Tomatâ du Plenty, one of the most seminal figures in Los Angeles music, is the focus of “Big Hair: The Life and Times of Tomatâ du Plenty” a two night celebration of his art, films, writings May 2 and 3 at ArtShare LA, assembled from private collections, plus live music focusing on Tomatâ’s work. Though best known as musician, Tomatâ du Plenty was a prolific painter who began his art career in 1983 with a one-man exhibit of watercolor portraits at the Zero One Gallery in Hollywood. He painted non-stop until his death in 2000, creating traveling shows with super low-priced water colors on sheet music and book pages that reflected the celebrities and demimondaines he painted.
The retrospective and celebration of Tomatâ du Plenty’s life, “Big Hair: The Life and Times of Tomatâ du Plenty” includes musical performances by Paul Roessler, the don juan remainder, and Kristian Hoffman.
(Full disclosure: I own a Tomatâ, and was interviewed in a film about the artist directed by co-curator of “Big Hair,” Carlos Iglesias).
Tomatâ said he would rather sell 100 paintings for $25 than one for $2,500. And he sold a lot. His art was magical and wonderful and it was the first art I ever bought, not because I could afford it which was pretty awesome in and of itself, but because I loved the lines and colors and how he captured his subjects.
As the lead singer for the Screamers–a band whose one-time drummer KK Barrett is now an Academy Award-nominated production designer–Tomatâ du Plenty inspired punks and art bands over several decades. His influence was felt even before punk rock: After running away form home at 15 he moved arruved in San Francisco in 1968 and joined the legendary Cockettes. Movie to Seattle, Tomatâ led Ze Whiz Kids, a Seattle troupe that blended counterculture comedy with drag theater from 1969–1972. While living in New York City , Tomata joined friends Gorilla Rose and Fayette Hauser to bring guerrilla comedy to CBGB’s and other East Village clubs, working with then-unknown bands like the Ramones.
Tomatâ du Plenty began painting in earnest 1983. Three years later his first paintings on canvas were exhibited at L.A.’s Cheap Racist Gallery at a show called “Whores, Sluts and Tramps.” His artwork expanded from galleries: In 1987, he won the L.A. Weekly’s Best Set Design Award for his work on John Fleck’s one-man stage show, I Got the He-Be She-Be’s.
Moving to Miami in 1989, Tomatâ continued painting and toured the country with exhibits in bars, restaurants and small galleries around in varius cities where he had friends. His traveling shows were often arranged around a single theme, saluting his favorite poets, TV stars, country/western singers and boxers. Tomata painted people he admired, from historical figures to friends from the punk world, in a style that was emotional, provocative and accessible. At Beyond Baroque his show featured literary figures. At his last two shows in Los Angeles, organized by John Roecker, the first at his Silver Lake store You’ve Got Bad Taste, and then at the Roecker-curated history of LA punk rock “Forming” at Track 16 the theme was punk rock and other musical figures.
You can see more of Tomata art and life on the Tomata du Plenty Facebook page, which features videos, music and photos.
The musical line up, playing songs by Tomatâ and the Screamers for these two night of free shows at Art Share LA are May 2: the San Diego-based don juan remainder, Paul Roessler of The Screamers, Rikk Agnew and Gitane Demone, and The Groovy Rednecks; and May 3: The Knitts, the don juan remainder, Kristian Hoffman, and Ravens Moreland.