Tom Lea Was El Paso's Renaissance Man
POSTED: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 5:55pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 7:19pm
See Link to Events This Month Honoring El Paso Artist, Writer
El Paso — http://www.tomlea.net/institute.html
Tom Lea seemed to never waste a minute of his 94 years. He was a painter, writer, illustrator, novelist. A decade before television, Lea brought his Life magazine readers inside World War II, portraying both he glory and the horror experienced by our American soldiers. He captured Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before anyone invented that term.
As a correspondent he took readers on a global tour from Greenland to China. But Tom Lea never forgot where he came from: the rock, cactus and sage of the high desert. And so at the end of the war, he decided to introduce El Paso to the world.
His 1946 mural simply called "Southwest" is five feet high and twenty wide. It hangs in the lobby of El Paso's downtown library. Today's speaker during Tom Lea month was, ironically, a historian specializing in Islamic art. The way Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir discovered this painting, by accident, helps describe how the appreciation of art can spread across continents. Al Khemir was born in Tunisia. One time several years ago she agreed to house-sit a friend's cat in Paris. And that was the day she fell in love with a West Texas artist. Her friend had created an art montage, jumbled postcard-sized prints featuring Michelangelo, Monet, van Gogh, Chagall. And right above da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Tom Lea's 'Southwest'. Al Khemir has been touring and lecturing about the painting ever since.
She told her library audience today, "The only sign of life is prickly pear and cactus plant. To me, that sign of life is an affirmation of life. Speaking of El Paso, Tom Lea referred that he was born here, that he loved the intensity of the light, the sunlight, the clarity of its sky, the hugeness of it space, the revealed structure of naked earth without adornment. All of these are reflected in the painting Southwest"