2007-04-19 / News

A lost painting may be a found McAleer

By Michaela Kennedy

Tom McAleer Tom McAleer Thomas McAleer can be spotted traipsing all over the island and East Bay looking for the perfect venue of the day to paint. Layers of painted canvases line the rooms and hallways at his house, the finished products of a prolific artist.

"My home is my studio," McAleer remarks about his Jamestown house. His art is mostly practiced outside, and he stops on his way to or from his work to paint a scene. An easel and paints are always on hand in the trunk of his car. Known for discarding completed pieces in his wake, McAleer is followed by fans hoping to find one of his gems by the wayside.

McAleer notes that he spends about 45-minutes to an hour to complete each piece, averaging about two paintings a day. The process may come across as quick to a passer-by, but the hours spent on one scene go uncounted. McAleer revisits a scene to the point of obsession. "I can paint a bus 500 times until I get it the way I want," he notes. He adds that he has been "painting forever."

McAleer's work is best known on Block Island, where he spends most of the summer living on a sailboat with his family. The island scenes he is famous for have sold well at a local Block Island showroom over the last decade. McAleer expects the upcoming season to be especially exciting since he is opening up a gallery on Block Island, with a cooperative of other local artists.

He gives credit to the influence of Outsider Art, a term which carries a double meaning when applied to McAleer and his depictions of outside landscapes.

Art critic Roger Cardinal coined the term "Outsider Art" in the early '70s. The label became the English alternative to "Art Brut," or rough art, a name used by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe artists working outside aesthetic norms.

McAleer is an administrator for L.I.F.E. Inc., an acronym that stands for Living in Fulfilling Environments. The company, based in Bristol, provides communitybased experiences and support to people with developmental disabilities. McAleer has spent over 20 years working in the field of social services.

"Outsiders are people who live on the fringes of society," he explains. "An outsider artist is not taught. The creativity is already there." McAleer speaks with gratitude about the skills he has learned from his clients. "I get to hang out with these folks and see how they get to that creative point," he says.

McAleer maintains the sensory workout to be a tough process, but a rewarding one. He expresses admiration for the people he works with who spend their lives learning to cope with severe disabilities. He has seen great strides in their accomplishments over the years, as mainstream society offers more opportunities for growth and integration. "I see people go from an aggressive nature to a much softer attitude," he says about the outsider artists he works with. "They have helped me to be loose."

McAleer helped to establish a venue for Outsider Art through the non-profit company where he works. The artists associated with LIFE now display their crafts at Top Drawer Art Center in East Providence. To learn more about the artists and their work, visit online at www.topdrawerartcenter. org.

McAleer periodically holds inventory sales of his work, and has been known to barter with other artists. "It's my way of collecting art pieces that I might not otherwise have been able to afford," he adds. McAleer may be reached by e-mail at mcaleer3054@aol.com or by telephone at (401) 527-2800.

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