Tom David, one of twelve children, was born and raised in a small, rural town in east-central Illinois. There were no televisions, radios, or books -- and very few toys – in his home. As a child he played with younger siblings, building roads, tunnels, and bridges in an imaginary world contained in a mound of dirt behind his house. Popsicle sticks, clothes pins, and mud bricks became the raw materials for the mighty structures he designed and built. . . and demolished with the aide of mousetraps and clods of dirt. The structure and discipline imposed by the public school were unwelcome impositions on Tom’s freedom. Unwilling to conform, Tom struggled in school. He was characterized as a “dreamer” by his teachers and nick-named “Huckleberry (Huck) Finn” by his friends. Shel Silverstein’s Poem, If You Are A Dreamer, epitomizes this period of Tom’s life. If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in! “Huck” was required to repeat first grade. To lift his spirits and to motivate him to try harder, his first grade teacher gave him a large box of Crayola Crayons on his seventh birthday. She would never know that she had launched Tom’s career as an artist. For the next several years Tom spent most of his free time drawing. He still day-dreamed a lot, but was able to focus when it was needed to achieve good results. In fifth grade his art talent was recognized with a one-person show of his work displayed throughout his school. In high school Tom was often called upon to create a piece of art for a special project. Tom graduated from public high school, ranking in the top 25% of his class, earning two academic scholarships to attend a state university as well as an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. In the fall of 1965 Tom enrolled in Eastern Illinois University. Four years later he graduated having earned a B.S. in Education majoring in studio art with a concentration in pottery and sculpture. Besides creating art, Tom wanted to help young people learn and grow, especially in their understanding and appreciation for the arts. Following graduation he taught art in various public schools in east-central Illinois. After eleven years in the classroom, he was employed as a school administrator, serving first as an elementary principal for four years and then as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Human Resources during his last sixteen years in public education. In these leadership positions Tom was a strong advocate for arts, securing art education in the curriculum, providing professional development for both art specialists and general education teachers, and ensuring that art was viewed as relevant and necessary in the lives of children by all stakeholders. During his years in the field of education, Tom continued to attend school earning an M.A. in Art Education and a Specialist Degree in School Administration at Eastern Illinois University and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Illinois. During his years working in the public schools, Tom’s production of art diminished but never stopped. In October of 2003 after having worked in public education for over 30 years as an art teacher and school administrator, Tom retired and began painting and drawing on a full-time basis. (In April of 2006, he retired from his dual career as a senior warrant officer (CW5) in the Illinois Army National Guard where he served for over 36 years. In the military, in addition to his primary military specialty in the personnel career field, he was awarded an occupational specialty as a Combat Illustrator based on his civilian acquired skills as an artist. Today, Tom is an accomplished painter and draftsman.
Tom often struggles with the idea of conforming to one signature style which is often at odds with his artistic growth and experimentation. However, if you look close enough, you will see connections. Tom’s early work in the area of sculpture and ceramic pottery leaned toward the abstract and non-representational. Over time, he gradually migrated to realistic, two-dimensional representational and figurative subject matter--but never completely abandoned non-representational subject matter. Regardless of the subject matter, Tom strives to explore the depths and subtleties of human experience based on a synthesis of his experiences, memories, and direct observation. His work flirts with the nature of reality and how to represent it. His realistic renditions incorporate a certain amount of abstraction in the tradition of the early 19th century American realist artist Edward Hopper with his concise style, everyday imagery and content.
Much of Tom’s work in the past has been figurative, and figurative painting continues to be the focus of much of the work he produces today. When he draws and paints figures, we are reminded that nothing in life is more important than people who are at the center of our universal concern for life. Tom believes that successful figurative work, in whatever medium, must do more than merely document appearances. It must offer a deeper understanding of both the creator and the subject. Tom is convinced that successful painting is a process of seeing and thinking, rather than one of imitation. It should come as no surprise that his work tends to take on a psychological dimension.
Another body of work Tom creates is landscapes. Although his landscapes are very different than his other art, the underlying issues are closely related. In this genre, his paintings are begun out doors (plein air) and then finished in the studio working from photographs. It is only natural, then, that contradictions and tensions would arise between the art work and the “reality of nature,” forcing a compromise between plein air painting’s emphasis on observation and the older tradition. The unknowable, the unexplained, the metaphor, the romantic and the accidental are all part of his act of painting. Tom’s attitudes and feelings are at the center of his artistic expression. Because reality and perception are uniquely personal experiences, truth to the object or scene—i.e., to the actual—is relative.
Tom is also fascinated with the images and patterns found in the microscopic world, especially within the biological systems of the human body. By looking closely at microscopic imagery and cellular construction as a reference for painting, Tom noticed similarities between the micro world and many of the physical and sociological systems in modern urban environments. As a result of this observation, Tom has begun using a camera and computer technology to create digital images of abstract forms taken from nature that reference cellular constructions. In this body of work Tom often selects images that he can manipulate to create visual metaphors for various aspects of the human condition.