Tom Besson, born in 1951, is a product of Nineteen-Fifties America,
and a Czech immigrant subculture.
He studied at The University of Houston Art College for 3 years before “dropping-out” and moving to the counter-culture Austin of 1974. Working with Austin area artists led to his involvement with various diverse art organizations including F’Arts Sake, Vanishing Point Art School where he taught life drawing, Alternate Current Gallery and Austin Visual Arts Association.
In the mid-90’s Besson retraced his immigrant ancestors’ journey back to Moravia, Czech Republic where he now maintains a summer studio in Dolní Becva. He became the first American artist invited to join the Unie Vytvarných Umelcu Olomoucka (Union of Creative Artists of Olomouc), an artists’ collective in Olomouc, Czech Republic in 2005. In 2017 Besson received honorary citizenship from the city of Valašské Meziríci, Czech Republic for propogating awareness of the region across the globe through his fine art.
His involvements with symbolism lead to the creation of a Neosymbolist collective of American, Czech, German, Slovakian and Danish artists. The collective’s continuing exhibitions have traveled from the United States across Northern and Central Europe.
Besson’s work has been displayed in Valašské muzeum v
prírode in Rožnov pod Radhoštem and in contemporary art galleries in
Texas, Chicago, Denmark, Slovakia, Italy and the Czech Republic. His work is
represented in the permanent collection of the University of Houston, The Ukrainian
Institute of Modern Art and in private collections in Ireland, Wales, Czech
Republic, Canada, Iceland and the United States.
My work is born of some strange marriage of Paganism and Roman
Catholicism, substituting the juxtaposition of evil and good with the mundane
and the inspirational.
Born into the faith, I was trained to experience and believe in the unseen. I have ever after attempted to paint that hidden world seeking to shuck the mundane in preference to the inspirational.
My work is figurative while widely skirting realism. Reality comes with such limitations. Limited in its three dimensional definition, as I am limited in my patience to render it. Our common recognitions, in their distortions, become the language of the work, the lens through which to glimpse the intangibles of life. The visible used as a mirror to the unseen.
We live in a semi-rational world of words and concrete ideas interpreted by our brains. Emotional and spiritual themes are better spoken from the heart, temporal beating symbol that it is. To tell the tales of one life and in it seek the universal. Do we not all love and dance, cry and mourn, live in the same shared economic and political situations foisted upon us?
All good themes-all played upon the stage of time. The grand theme that encompasses all; birth, the moment, and our own mortality. Is it a line, running from past to future, a ball exploding in a continuous now, or just an outline for a story stored in gray matter waiting for the compost?
I think about these things when painting or of nothing but painting’s tactile pleasures. Happy in the moment, comfortable in my feelings, but still wondering about Its meaning…Or its lack of one.
Acknowledging the influence of Charles Burchfield, Thomas Hart Benton and Hundertwasser I explore themes of time and the ephemeral nature of man. Painting the energy that drives life and how our spirits are connected to nature remains my highest goal. There in lies the magic.
Did I say small? Then—same as today and all the time between. Small, thin, but please don’t say frail because we are all more than our bodies and I hope you throw spirit into the balance, affording me a fighting chance. So why would I choose to be like most around me. To set myself up for failure in arenas where others are better equipped? No, much to the concern of my father I found sewing and baking far more intriguing than any ball could be. In making things, there is a certain element of control.
And then the trip to Mexico. The dysentery that followed. No chance my tack would change after that. I moved from thinness to emaciation. My physical meagerness became part of my self- identity.
And the fever. Ah, the fever that scrambled time and made me know things are not necessarily what you think they are.
To read, to draw, to sew, to bake. All good things. Good things done alone.
And the glory days of the centennial. The centennial of the great war of secession. Lost then, but not so greatly lost as it is today, I found my heroes. Long bearded generals of a lost cause yet to be besmirched upon the altar of political correctness.
And thus started my pursuit of the arts. In my frustrated attempts to draw those bearded heroes. How often I praised those beards, saving me from the disappointment of failed mouths and any attempts at chins or necks.
What I thought insufficient, my teacher thought showed promise. At her suggestion my parents enrolled me in art lessons at the age of eleven. Dear Helen Coffee, what has become of you? Lost to me after spending those seven formative years under your tutelage.
An unfinished education at the University of Houston Art College, a few accolades and away into the failed revolution of the sixties. Even then I didn’t join in the party till a year after they buried the last hippie in San Francisco. I might as well have been a beatnik.
But experiment we should. Timely or nay. This I know because fever taught me—things are not always what they seem, or at worse can be imagined to be something else. So the commune and some time on the road and the wife, so loved that the children came, brining a tarnish to my idealism as the cultural revolution took a back seat to the more proletariat ideals of food, shelter and care of loved ones.
This led to a career in advertising. Taking a low rung of the ladder of prestige I became a sign painter. One of the finest compromises of my life. A brush in my hand and a profession in which eccentrics are expected. Dear Mrs. Coffee did tell my parents so long ago not to fear, I could always be a sign painter.
Never completely giving up the pursuit of my art, it took a back seat to the American Dream—owning a home, raising a family, tempered by the darker side of the, oh so failed cultural revolution.
And another page turned, another goal realized, I turned back to the childhood dream —to paint. The hurrying years had brought me to the mid-1980’s. In need of a rebirth (that a spiritual rebirth could give us again our wasted youth) I put a pencil back into my hand and sought out a creative community. I found that in the salon of Melissa Barrington, wild-eyed muse to many. Together and with others, we started Vanishing Point Art School in east Austin. Our goal—affordable art training in a counter culture atmosphere. Our accomplishments—lasting friendships of like-minded people, a few students, an open life-drawing studio that raised the models’ pay scale and an alternative gallery space. Yet another ode to creation sung together.
And the paintings came as they still do, watercolors reintroduced me to the joy of glowing transparency, oils approached in a manner new to me that mimics that glow and, finally, a second take with acrylics. And as life became fuller I became more full of inspiration.
The life of the city was exchanged for that of life in the country. A quieter, more reflective stage was entered. The small town of Elgin asked me to start an annual art exhibition. An opportunity to showcase my work and that of my friends, taken, has grown into a juried show with seventy pieces a year. It has moved from any available derelict building to be housed in a permanent gallery in downtown Elgin and is in its twelfth year.
As the years accrued
so did the blessings. Mixed as
ever with sorrow. After the death
of my father I brought my mother to visit her motherland of Moravia. To hear
the ancestral song of a land before unknown to me opened a new chapter in my
life. A chapter still unfinished.
The welcoming people call me back and I pack my studio and return again
and again on painting sabbaticals. To
live as a painter in the woods of the Beskedy Mountains, comfortable, alone,
in a cottage at the base of Radhost, I have found the time and the place in
which I can live my childhood dream of play with hairy sticks and colored mud.