Take a glance at Edmond resident Tom Palmore’s animal paintings, and you’ll swear they’re photographs. Take a closer look and you’ll see the fur is thousands of careful brushstrokes, and the colorful flare in those expressive eyes came from an artist’s palette.
Just as Palmore is renowned for his mastery of the craft, he’s loved for his sense of humor. A photorealistic kangaroo with wisps of bizarre, deco clouds passing over a mesa. An otter drifting among floating rubber ducks. A hawk clutching a toy rabbit. The animals are rarely doing something odd, but if you take a close look at the backgrounds they’re paired with, you can’t help but chuckle. And that’s exactly what Palmore wants
you to do.
Palmore has built a formidable reputation. He’s presented solo shows in Paris, Chicago and New York City. November 2008 marked the release of his first book, “Earthlings: The Paintings of Tom Palmore,” by Susan Hallsten McGarry. One of his most famous works, “Reclining Nude,” depicting a lounging gorilla comfortably sprawled on a carpet, has been featured in many films.
Born in Ada, Oklahoma in 1945, Palmore showed promise as an artist even in grade school. At 20, Palmore hunted down Chapman Kelley, considered the best artist in the Dallas area. Kelley invited Palmore to take part in his highly exclusive art criticism class. “After one day, I realized he would be the best instructor I could ever have,” Palmore says. “In one semester, I learned 10 times more than I could have in any university.”
Kelley advised Palmore to attend the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia. He became best friends with David Lynch and Jack Fisk and James Havard, with whom he formed the “Aspen Street Gang.” Lynch is now an acclaimed filmmaker, Fisk an Academy Award-nominated production designer and Havard is a nationally known artist. Palmore is still close friends with all of them.
After graduating, Palmore quit drawing and started painting more. “I realized I had the technical ability to paint anything I wanted to,” Palmore says. “You really have to be true to yourself, whether you’re painting or writing. What really interested me were things with a sense of wit, a sense of the unexpected, and a sense of realism, so I started doing paintings of animals.”
Friends encouraged Palmore to do a solo exhibition. The opening was on a Friday night, and his art was supposed to be on display for weeks. He had 18 paintings in the show and he sold every one of them on opening night. “I was stunned,” he says. “I told my girlfriend, ‘I think I can do it again,’ and that was 37 years ago.’”
While the unconventional life of a painter may spare Palmore the morning commute and daily grind of an anonymous desk job, he keeps regular hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., breaks for lunch, and then works until 6 p.m. “People who aren’t professional artists think you have to be inspired and dash off to your studio and paint, and it doesn’t work like that,” Palmore says. Most paintings take about two weeks to complete; larger, more complicated ones can take up to a month and a half.
“I feel really fortunate that that I’ve been able to do all my life something that I really enjoy doing,” Palmore says. “When somebody buys a painting from me, I take it as a huge compliment.”