Essay on Color Caliente

By Bruce A. Marlow

Coaybay by Tom Vega Eden by Tom Vega Olokun by Tom Vega



July 2008
New York City


There’s something mystical about the joy of discovery. A rite of passage in sensory adventure, it awakens the soul to the beckoning of private largesse.

“Am I really blessed with sensibility?” you ask yourself. “Do others see this message of hope, this triumph of mastery?”

As it happens but once in a while, you grope for a visceral, four-letter word: “Woww.” Then, in its honor, you declare the calling to celebrate and the urge to share....

Introducing Tom Vega, painter: an iconic, multicultural, “unplugged” New York treasure. In his own modest way, he’s been our light-and-color laureate all along. Tom’s Summer exhibition, Color Caliente, or Hot Color, is our fiery, high-season delight.

Tom’s domain is the seminal New York School known as Abstract Expressionism, that brash creative movement whose official birth is generally placed in the mid-1940s. Abstract Expressionism is credited with shifting the center of Art’s twentieth-century inspiration from Paris to New York, and in providing dynamic, enduring support for its evolution thereafter--all the way to Pop Art, and beyond. Of course, Abstract Expressionism has proffered the gifts of many legends, including Frankenthaler, Hoffmann, Kline, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Pollock. As you follow the emergence and effect of this profound artistic wave—in which Tom’s life is much embedded—you come to appreciate both its cultural significance and Tom’ s vision and surpassing contribution.

So what is Abstract Expressionism, exactly, and why does it resonate for Tom Vega? Well, you can certainly ask him directly, as one of Tom’s endearing and gracious distinctions—too often missing from the personas of high achievers—is approachability. With a contagious smile, Tom is quick to share all that has influenced his nearly 50 years of creative expression. While critics have fiercely debated Abstract Expressionism’s sociological and geopolitical roots, its idiosyncratic nature and, yes, its conceits, Tom simply calls his renderings his “oasis.” For once, we inherit an éminence grise to whose temperament we can relate!

As an alternative, of course, you can simply commune with Tom’s work. It can make you laugh. It can make you cry. Most of all, it can make you...whole. Consider, for instance, his soaring triptych, “Coaybay/Edén/Olokun,” of 2005. Taken together, this work is a 15- by 4-foot paean to a mortal’s contemplation of the unknown. Its reconciliation of spiritual integrity, drama, and technical elegance is remarkable. To experience the investment of passion in this epic, don’t be a dilettante: take the afternoon off!

The proper welcome to Color Caliente should acknowledge that it’s high time to honor Tom Vega. Thus, this retrospective of his work is proud and public, yet personal as well. Let Tom’s imagination and richness in mood and feeling fully engage us all.

Enjoy the show!