Cambrian: Arts & Events

Artist Tom Gould gives us ‘what we want to believe’

“Tidepools” by Tom Gould
“Tidepools” by Tom Gould

I am an artist and I’ve been working…

To the extent that I ever contemplate using the word recovery, it is usually in response to a pesky client or commission and is addressed with a self-prescribed remedy of “boring book plus nap.”

My view of recovery might be somewhat narrower than most because I have an annoying reserve of energy that allows me to bound about like a puppy drinking Diet Coke and never slow down until it’s dark (which I do, to the delight of my very few patient friends because after all, the village slogan where I live is “Lights Out: Go To Bed”).

To be fair, there are exceptions to my stamina that possibly always involve family visits, terrible art or biblical plagues. I’m thinking of when Moses warned Pharaoh that God was going to send a swarm of locusts to humble him.

“They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left …” (Exodus 10:5)

Well, we know how that went. Pharaoh didn’t heed the warning, resulting in his ego and Egypt needing much more than a power nap.

Now, I’m not saying my daughter and grandkids are like the plague of locusts exactly, but their visit did have certain eerie similarities to the biblical event.

While I did my best to supplement healthy reserves by drinking green juice and stockpiling groceries, I was no match for 10- and 12-year-old appetites for food and fun. Four days of absolutely soul-satisfying joy spent with them left me feeling just a little bit like Pharaoh, except I got the message about humility a long time ago.

This week, my field of energy and refrigerator may be decimated, but I’m still smiling. And recovering. (I just got a whiff of guilt re-reading this because it’s mostly baloney. I can hardly pick up a paintbrush.) A 30-minute power nap doesn’t have the same healing power I’ve grown accustomed to, so I’ve resorted to being a kind of energy vampire, preying on my art acquaintances to give me inspiration and subsequent stamina. (Oh, this is great. Now everyone I know will avoid me for that reason, too. I may be destined to be a post-plague shut in.) Thank you, Tom Gould and Tish Rogers and Anne Seltzer, for not suspecting.

As I was sitting at my gallery desk staring vacantly out the window pretending to be taking a “paint break,” Tom came in and filled the space with his subtle, substantial energy and low-key brilliance. He had no idea I was artistically flatlining. He had kind words to say and observations about artistic techniques (known as “nuts and bolts” in artspeak) that filled me up like a good low-calorie protein bar.

According to his online biography, Tom came to Cambria in 2004 from San Diego after “spending many years in studios and for organizations as designer, scientific illustrator and art director. For over seven years I was the art director at Psychology Today magazine, receiving national and international awards.”

Tom is being modest. When Psychology Today moved its headquarters to New York, he stayed in San Diego and went into business for himself. This was during the late 1970s and ’80 s when it was not exactly a roadmap to success to be an artist, no matter your pedigree and skill set. This is testament to his talent and staying power that pretty much eclipses any living artist I’ve found on the Central Coast, and I’m notoriously stingy with praise.

Consider his rendering of the iconic scenic highway. Artists have found this subject challenging, engaging, infuriating and ultimately impossible to capture without extraordinary ability.

Tom finds the perspective, light values and balanced composition seemingly without effort and proceeds to give us the living, breathing view we see in our collective mind’s eye. It’s not just his skills with a brush and paint; it’s his ability to give us what we want to believe. When Tom describes his challenge in finding the right tone to bring a concept to life it is with humility, thoughtfulness and care that he accepts this challenge to succeed, which he does beautifully.

In a keyhole vantage point showing us a simple tidepool, the viewer absorbs the honesty of the scene. Tom does not overreach with perspective or use any tricks to convey the stillness of water against the rocks. No clever use of color or cloyingly playful sea life here. The honesty stems from the contemplative use of shadow and light, the curvature of the visual narrative inviting the viewer to step forward and figuratively travel in a balanced arc as if looking for a foothold.

This simply cannot be accomplished without masterful skills. I’ve advised any number of aspiring painters that if their goal was to produce photorealism in any medium they had best copy, copy, copy until they cannot copy any longer because unless the rendering is nearly flawless, it is a failure as intended and should not be attempted. It’s like pretending to speak Latin. Either you can, or you don’t.

Seeing Tom’s work replenishes me and feeds my faith that there are humble artists who still strive to produce a miracle.

On days when I am recovering from a swarm of adorable 10- and 12-year-old locusts, I can use a little dose of that magic.

Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at

Upcoming events

“Birds Discover Local Library,” library themed paintings by Anne Seltzer. Aug. 3-31, Cambria Library, 1043 Main St., 805-927-4336.

“Pushing Boundaries,” abstraction as a departure from reality in depiction of imagery in art (juror: Krista Harris). Aug. 3-Sept. 18, 835 Main St., Morro Bay, 805-772-2504,

“Seascapes — Celebrating the Central Coast in Art,” a group exhibit by local artists explores and interprets the watery theme of the Central Coast in various media. Aug. 3-27, Allied Arts Association, 1350 Main St., Cambria, 805-927-8190,

“Three Part Harmony,” a lively music-inspired exhibit of paintings and sculpture by Colleen Gnos, Larry LeBrane and Michael Reddell. Aug. 3-27, Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St., Paso Robles, 805-238-9800.

“Hidden Gems — Selections from the Permanent Collection,” offers a glimpse of the California Central Coast’s visual history and unique identity. Curator Ruta Saliklis selected original paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and ceramics for display in Hidden Gems. July 3-Aug. 27, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St., San Luis Obispo, 805-543-8562.