggae music, to solid values–not puritanical but a strong sense of morality, and to a highly developed sense of humor, being Jamaican has its stamp on him. Bob Tomlinson’s “Divas & Heroes” will be on display until June 8, 2013, Tuesday – Saturday 12 noon -6:00 p.m. Viridian Gallery, 548 W.28th St., 6th Floor, is between 10th & 11th avenues in Chelsea.

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