530 Burns Welcomes Tommy May for Sarasota Debut



530 Burns Gallery brings the West Coast to Sarasota with its latest exhibit, Tommy May: Emerging Spaces, showcasing the work of California artist Tommy May. Opening tonight at 6pm with a reception with the artist. Featuring 15 pieces ranging from large-scale to small-scale, but all in the artist’s trademark abstract expressionist style, the exhibition and work selected offer an almost biographical sketch of their creator.

An avid outdoorsman, May’s biggest inspiration comes from the natural environment he finds himself in. Inspired by topographical views and landscapes, he riffs off the cubist approach by merging human and birds-eye perspectives as he imagines the world from a celestial vantage. Tracts of land, as viewed from a descending airplane, appear as swaths of color in his mind, or, to put it another way, as brushstrokes.

May’s process is “explosive,” he says, playing off these initial impressions and expressing himself quickly on 20 or more canvases at a time, moving from one to the next as the spirit takes him and with no time for thinking. The thinking comes next, as May revisits each piece again and again, this time almost decoding his initial expression as he adds guiding lines and splashes of color to accent his imagination. “It’s kind of an exploration,” he says. “It’s me exploring an immediate response.” Building layer upon layer, “it’s almost like putting a puzzle back together after breaking it down,” he says, “and then doing it all over again.”

Though first appearing as completely abstract, a closer look reveals much about May and his travels. The predominance of the color blue, for example, comes from days gone past, fishing and sailing with his parents in Martha’s Vineyard. Or more recent memories of the Pacific Ocean as viewed from Venice, CA. “The ocean and being close to it is a very important part of my inspiration,” he says. But the growing intrusion of pinks and sandy colors reflect a growing influence from the California desert. Working largely in acrylic, accents made with an alcohol-based paint pen belie appreciation for and adaption of graffiti styles as well.

But even without inside knowledge, May remains confident that audiences can see through his abstractions. The goal was never a literal translation of the message and it doesn’t really matter if the viewer knows exactly what bit of land (or sea) the piece represents, but rather that they take the time to appreciate where they are and that it too could look so beautiful. “I hope they can see their own landscape in what I’ve created,” says May, who has always found solace in both nature and the studio.

Tommy May: Emerging Spaces opens tonight at 530 Burns Gallery with an opening reception at 6pm. May will also be speaking beforehand at the gallery’s Curing, Caring & the Arts speaker series, beginning at 3:30pm, to talk about the studio as a place to be free from anxiety.

Pictured: "Wading in the Cove" by Tommy May. Image courtesy of 530 Burns Gallery.

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