Essay on Color Caliente

By Stephanie Damoff

 

Amor Escondido Rabia En Velo by Tom Vega Reflejos by Tom Vega

 

July 2008
New York City

 

Tom Vega’s paintings are gestural landscapes of the mind and soul. Inspired by music, as he has said, the paintings are themselves dances, suggested by his use of underpainting. Many layers of paint in varying degrees of opacity lend a luminous delicacy to even the heaviest works. Works dominated by black or brown are relieved by color as the darkness of an evening landscape is punctuated by movement and sound, by the glint of a leaf or flower catching the last rays of the sun. Light is always present, even within dark paintings. Vega uses rich pigments, infusing his work with the intense light of his Puerto Rican childhood.

The layers, applied with squeegee and feather, bring alternate moods and perspectives into visibility and combine in a delicacy and complexity of form that calls to mind the natural landscape as well as psychological terrains. Recurrent themes of form, at once landscape and figural, connect the paintings to solidify the artist’s vision. The titles betray the origin of the paintings in the landscape of Vega’s mind and range from place or idea of place—referencing natural landscapes—to portraits of passion. “Coaybay / Underworld,” “Edén / Garden of Eden,” and “Jardín De Sueños / Garden Of Dreams” are the sort of places he paints, along with storms of nature: “El Tormento / The Torment,” and “La Tempestad / The Tempest,” the latter which is perhaps his most literal natural landscape. “Jardín De Sueños / Garden Of Dreams” is a landscape that is both verdant and dormant, as in the cycles of nature. Vega’s childhood landscape also emerges, taking shape in “Caña / Cane” and “Origen Humilde / Humble Beginnings,” which despite their concreteness of place remain misty, reflecting their distance in time.

Interior landscapes reveal a parallel universe of dream mingled with ardor: “Amor Escondido / Hidden Love,” “Amor Mítico / Mystical Love,” “Quietud / Stillness,” and “Reflejos / Reflections.” I am proud to say I am the owner of his finest work, “Rabia en Velo / Veiled Rage,” which is urgently physiological, as if his heart were ripped out and clenched dripping in his fist. “Tranquilidad / Tranquility” and “Quietud / Stillness” are restful works, but energetically so. They vibrate, like muscles ready to be called into action.

The paintings reflect the complexity of a mature human being, in which little is black and white, but is endlessly nuanced and fluctuating. The paintings come straight from Vega’s joy and sorrow of living, his dual childhood on dual islands, and his multiple lives over changing careers and family life, all connected by creative expression in violin, painting and singing. Naturally ambidextrous, Vega paints with both hands, accessing both halves of his brain. Though not the kind of which one can make snapshots, these are truly lived landscapes.

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