Tom Veillon is a travelling artist. From the mountains of Colorado to the swamps of Southeast Texas, his love of the outdoors is evident.
Now he is bringing the outdoors indoors with an exhibition of paintings, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., March 10, at High Street Gallery.
“I’ve always been fond of outdoors,” he said. “When I was going to school, I found this beautiful green space and I would hike six-or-seven miles a day, every day. I started doing that by myself and I just never stopped.”
The Vidor native attended Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, where he and his roommate started going on outdoor adventures together.
“We went to Arkansas, Tennessee and different parts of Texas doing backpacking trips,” he said. “Then we moved to Denver together, so we could do it two or three times a week. We started doing mountaineering, climbing fourteeners (14,000-foot mountain tops) — and it’s just been a huge obsession ever since then.
“It’s crazy, because I used to paint only people, and then I started to spend time outdoors. Without even realizing it, everything that I do has shifted to outdoors. Now, I’m working on a series of people, but it’s people who are exposing themselves to extreme elements to get out into the wilderness.”
Veillon said the show will include some of his most popular pieces, “Big Blue,” “I Dream of Fjords,” “Mama Gator,” “The Great Divide,” “The Shallows” and others.
Veillon said that his biggest pieces are inspired by the views in central Texas, and the mountains of Colorado.
“The San Marcos river has been one of my biggest inspirations, it shows up in a lot of different paintings,” he said. “Right now, I can’t get my mind out of the mountains. The first time I ever saw mountains I fell in love. I like living there and just being able to go up and see 2,000-foot granite walls. There are no trees whatsoever, and mountain goats and bears are everywhere. It brought me to tears a couple times and I think of them all the time.”
Although he has travelled all over the United States, creating and selling his art, Veillon said he noticed the beauty of his hometown and its surrounding areas when he returned.
“Growing up here, I hated the pine forest,” he said. “I hated the swamps. I thought they were the ugliest things. But when I came back, I noticed they were beautiful in their own way. That’s why I did this series with Mama Gator and the turtles, and I have a few pieces I already sold out of.
“It’s all inspired by the wildlife and the swamps, because out of any of the places I’ve ever been, this is the place where people would want to settle. There is so much life here, you go into one pond in one person’s backyard and it’s an entire ecosystem that you could thrive off of and live off of. You’ve got crawfish, you’ve got crabs, you’ve got alligators, and 10 different species of turtles, squirrels, deer, hogs, and so on and so forth.”
Veillon said that when he sits down to work on a canvas, he draws the image straight from his mind and zones out for about six or seven hours until the picture is complete.
“I’ll go back to the photos as a reference sometimes, because I get a thousand ideas a day of what would make a good composition, so I look at the colors and whatnot,” he said. “But there are a few moments every now and then that sticks in my head, and it’s like non-controllable selective photographic memory. There’s a moment, and I don’t know why, it could be a big moment or a very minute moment, but it will stick in my head. I can remember every single detail and every single piece of it, and that’s what ends up on my canvas. A lot of these are memories and things I saw, and for some reason that one snapshot of that entire day will just be in my head and I’ll be able to reference it forever.”
The longest he has spent on a painting was 18 months, Veillon said.
“The picture was a five-foot by five-foot pointillism piece of the San Marcos river,” he said. “I think I placed over 250,000 dots of color over 18 months, just sitting there with a little paintbrush poking again and again — I’ll never do another one.”
A few of his paintings feature different women — current and past girlfriends for the most part, Veillon said.
“People used to call me the big-booty women painter, because I’m a big fan of curves and organic shapes,” he said. “I had this formula where I could draw a woman with one continuous line without stopping. In a few pieces, I have drawn my current girlfriend. In others, there are past girlfriends. Most people who make it into my paintings are people I’ve met in real life, they’re not fabricated.”
Not everyone is someone he knows. Veillon points to a canvas of a half-drawn image of Evangeline Bellefontaine, the subject of a well-known Louisiana legend.
“I take a lot of influence from my Cajun background since my family’s been in New Orleans since 1721, but every Southeast Texas town is going to have Evangeline this or that.”
Veillon said oil painting is his favorite medium, but he uses all media.
“I prefer to work in oil, but it’s very expensive,” he said. “I work mainly in acrylic, but I do use watercolor and pen and ink sometimes. I’m currently working on some mixed-media pieces. (For) my show, I’m working on a paper maché. It’s going to look like a 3D rock wall.”
While Veillon draws pn classical painters such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso, he also cites local artist Mark Nesmith as an influence.
“I’ve recently seen his work, and the great thing about local artists is you’re able to reach out to them,” he said. “He’ll be coming to some of my shows. I’ve been to some of his shows, and we kind of share back and forth. He’s become a big influence on me.”
The 26-year-old said he loves his work and his journeys, but he’s happy to be home.
“I have a nephew who is one and a half years old,” he said. “He was born while I was living away. Every time I came home he didn’t know who I was, so it was just really hard. Once I ended up back here, I was kind of excited to be back.
“It’s strange though, because artists work off of notoriety and reputation, especially in professional connections and the art scene itself. To come home after doing it for so long, and to be a stranger in your hometown, it’s really kind of strange. But, I’ve been meeting a lot of people and working with old people again, so I’ve really enjoyed my move back down here.”
UP staff writer