When we look at the paintings of Tom Bronk we see a compelling meld of a most solitary mode of innovation and a profoundly different understanding of art that is by no means unaware. While he is fully autodidactic in his understanding of fine art, it is crucial to understand that since moving to New York City in the early Seventies, his art developed in proximity to the art world where he was exposed to many important artists and trends, including his years painting the walls for the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery. Among his friends from that time and still an advocate for his work, Lynda Benglis explains “Tom may be naïve about himself and how to communicate, or certainly he would have shown and been recognized sooner, but his art is anything but naïve. He is one of the more sophisticated artists out there in his visual judgments.”
He speaks freely of his life, from his rural upbringing in Wisconsin, to his days working in Milwaukee, his experiences living in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, to his 40 year tenure on the Lower East Side at its crime-infested economic nadir, and in all this there seems a consistent disconnect founded in class difference. Speaking of the psychedelic aspects of his art, Bronk admits that the Sixties and the use of hallucinogens inspired his vision but adds that he couldn’t connect with the hippies because unlike them he was far removed from the comforts of the middle class.
Bronk continues to paint to this day, his recent art just as formidable as the decades of pictures he has stacked away in his tenement apartment. Now in his mid Seventies, Bronk is afflicted with late stage Parkinson’s Disease, isolating him further, separating him from a regular income, forcing him into an even more desperate poverty, and making his task of painting all the more challenging as he suffers uncontrollable shaking. While some may consider it folly to imbue too much of our reading of art with personal biography, it seems that these paintings speak directly to that struggle, an impossible persistence with unmistakable urgency that remains a measure of great art.
Bronk’s first solo exhibition took place at Andrew Edlin Gallery in 2018. A painting owned by Lynda Benglis was included in Paul Laster’s curated space at the 2020 Outsider Art Fair, Relishing the Raw: Contemporary Artists Collecting Outsider Art.