Anyone who’s taken any art history course that covers Impressionism has heard that photography was, at least in Western art, the beginning of the end of intensely representational work–including the academic work of artists like Jacques Louis David. Starting with the Impressionists it was all a downhill slide to Pollock and Rothko, right? Well, not exactly. Various Surrealists and Pop Artists were representational, and artists from the Wyeths to O’Keefe stand outside any particular school. And there have been numerous photo-realist artists, including Tom Palmore, whose work is covered in a book called Earthlings.
The title is significant. In science fiction movies and stories human beings are often greeted or referred to as “Earthlings”, but Palmore’s subjects are usually animals–and often chimpanzees. It’s a funny and poignant reminder that all life forms on this planet are Earthlings.
Palmore, like Jamie Wyeth, paints animals–occasionally people, but animals are his primary subject, and he’s more controlled with his brushwork than Wyeth, aiming for realism so intense you feel like you could reach out and touch the nose of the frog in this painting:
It’s called Big Billy, Portrait Of A Prince, which is the other thing that makes Palmore’s work interesting. He’s got a great sense of humor. If you haven’t already, check out the wallpaper behind Big Billy. Sometimes the humor is in the painting, sometimes it’s in the title, sometimes both, as in Curtain Call For Teresa.
I’ve studied art a lot and even when confronted with the weirdest, most challenging conceptual art I can usually fall back on what I’ve learned to get some idea of what the artist is trying to achieve. But with Tom Palmore’s art I don’t feel like I have to fall back on anything–instead I feel I’m falling into it.