Tommy May is a young artist working in a distinctly contemporary expressionist style who has achieved success as an emerging abstract painter. Born in 1994, he grew up in Alexandria, VA and attended the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where he majored in photography and painting. May spends his winters living in Los Angeles, where he is inspired by the urban scene and his summers on Martha's Vineyard surrounded by rural tranquil beauty. The contrast of environments helps define his abstract paintings where multiple stylist effects collide to create dramatic compositions. “On Martha's Vineyard, “says May, “the landscapes inspire my work; while in L.A., I'm very drawn to the graffiti.” His paintings are bold, filled with bright splashes of color, painted in broad brushstrokes. Cryptic symbols pop up across the canvas in stark contrast to the wide swaths of color. In this way, he abstracts, “classic landscapes.” Combining these different elements creates a dynamic tension that gives life and vivacity to his pieces.
Mr. May begins the process by laying a non-stretched canvas on the floor in order to access the composition from multiple directions. His approach is threefold – transparent washes, energetic brushstrokes of color and symbology. Tommy will often start with pale, “stained” background colors that are reminiscent of the Color Field Paintings created by the Washington School Abstract Expressionists; most prominently, Helen Frankenthaler who devised the idea of pouring oil paint thinned with turpentine onto the raw canvas to achieve water color effects. He next applies paint on
top - “wet on wet”- to achieve opaque areas with translucent layering. He adds symbols, which seem to appear in random patterns. As he moves around the canvas, he intentionally “bleeds” his shapes and symbols off the edges of the work, confusing the eye and blurring the borders. May is influenced by other artists in the Color Field Painters' movement including de Kooning and especially Cy Twombly, who is known for his experiments with color and paint application along with his freely scribbled calligraphics. All of these elements appear in May’s work as well, but with an approach that feels current and fresh. Tommy May has gotten national attention with shows on Martha’s Vineyard as well as in New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles.