By Selah Vetter
At first, Tom Findlay thought his paintings were marred by a mistake. Still, he packed them up for his first art show and placed them in the back of his booth, hidden behind other canvases where he hoped no one would notice their flaw. But as people looked through his paintings, they noticed the red trees—the mistake in Thomas’s mind. And they wanted the red.
Today you can find his signature red trees alongside more of his paintings and works by other artists he curates in his Thomas Andrew Art gallery on 29th Avenue in downtown Homewood.
When you enter the gallery, an easel is set up in the front of the store with a half-finished painting of a just-engaged young couple in a pastel colored hue. It’s a commission, he points out, which is his favorite type of work to do. He loves walking with his clients every stroke of the way during the painting process and appreciates learning the meaning that is behind the image.
Art for him is not just a canvas to be bought and hung on a wall. It’s an experience, and one Tom wants to share with everyone in the gallery. Sometimes that looks like kids in art camp who make Tom laugh, and other times it looks like groups of colleagues who are there for corporate team building.
Tom recalls a group of men who worked in tech for Regions Bank—a group that he says rarely, if ever, dabbles in art—and how they found humor and therapy in his team building exercise that involved painting in the outline of a Birmingham cityscape, much like a coloring book. The men sipped on the gallery’s signature drink, sangria while they painted, and after they finished the painting, Tom polished it off and delivered it to their office to hang proudly on their wall.
As that team created their cityscape, they were surrounded by local artwork (see below for a list of featured artists) as well as Thomas’ other signature pieces in the gallery—which take us to his back story. While he was in his mid-30s, Tom no longer wanted to be a business owner as he had been until that point, but he was unsure of the next move. In 2004 his father encouraged him to pursue his love for art and apply his business knowledge to the craft. “The first couple of years were lean and mean because, like most artists, you’re trying to find your voice,” he says. “I was going to make it or die trying.”
Tom began by painting cowboys that were inspired by his family’s Colorado ranch. Everybody was going to love them, he thought. Jim Smith gave him a chance displaying the paintings in his Art Alley gallery in Edgewood, but as the weeks passed by, Tom learned the people of Birmingham weren’t going to love them. Surviving off of food samples at Sam’s Club at the time, Tom knew he had to find a new voice in order to make a living. So he did something that would change the course of his career as an artist. He asked Jim what the people wanted.
The answer was something angelic with a dramatic contrast of darks and lights. Following that guidance, Tom went home, stuck a canvas on a nail in his bedroom wall and painted an angel. When a friend came over out of pity to buy a cowboy painting, she glimpsed at the angel hanging and wept, moved by the sight of the spiritual symbol. From then on, he was known as the “angel artist.”
Now the angels hang next to his red trees in his art gallery, alongside the next subject Tom decided to paint—something larger, something bolder. Approaching Jim again for advice, Tom settled on painting landscapes in an impressionistic style with a color palette formed from his family’s ranch out west.
“I don’t work from photographs,” he says. “People will say, ‘Where is that?’ and I’ll say, ‘It’s probably 20 places.’ It comes out of my mind. I travel all over the country for my art shows, and you have to drive, so you see all of these places you wouldn’t from an airplane.”
After all his travels though, Tom decided to grow his roots a little deeper in the place where he grew up and calls home today. On the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, not knowing what was to come, he opened the Thomas Andrew Art gallery.
Painting is not the only aspect of art Tom is teaching others in his gallery space though. “I like teaching the business side (of art). That’s the hardest part,” he says. “Talent really is nothing. My dad asked me one time what’s more important: talent or passion? (It’s) passion every day. Not just passion to make the work, but to sell it. I think of art as a business, and it is if you want to make a living.”
But even with his business know-how Tom’s hands—paint-splattered at any given moment—are a reminder that above all, art is his identity. “It’s just part of me. That’s part of the fun.”
You can find Tom’s work in the Thomas Andrew Art gallery across Real & Rosemary on 29th Avenue South in downtown Homewood. Learn more about his art at thomasandrewart.com or @thomasandrewart on Facebook and Instagram.
Temptations of Man
Most of the time Tom paints for others, but sometimes he paints for himself too. After his brother passed away at age 44 after a battle with alcoholism, Tom explored darkness and temptation in his art, to tell his brother’s story and as a therapeutic act for himself. This series of paintings tells a story of why we are tempted and who’s tempting us—and today you can find it in the far back of his gallery.
Meet the Gallery Artists
- Eddie Powell paints with vibrant acrylics to create texture in his art.
- Amy Anderson, a young mom, uses watercolors and acrylics to create vibrant flowers and fish.
- Lisa Hammite is known for her colorful paintings of cows and other animals.
- Karen Libecap creates tiny paintings and others with watercolor, gouache and oils.
- Melanie O’Keefe paints landscape and horses with oils and acrylics.
- Charles Elliott is a lawyer who paints vibrant landscapes.
- Janene Hyatt is a teacher, painter and potter whose work focuses on animals.
- Prodigal Pottery is a local nonprofit that helps women who are escaping abuse and homelessness by learning the trade of pottery.
- Carrie Pittman uses a contrast between texture, color and light to paint abstracts.