The prolific career of Contemporary Western Fine Art Painter, Tom Gilleon, began at a young age, in the most childlike way — creating whatever came to mind, and seeing it as perfect. Gilleon is now almost 80, in the midst of a remarkable career, and has found himself inching back towards what it was like in his early years of being an artist.
Gilleon was raised by his grandparents in the country of Starke, Florida. Together, the three of them lived in a workshop-turned-into-a-home, and its walls were filled with furniture that was painted colorfully, like illustrations from a children’s book. The once plywood floors became hard-wood floors, and the large stove would turn cherry red if loaded too heavily. Though the space was small, the three of them loved it equally.
It was there, beneath the pine trees and alongside the hand-crafted furniture of his cabinetmaker grandfather, Gilleon found his love for art that would last the rest of his life.
“Art felt like play,” said Gilleon, “I really didn’t know that it was art. It was just what I did. And in my young mind, everybody did the same thing.”
Gilleon spent much time at the kitchen table, watching his grandfather sketch sailing ships, sharks, and whales. Little did his grandfather know that he was helping steward a gift that would later reach thousands of lives.
“I really don’t think that children need to learn to draw,” said Gilleon, “I think they’re born with it. And then they unlearn as they go about in life. Throughout the course of life, we are taught to unlearn ourselves from drawing.”
Gilleon can not remember a time when he could not draw, and he also recalls a childlike confidence that everything he did draw was absolutely perfect, because it was drawn by him. This allowed him the freedom to create anything that came to mind. If he wanted to draw a horse, he would draw a horse. And if he drew a horse, no one could tell him that anything was wrong with his drawing. That is what art is like as a child.
Gilleon’s childhood was completely surrounded by art. Even the yard that surrounded his house became a masterpiece when touched by him.
“My grandparents didn’t believe in manicured lawns,” said Gilleon, “So they brought in big truckloads of white beach sand. As a kid with a stick, I had unlimited canvas.”
In his youth, Gilleon would draw whatever he wanted, whenever and however he wanted. But the real world of being an artist looked different in many ways. Gilleon’s career in art developed uniquely. Throughout the course of his career, he joined the Navy, illustrated for NASA, serviced freelance clients, created conceptual designs for Disney (all stories for another time) and for the last 40 years, Gilleon developed a respected body of work as one of the top five living Contemporary Western Fine Art Painters today.
For many years, Gilleon’s art has been exclusively represented by Altamira Gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and he speaks highly of Altamira and claims that they are one of the best galleries out there. However, Gilleon knew that the gallery expectation caused him to have an agenda with his paintings, and he longed to get back to creating art the way he did when he was young.
“There are expectations,” said Gilleon, “Altamira Gallery is probably the very best gallery. They’re extremely complementary and relaxed on what I would do. But at the same time, there was an unspoken understanding that most people coming into the gallery to see my work would really prefer to see one of my tipi paintings.”
These gallery expectations often dictated the kinds of paintings that Gilleon would create. Though this is not an inherently bad thing, Gilleon desired to get back to the beginning, where he could let his mind run wild and create whatever it was that he wanted to.
In the early months of 2021, Gilleon chose to transition from Gallery representation to self representation, with plans to create a new body of work, with fewer expectations.
“I was really tired of the gallery scene and the show scene,” said Gilleon, “and I just wanted to be off doing my own thing.”
Now self-represented, Gilleon is working on a new series of paintings entitled MMXX (2020) and Gilleon says that he is not dictating this series of paintings by a theme, or a gallery expectation. Similarly to when Gilleon was a child, he’s painting whatever comes to mind.
“My new collection is just totally freeform,” said Gilleon, “I’m doing what I want to do.”
Some of the pieces from Gilleon’s upcoming series are inspired by dreams, quickly sketched in the middle of the night before drifting to sleep again, others are paintings that he’s had in the back of his mind for a while now.
“This (MMXX) is one of the first collections of work where there were no restraints on me,” said Gilleon, “I can just paint what I want and I don’t have to describe or define what it is. I don’t have to justify what I did.”
Gilleon admits that he’s crazy to get back to where he was when he was a child, when he could just pick up a crayon and not care what he would draw.
“A lot of my Native American friends talk about life like there’s a big circle,” said Gilleon, “I think art life is the same way. As I get older, the closer and closer I get to what I was when I was drawing in the sand. I am definitely getting more and more of that freedom.”