When he painted his first piece, Tom Block had no idea that art would become a forum for his activism. He didn't intend for his painting of a grapefruit resting on a pedestal with a spotlight shining on it to seem edgy. But his teacher looked at his work and saw subtext, telling him it was a fascinating rendition of a grapefruit being interrogated.
Tom Block is deeper than deep. He paints and writes on all manner of serious subject matter. Thank goodness, the guy has a sense of humor, especially when he proclaims he should have gone shirtless for The Gazette's photographer.
This self-described "wild-haired activist" is passionate, liberal and too, too smart. When Block jokingly calls himself a Jewish/Sufi, a trip to the online dictionary is in order. The Vassar graduate is even writing a book on the influence of Sufism -- Islamic mysticism -- on the development of Jewish spirituality.
In the name of reconciliation, art takes up popular images and follows age-old rivers to their source this month at three Woodward corridor venues. Like a crash course in multicultural sensitivity, these large, poetically saturated shows engage us in what often feels like surrealist shock therapy or a tag-team match in an arena floodlit by abstract expressionism.
In this age of "you're either with us or against us," Swords into Plowshare: Peace Center and Gallery is a facilitator of dialogue that seeks to bring people together and uncover commonalities between diverse groups. The gallery's current exhibition, Tom Block's "Cousins," speaks to the heart of the Center's philosophy by exploring the common links between what are often perceived as opposing belief systems.
It was in a small, unheated apartment that artist Tom Block discovered a new direction. He'd left his career as a journalist behind in the United States, hoping to find something more fulfilling. Amidst the silence that comes with living in a new country, far away from friends and family, he focused on his art.
Little did the Maryland-based artist know that he would find more than a new form of expression; he'd gain a new sense of being.
I'm not the only person that has made the connection between art, imagination and the heroic. This spring a show sponsored by Arts for Amnesty International opened in Washington D.C. The exhibit featured the work of artist Tom Block, who depicts both prisoners of conscience and those working for their freedom, and for the dignity and human rights of oppressed people around the world.
"I didn't pick up the brushes until I was 26," (Tom Block) says, laughing softly at the thought. "I had no art background. When I called my father to say that I was going to art school, he said, 'Holy mackerel, you couldn't even draw a stick figure when you were a kid!'"
Suffice to say that Block the elder got over his initial disbelief, and that Block the younger proved himself adept with the paints and brushes. More than adept, he became an award winning young artist whose work has been displayed in galleries around the country and the world.
Tom Block wears several painterly hats at once; he's equally at home creating abstract paintings and expressionistic figurative portraits. In Caceres, Spain, where he lived during the mid-90s, he painted colorful abstractions on cast-off wooden slats that were spontaneous explosions of joy. A few years later, now living in a basement apartment in Gaithersburg, Maryland, he began a series of expressionistic portraits of friends and family.
Tom Block worships in a Conservative synagogue, but he paints Hasidic messages. Inspired by the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the artist uses recurring abstract forms to celebrate the joy of mystical prayer. He also fills some canvases to capture similar devotional intent expressed by historic Christian and Islamic mystics.