Tiki Tom is in the far end of the exhibition space when we arrive, in the black light room. Looking like a weatherbeaten, white Rastafarian, he's fussing with a set of banged-up hub caps painted in fluorescent colors over a coating of his secret recipe of faux-cement surfacing. More typically, his art's primary materials are the driftwood and beach glass and whatever other flotsam and jetsam he finds as he scours the beaches of South Florida, several hours a day twice a week for the last 40 or so years. "I see faces in the objects," he says.
Tom started collecting used hub caps at garage sales too, after they started to turn up on the sand, the mandala-like shapes irresistible. And just about any found object is fair game, like the bag full of medical waste including thirty or so used hypodermic needles that now radiate around a death's head on a black background under the headline: "Welcome to the Beach!"
A fella deeply committed to a path all his own, Tom Bazinet (as he was) is a Palm Beach County boy, a graduate of Forest Hill High. His fascination with the beach started early, "When I was thirteen and found my first sea beans," he told us. "Since then I've traveled to pretty much every shoreline in the United States. Part of what I want to do is make people aware of the need to clean the beaches."
Supporting himself as a treecutter and plants tender, Tom's clients became collectors of his art. He also became well known locally for his striking vehicles -- a sea glass adorned Jeep, a seashell-covered motor home -- the latter of which was regularly seen parked outside the mid-'90s/early-'00s alternative community center/artists collective The Hut, by the railroad tracks in West Palm Beach's Flamingo Park neighborhood, where Tom was in residence for some time.
Tom's first one-man show opens Friday night at the Boynton Beach Arts District, hosted by Rolando Chang Barrero's effervescent ActivistArtistA gallery. The works are a striking collection of totems and effigies and "buoy babies." The detritus of the waves mixed with discarded commercial products emerge as spirits and gods of an environmentally-aware cargo cult. Living plants are married to some, strangler figs that, he says, "Will grow and wrap around the piece, taking it over and giving it life."
"People hear 'beachcomber art' and think of the arts and crafts mirrors people make that are decorated with beach glass," Tom told us. This isn't that.
Nicknames are a great thing. Whether it's a silly moniker you picked up at a high school party that you could never seem to shake or a behind-the-back way to refer to someone you just met, it's always swell to recognize others using an oddball descriptor. No stranger to the world of nicknames is Tom Bazinet. His "Tiki Tom" personality stems from his accomplishments and has earned him huge street cred on the local artist circuit as of late. The self-described "tree trimmer and tree hugger" has been collecting trash from all over the coast and transforming it into gallery-worthy offerings. Hey, turns out your fourth-grade teacher was right: Anything can be art. Originally nicknamed Tiki Tom for evolving tree branches into glorious tikis, these days, Bazinet has his eyes set on bigger things, like washed-up coconuts and broken dolls. The aptly titled "One Man's Trash" exhibit of Tiki Tom's latest efforts will not only be a sight for your jaded eyes but also an environmental message to anyone who takes part. It's an eco-friendly mission that will make you think differently next time you take out the trash. "One Man's Trash: The Work of Tiki Tom" runs through December 20 at ActivistArtistA Gallery/Studio at 422 W. Industrial Ave. in Boynton Beach. Call 786-521-1199, or visit activistartista.blogspot.com.