May 17 2011
Greetings, Cool Peeps:
My guest for today is artist Tom Oliver. Tom’s had quite an interesting life, but I’ll let him tell you about it.
Welcome, Tom. It’s a pleasure to have you as my guest today. You have quite an interesting background. Please, tell the peeps about yourself.
I was born in Kentucky but moved all over the US. I was a preacher’s kid and we moved 13 times or so by the time I was 18 years old. I can’t remember all the places.
These days, I’m a single dad of a wonderful son, a part-time Planner for the City of Los Alamitos, California, and a part-time artist. Mostly I tell people that I clean house for an eight year old.
You’ve worked in so many diverse places. What were your favorite and least favorite jobs? What is your dream job or endeavor?
My most exciting jobs were when I worked at the Disney Studios for a few years. The best job I had there was being the Assistant to the President of Buena Vista Television, which is one of Disney’s TV companies. I worked in that office for three years, and felt like a big shot — and got to meet a lot of stars. I experienced things like test answering the first questions for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,” got Christmas presents from Regis Philbin, and even was subjected to a very awkward hug from Richard Simmons.
My least favorite jobs were working at banks and insurance companies. Bless the people who can suffer those jobs, because I can’t do that anymore. I had to force down tons of Tagamet because I tore myself up inside in those thankless jobs.
My favorite job, but a tough job, was being a stay-at-home dad to my son. He is the best thing about my life.
I’ve always admired peeps who do stand-up comedy. It takes a whole lot to just get up in front of an audience and go for the laughs. Had you ever thought about stand-up before you became a stay-at-home dad?
I thought about it. But, the push to do it came when I started realizing I was becoming afraid to speak in public — which wouldn’t suit me at all. So I took a class at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, and it took off from there. It nipped all my public speaking fears right in the bud. I did probably, just guessing, more than 250 shows. I quit counting after 150.
How did you get started on the comedy circuit? What interesting things did you learn that might surprise us? Would you ever go back?
If you have guts to do it, standup comedy is very accessible. There are open mikes all over LA, and once you get comfortable at those then you can get into the regular shows at coffee shops and bars. Then after a while you’ll be performing at the Comedy Store and the Ice House. If you stick with it and do a lot of shows, you can get pretty good at it. The problem with comedy is the bringer shows. If you want to perform in the big clubs, at the beginning you’ll have to make sure your friends come to your shows. At least ten people a show. That’s tough. And when you’re a middle-aged guy your friends don’t want to hang out in places like that very often.
The most rewarding shows were the shows I did for a promoter who booked me at old folks homes, hospitals, and — believe it or not — prisons. They taught me a lot about keeping the audience engaged, and I felt good doing those shows. I quit doing comedy when I got divorced in the middle of being a stay-at-home-dad. I quickly entered Grad School to try and get a career. My humor kind of waned during that time and I put it on the back burner – thinking I would go back to it later. But, the art took off and I like that creative world a whole lot better than stand up, although I really miss my comedian friends.
I’m loving your art. What made you decide to start painting and what made you continue?
I always drew stuff for fun. I got a certificate for “Best Boy Artist” in first grade, and even had a cartoon in my school newspaper when I was in sixth grade. I’ve always been a creative person. I’m kind of an overachiever. I have written many spec script feature length screenplays which didn’t sell. But, I sold ten educational films. Then I wrote a few children’s books that didn’t find a publisher even though I won 1st place in Young Adult fiction for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Los Angeles.
I started painting in earnest when I was in classes in Grad School where I was the designated art guy in all my urban planning courses. I was having a blast, and it was great therapy for getting over my divorce. I painted some angry paintings at first, ha! I was filling up my apartment with painted canvases that were meant for nobody but me, when one of my Facebook friends demanded that I start selling. I did, and boy it has taken off. That shocked me. Lot’s of sales, shows, awards, articles, etc… One of my paintings was even purchased by the Special Events Coordinator of the Guggenheim and she put it in her own gallery. One thing that helped kick it all off was writing about artist colonies for my master’s thesis. I got to know a lot about the art world that way.
If you call reading every art book ever written, and painting what seems like thousands of paintings, self-taught, then “yep” I’m self-taught. I’m kind of afraid to take any classes in art for fear that they’ll ruin the good thing I have going.
Where do you want to go from here with your art?
If I could do it for a full-time living, that would be great. Everyone I know thinks this is my life’s calling – me too. My friends all say I should be living in an artist loft in downtown LA.
What haven’t you painted that you might like to paint?
I have more ideas for paintings than I can keep up with. Recently I’ve been trying not to be so eclectic, because you kind of need to pigeon hole yourself for a while to be a successful artist. After I’m famous, I’ll experiment again.
Is painting a fast or a slow process for you? How many paintings have you produced so far? Where do you keep them?
I was fast when I painted primarily in oil, but since I’ve switched to mostly acrylic, I hit light speed. I have so much to show people. I scare people with the amount of paintings I crank out. The number one thing people ask me these days is do you ever sleep? Where do I keep them? I’m getting worried that I’m beginning to look like a hoarder in my apartment. I have sold quite a few, but I still have a lot of paintings hanging on the walls, leaning on the walls, and in boxes next to the walls…
Where have you exhibited your art? Have you won any awards?
I have exhibited all over the LA region in galleries, art fairs, and restaurants. Also, at that Guggenheim lady’s gallery in Brooklyn. I’ve sold to people as far away as Switzerland, but don’t have a permanent home gallery yet. I won first place in the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Urban Ocean Festival Contest, in Long Beach. I’m a member of Long Beach Arts and show there often. Over and over, I keep getting into their juried shows —which are juried by big shot curators from all over the LA area — which blows my mind.
I wish there was room in the interview to show more of your wonderful work. Please, what can you tell us about each of these paintings?
There isn’t any more room. I have too much to say, ha!
I call it “Poltergeist.” It’s an old, scary hotel in downtown LA. If walls could talk that place would have a lot to say. That painting really started people noticing my art.
I was watching the old “Thomas Crown Affair” movie, which has a film style that looks like that. It’s kind of Mondrian style.
That’s one of the paintings about how I was feeling after my divorce.
I call it, “Remains.” That’s another one about how I felt everyone looked at me after my divorce.
Thank goodness you picked that one. I was mentioning the word “divorce” too much. Bolsa Chica is a place where I take walks with my son. What a nice place.
That’s called “Newport Penninsula.” Those people have “the life” there. At least I hope some of them do. But, I don’t know if I’d want to work enough hours to own a house there.
That’s my sister and brother-in-law looking out from Ventura at Anacapa Island. I put a banyan tree in the painting because I think they seem to reach out and hug people.
What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago?
Life has been rough, so I’m glad I didn’t know anything five years ago about now, ha!
What do you hope to know in five years that you don’t know now?
I’m on a quest to know why we human beings, who are conscious of our existence, are alive and living on a planet in the middle of nowhere. I go for the simple stuff to answer, huh?
Tell us about your son Aaron. Is he as artistically inclined as his dad? What dreams does he have?
My son is in and out of art all the time. At eight-years-old he wants to be a video game designer. We’ll see how that will morph over time.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
That’s easy. My art. I can always do better. I’m really trying to stay away from preciseness and photorealism because that’s just a parlor trick and doesn’t say anything special about the world for me.
Any parting words for the masses? Where can the peeps connect with you?
Parting word… “Think.”
To contact me, I love to talk with people on Facebook.
Parting word… “Think.” To contact me, I love to talk with people on Facebook, either on my personal page (Tom Oliver) or my art page (Tom Oliver Art).