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Artist Blog: Tom Cannady - Retro Inspiration!

A Louisville native, I was the 1st born grandson of both parents’ families. I developed strong relationships with all of them and loved their stories of our family. Both of my Grandmothers introduced me to their respective family “picture boxes” and it is probably where love of passion for history and vintage photographs began. I was raised in the Valley Station area of the county, but have roots in the Portland neighborhood. My Grandfather purchased the old Portland Hardware and Lumber Co. at 19th St. and Portland Ave. in 1952 and operated it approximately 10 years.

I began painting in junior high school and with the guidance and encouragement of a wonderful art teacher I flourished as a student. I was in one or more of her classes each semester from the 7th grade through senior year. I attended Murray State Univ. in western Ky. Beginning as an Art Major but graduated with a Marketing/Business degree.


I have admired the work of Edward Hopper for many years particularly his depiction of color, light and shadow, but did not realize that influence until after the completion of this piece that I created from a fraternity brother’s “picture box” of memories.

I live in a mid 20th century modern home with my partner of 20 plus years and paint in the studio space created in the attic most of the year. When it becomes too hot to work upstairs I relocate to the sunroom which is conveniently located adjacent to the bar.

I can paint for extended periods of time in silence but also listen to music and sometimes have the television on, tuned to black and white reruns or favorite movies that make it possible to listen to the dialogue while continuing to paint.

This is Edna Mae: the car, not the guy in the background. I have been her caretaker four years or so and use her to complete the experience for clients purchasing works from me by using her as a delivery vehicle (when she is not in the shop.) I have always had a passion for automobiles and it spills over into my work. I think the vehicles in my paintings readily identify the era depicted. Earlier works focused solely on the vehicle but now they are more likely to be additional characters within the composition.

I am drawn to images that depict a sense of humor, irony or sexuality that is at odds with the simple nostalgic memory many people have of the mid 20th century. I think of the era as passive repressive. I typically start a painting from the background forward, layering additional elements as they are closer to the viewer. Technically it gives me the ability to give more definition to the main subjects.

Since I belong to a fraternity I am fond of images depicting that life style. Everyone appears to be having a great time (well maybe not the guy in front of, Gary.) But, if you believe in the notion of one in ten of the population is gay, at least two of these guys are living a fantasy. Titling my works gives me the opportunity to direct the narrative of the image and I sometimes create the title before I begin painting.

I always find it a balancing act depicting what exists in an image verses adding or eliminating from the composition to create a more humorous or contradictory message. I enjoy eliciting warm, nostalgic feelings from the viewer of my work but I also want to include an element of surprise that checks that nostalgia with a dose of maybe everything wasn’t so rosy.

- Tom Cannady