The Antecedent Gallery in the Lawrence Arts Center is home to artwork with a purpose, one beyond complying with traditional masterful standards. In selecting Tom Moore for the latest exhibit, on display through March 30, Roger Shimomura couldn’t think of a better purpose than one of “obsessiveness.”
Lined up neatly in eight rows on one wall, 176 envelops covered in pencil sketches, watercolor images and pen scratchings comprise the portrait of a man with a compulsiveness to create. If those who visit the gallery skip past Moore’s artist statement, they wouldn’t know that these particular works were inspired by the obstacles Moore has faced since his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
If you go
A solo exhibition featuring the works of Tom Moore will be on display in the Lawrence Arts Center's Antecedent Gallery through March 30.
“In 1994, at the age of 50 I developed Parkinson’s disease and other serious health issues, and by 2003 I was forced to give up painting,” Moore’s statement reads. “However, I find that I am still compelled to create, and my casual sketches on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper continue to flow.”
Moore studied fine painting skills under Shimomura while pursuing an undergraduate degree at Kansas University. In his printmaking years, Shimomura, impressed with Moore’s precision and flawlessness, then hired him to work as his printer for early projects in his career. Moore left Lawrence to pursue his master’s degree in painting from the State University of New York at Albany, where he met his late wife, Ann, whom he credits heavily for encouragement and his main teacher.
“She was really a superwoman,” Moore says. “Behind every great man there’s a woman, or several of them.”
Tom used his stencil-cutting skills — mentored further at Albany by puppeteer Ed Atkeson — to pay the bills while he produced hard-edged geometric designs, landscapes, figures, and still-lifes in oil and acrylic, as a hobby. Under the mentorship of New York artist Channing Lefebvre, he learned old master oil painting techniques.
He started to work a stencil-based job in Kansas City after accepting a position at a sign-making business when his wife got a job at Mid-Continent Library. They lived in Kansas City for several years before Ann began a career as an Air Force librarian, first in Wichita and then in Charleston, S.C., where they lived until her death in 2012. Moore continued to work in commercial art until he became disabled from Parkinson’s disease, and found it too time consuming to paint on canvases.
Moore started to explore other art mediums and stopped thinking about what he could make that would appeal to potential patrons.
“I didn’t realize I’d get so down physically so fast,” Moore says. “I said to myself, ‘Well I can’t paint for the market, might as well do what I want.”
Moore has always been fascinated by figure drawing, particularly superheroes, since he was a kid. The envelopes featured in the Antecedent Gallery exhibit are covered with watercolors, watercolor pencils, ink and colored pencil depictions of Superman, Batman, Captain America and many others. He hoped to emulate Walt Disney, meeting the cartoonist in 1961 and sharing his ambitions to produce work like his.
“This is the kind of thing I got into art for in the first place,” Moore says.
When Moore moved back to Kansas, Shimomura reconnected with him during a visit and found boxes and boxes of marked-on envelopes. They were casual sketches of superheroes and comic book characters he had produced during blocks of time he found to draw in the hospital and rehab facilities following “episodes” as a result of Parkinson’s.
“I imagine many of [the health care professionals] are amazed that someone with such great disability — particularly a hand tremor — can continue to draw,” said his sister, Jan Moore, in a statement.
His childhood love of pop culture and cartoons never left him, Jan says. Certain interests have been lifelong shown by his enormous collection of comic books and his knowledge of just about every movie that has been made. It’s hard to imagine just how much art means to him, she says.
“When he moved from South Carolina back to Kansas, his belongings consisted almost entirely of media,” Jan says. “At least 40 boxes of art books, many of which now line his walls, and the rest of which are in storage, along with his paintings and sketches.
“Tom has had many challenges with his health, and he hasn’t always had the life he would have chosen, so some periods have been a lot more productive than others,” Jan says. “But he has been and continues to be an artist to the core.”
Shimomura spent a large portion of the evening selecting just a small sampling of the thousands of sketches he pored through to curate this inspiring exhibition. He felt Moore’s work needed to be realized at the Antecedent Gallery.
“He probably has more,” Shimomura says, after noting that he returned three full boxes to Moore. “I was taken by his obsessiveness. Despite all of his physical challenges, he was able to maintain the will to do these drawings.”
Unlike the colorful geometric hard-edge optical illusion designs or landscapes Moore was known for through painting, these works embraced his wry sense of humor and left-wing political beliefs. Whereas his earlier works were those he might have felt obliged to create because they were in fashion, Shimomura says, these represented what he drew “to maintain sanity.”
Since his last hospitalization, Moore hasn’t been creating art because of his slowed mobility impeding with daily tasks and because of the many therapists and health professionals that come into his home throughout the day. He has continued to keep his spirits up through 21 years with this disease, through the strong spiritual presence in his life. Not just through what he believes to be God’s powerful work, but through the joy art brings him.
“I have found the real value of art to be in the spiritual uplift it offers me and those with whom I can share it,” Moore said in his statement.