Working from home can be an isolating experience. When we add an online presence to the mix it can be positively daunting. Thankfully I found a great online community with members that experience similar challenges to mine and that keep me constantly inspired and in awe. I would like to introduce you to Tom Heaney. Tom tells of his inspiration for his artworks in his own words.
By Thomas Angelo Heaney
People love stories. Stories are how cultures and families pass down values and mores. They are how one generation is remembered by the next. Some think the cave paintings tell stories of successful hunts and heroic feats and old world mansions are famous for the paintings adorning their walls that tell the stories of the lives of the people that have dwelt in them. With the advent of photography, however, the paintings hanging on the wall devolved to become snapshots; pieces of paper stashed away in a box or a dusty photo album. And while there are more of them, they are rarely seen.
As an artist I tell stories through my paintings. In some cases the stories are fiction, in others I create or recreate the photograph that either wasn’t or couldn’t be taken. And since it is a painting these stories are proudly displayed rather than stuffed in a box.
Here is a painting that tells a story from WWII. The painting is a figment of my imagination but the story it tells happened thousands of times. I created this painting because one of my teachers had painted a painting of modern day C-141 cargo planes taking off in a fog, and I wanted to take on the technical challenge of portraying airplanes in the fog. I had just taken a bunch of photos of a WWII B-24 bomber that had visited my city and I started to think about how the B-24s stationed in England had probably taken off into a fog many times on their way to bomb targets that would cripple the Nazi war effort. Then I started thinking about the 18-year-old men in those airplanes and that inspired me. I see them, now in wheelchairs and using walkers, as they tour the WWII museum at which I volunteer. But back then they were supermen, facing death on a daily basis. When they were over the target and the bullets were flying they didn’t have time to be scared or feel much of anything, they just did their jobs. But when waiting to take off, just sitting there on the taxi way, knowing that many of them would never return, they had nothing to do; except be scared. And so this painting, in its dramatic simplicity tells that story.
Then there are the true stories. I’ve known my friend Fred for over 40 years. But it wasn’t until a Christmas party last year, when I sat next to his wife at dinner, that I heard some of his stories. Fred had been a test pilot in the Air Force and in the late 1960s he flew an F104 Starfighter to 92,000 feet. (Just for reference a 747 usually flies below 40,000 feet.) The Starfighter was a jet known as the “missile with a man in it” and with good reason. The Starfighter was really nothing more than a huge jet engine with a couple of short stubby wings and a cockpit. When I heard about this I was awestruck. Fred, my friend, who is now nearly 80 years old with white hair and glasses, looking every bit like the mild-mannered college professor he is, as a young man, had literally strapped a blowtorch to his butt and flew it to the edge of space. That inspired me to paint this painting.
When Fred and his wife saw the painting they were overwhelmed. But what really struck me was when Fred’s wife said to me “Now our grandchildren will know what their grandfather did.” And I thought, “How many other people have stories they want to pass on to their children and grandchildren?”
And with this painting my line of commissioned artwork, called Stories, was born. Everyone has a story they would like to pass down to future generations. Maybe it’s a story about an individual feat of daring or accomplishment. Or a story of a parent or grandparent who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Middle East. Or maybe, it’s just a simple event that symbolizes a special part of a person’s life. The next two painting are about such stories. The first is a portrait of my friend and fellow artist, Mike. Whenever we talk about art Mike says, “I just want to paint.” This painting, from a photo by his wife, captures that story perfectly.
The last painting is a painting of the simple act of a man walking with his grandson. Yet, it provides a profound perspective on my life. The man is my father and the child is my son. I call it “Bookends.”
Isak Dennison, author of the book Out of Africa, said “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” When we tell our stories we enriched the lives of our children and their children. Our descendants know from whence they came. As an artist I feel privileged to tell people’s stories in a way that fills their home with beauty while preserving the family’s heritage for generations to come.
To see more of Tom’s work, or to contact him, please head on over to his website at frogdogart.com