About ︎

Work ︎

Show info ︎

*opening october 24, 2019.
*2544 mission st.
sf, ca


(b.1944 - 2001)


New Orleans-born artist (b. 1944), Tom X anchored himself across the United States by painting often overlooked characteristics of his surroundings. He voraciously documented everything from Jazz players of nocturnal New Orleans to the perspectival plunges of palm trees and the deconstruction and reconstruction of new buildings in Santa Monica.
Growing up in New Orleans, one of four siblings, Tom ran around Jackson Square and marched in funeral parades, among flame throwers paid half in booze up front and money after the show—liquid courage and monetary reward. Wild costumes and music—an unavoidable vibrancy and frequency from all sides. He was saturated in it. New Orleans set the stage for his interests and focus.

After studying at acclaimed institutions like San Francisco Art Institutue, X’s early work is filled with the colors and music of nocturnal New Orleans. Mardi Gras and Jazz on canvas—vibrant oranges, electric pinks, purples, and blues, contrasted with black and bright white. Rapid strokes that echo the thunderous and unpredictable movements of the music. Masks, Jackson Square, Musicians. The usual suspects. Using printmaking to repeat an image and a subject, not to get it right but to give it more life. It was all to give life—on his own terms.

From New Orleans, X went to New York in the 80’s (with many stops in between), where he quickly cultivated a community of loyal patrons and supporters—his work populating private collections across the city. His shows would be twenty-four hour pop ups in rented spaces. He painted the city at night, with glowing flamelike trees separating the illuminated exclusive windows of Central Park-side residential high-rises.

While in New York, X met E.J. Gold, an artist, jazz musician, and leader of “The Human Potential Movement” (HPM) on the West Coast. The HPM began in the counterculture movement of 60’s, focused on untapping and cultivating the extreme potential of the individual. X became interested and involved, eventually following Gold and his group West to Grass Valley, Nevada City. X’s role in the group was the resident artist, providing the visuals for the manifestos, pamphlets and other visual manifestations of the mission and lifestyle of the group. In this period he particularly advanced his print media, as it lends to mass production and distribution.

Breaking away from the group in the late 80’s, early 90’s, X moved to Los Angeles where he found a studio above an auto repair shop in Santa Monica. The works that sprung out of this era were collaborative, colorful, and conversational. Painting had always been Tom’s chosen language; he painted and documented dialogue, not for the sake of documentation, but for the spontaneous and carefreeness of it. It didn’t matter what they were painting—Tom, Lorenzo, and Dan—the other two artists who shared the studio; it was theirs according to no one else’s terms. It was in the Santa Monica studio on Lincoln Ave, California’s Route 1, that X began the “24-Hour Drive-Thru School of Art,” an art school he hosted in the studio above the auto repair shop where students of all ages came to paint and learn from an artist who created his own rules and was eager to share them.

He was an animated teacher whose curriculum equated the necessity of making art to breathing. He would stand on the table to get his point across. Sometimes taking off his shirt and gesturing wildly with a sinewy arm, he would change the way you thought about painting. 

The sensations evoked in Tom X’s work provide a sense of liberation and ecstasy— an “out of body” experience. X used his work to mock the constructed artifices of superficial Los Angeles and performative New Orleans by amplifying the colors and exaggerating the characters. The surface is electric while the underlying structure is steel, iron, exposed and dangerous material, and depicted with heavy contrasting black. His work reminds us of the persistent dualities in this life, while making an extra effort to highlight the whimsy and play.

sherwood gallery location:
2544 mission st.

sf, ca.
opens oct 24, 2019
thru 2020

works for purchase.