"> Reviews & Essays | David Tomb

Bird-Loving Artist David Tomb on his Recent Palo Alto Residency and Exhibition

Originally published at Huffpost Arts & Culture by John Seed.

During a recent visit to Palo Alto, I was able to visit artist David Tomb, who was nearing the end of a residency at the Palo Alto Art Center. His installation-in-progress, which uses art and multi-media elements to involve visitors with local marsh birds and their habit, was engaging and full of delightful elements and details. David has a lifelong interest in birds, and also a significant commitment to the conservation of species and habitats that is reflected in his work.

I interviewed David after he completed the installation to ask him more about how the project had evolved, and what it has accomplished.

John Seed Interviews David Tomb.

Portrait of David Tomb with his artwork

David Tomb

David, how are you feeling now that your residency is winding down?

Well, I have never done a residency before but I have to say, this one seems to be different than most.

In the past I have always worked in the studio and I like my studio in San Francisco very much. Early on in this residency I decided I had the option to make a full commitment to the residency, as I wanted to show visitors an “actual studio,” not just a gallery. So I moved much of my studio to Palo Alto to feel comfortable. I brought a lot of art books, my infamous rocking chair, one big work table, way too much in terms of art supplies, rolls of paper, and some stacks of cardboard. I also brought some previous work to add a bit of background. It took about 3½ days of trips in my fully-loaded Honda Element…

Corner of David Tomb’s studio with his artwork

A Studio Corner

Once you got fully set up, how did you feel?

Well, it helped that the staff here helped to make me comfortable. Honestly, I was fine right away with people stopping by. When asked “Is it weird for you, working in a glass fishbowl?” I have replied: “I’m a birdwatcher, but I like to look at people too.”

Entry to exhibit with monitor showing a photo of David Tomb giving a wildlife tour

Installation View

What kinds of visitors did you have?

During a two-week period I had something like 200 kindergartners on class tours. I’ve had grade school kids too, including an 11 year old who asked me “Do you live here?” Lots of adults and return customers too who wanted to see how things were developing. People enjoyed viewing and also commenting on my progress. They loved seeing the artwork start from a few pinned up drawings to seeing the studio fill up and be transformed.

David Tomb leading a tour group of a local marsh

David Tomb leads a local marsh tour

Do you feel like your work and installation has been making an impact?

Through the work and through various events and talks, I have tried to advocate for birds and bird conservation. I have led ten public events including five boardwalks at the nearby Marsh in January. I should mention that the theme of this residency Creative Ecology and I am the second of 4 artists in a series sponsored by the Junior Museum and Zoo. My personal topic has been the birds and marshes of Northern California.

A view of part of David Tomb’s exhibit

The completed installation on opening night

What do people experience when they walk in?

Well, when anyone walks in, they experience what is essentially a walk-in natural diorama of a marsh habitat. I think of it as “2½D” as it isn’t quite 3D. To make the habitat, I went full out and made corrugated cardboard mudflats. One reason I think kids can relate to this show is that I keep my art strategies on a third grade level: there is a lot of cutting out of shapes and use of hot glue guns.

This is a total and complete environment: there is even sound in the form of a sound-loop of shorebirds. I have one tiny kinetic bird that is attached to a battery-operated locomotive that moves through the marsh reeds. It is barely visible, but it is there…

A behind-the-scenes view of a motion artwork on a model railroad track

The kinetic shorebird on its railroad

Has the residency changed your work?

I would say that my work itself has expanded. The interactions are so important and I have had so many great conversations with so many people. A lot have people have loved being in a full blown studio and several have said “It is magical being in this room.”

One interesting thing is that the installation has gotten people connected with the real marsh and birds. Through this project, many people have had both their first experience of being in an artist’s studio and their first visit to a nature preserve.

Close-up of one of the exhibit’s pieces

Installation Detail

Is there anything else that people really responded to?

Yes: people love my rocking chair…

David Tomb with his intricately detailed rocking chair

David with his rocking chair

Continuing Exhibition:

King Tides and Elusive Rails, featuring the artwork created by Tomb during his in-the-gallery residency, will be on display at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303, from April 26-July 3.

Tomb will also be presenting a free public lecture June 9, 7 p.m., at the Art Center.

Put a bird on it


Originally published here by Karla Kane in Palo Alto Weekly. At the Baylands, on campus and in galleries, avian art is taking wing this winter. What makes birds — those feathered, flighty creatures — such appealing subjects? “Birds are simply a beautiful expression of the natural world. They are one of the most accessible wild creatures to [...]

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Originally published here by Ilana DeBare. David Tomb’s two childhood loves were art and birds. As an adult, he’s brought them together — in a way that supports international bird conservation. Tomb — a San Francisco painter and collage artist — currently has a show at the San Francisco Public Library focusing on endangered birds of the [...]


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David Tomb
"Azure-breasted Pitta"
Painted papers with mixed media and partially pasted and or completely pasted on paper with mixed media
42 x 30 inches

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Even in captivity, a Philippine Eagle is a stunning sight to behold with its shaggy crest and huge size.

by George Oxford Miller (Originally published in Living Bird Spring 2012, pp 28–35. Republished with permission of the author; see publisher’s site for original version) A captive-breeding program offers new hope for the Philippine Eagle Eleven hours of waiting, watching. Yesterday we sat for six hours on a bamboo bench in an intermittent drizzle and [...]

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Huffington Post — Frank Lobdell: “Nothing Worth Anything Is Easy”

Portrait of Frank Lobdell

Original Article by John Seed Professor of art and art history, Mt. San Jacinto College Feb 10, 2011 When David Tomb created his mixed-media portrait of artist Frank Lobdell in 2002, the experience left him wrung out. Working “on the spot” in Lobdell’s San Francisco studio, Tomb recalls that he was “so nervous, actually, that [...]

The ‘Great Wall of America’ and the threat from within Cynicism, hypocrisy and an entirely un-American urge to exclude are the foundation of the barrier that stretches along the border with Mexico.

Border Troop

by Richard Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times September 5, 2010 Between cynicism and hypocrisy lies the 2,000-mile U.S.- Mexico border. America is raising a wall in the desert to separate Mexican drug exporters from American drug consumers, to separate Latin American peasants who will work for low wages from the Americans who would hire them. The Great [...]

David Tomb: “Borderland Birds/Aves Fronterizas” at Electric Works

Border Troop

by Dewitt Cheng July 2010 art ltd. Barnett Newman’s famous joke about art history being irrelevant to artists, just as ornithology is to birds, has always been irrelevant to ornithologists, even if it ruffled art historians’ feathers. But current events have cast further doubt on its accuracy. Not only does the proliferation of contemporary art [...]

David Tomb’s New Work

mountain trogon

by Richard Whittaker I first became aware of artist David Tomb thanks to his portraits some years ago. It was impossible not to recognize something special in them, even beyond the artist’s formidable draftsmanship. In particular, the portraits of his favorite subject capture subtle states one recognizes immediately, most often subtle varieties of preoccupation with one [...]

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Friends on canvas


By Dave Nordstrand, The Salinas Californian November 22, 2006 He labels his paintings “Buzz” and “Fudge” and “Peaches.” These aren’t still-life depictions, but David Tomb’s subjects don’t mind the names he affixes to their portraits. They’re also his friends. They drink coffee with Tomb, pronounced “Tom.” They dissect the day’s news and probe life’s meanings. [...]

A Body of Work Inextricably Linked to the Artist’s Persona — Self Analysis

Whiskered Mencher

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Drawings at Weiss Gallery


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David Tomb: Diorama


by Harry Roche, SF Weekly, November 15, 2000 One of the Bay Area’s best painters, David Tomb defiantly traffics in an old-fangled and unhip genre: portraiture. “David Tomb: Diorama” at the Hackett-Freedman Gallery brings together four sensual, life-sized portraits of people near and dear to him. As these unfold into intimate psychological studies, Tomb emerges as [...]

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Faces and Figures

Portrait of Frank Lobdell, by David Tomb  49.25" x 29.25" mixed media on paper 2002

by Robert Pincus The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 24, 2005 “Fresh Flesh,” the title of a three-artist exhibition at Scott White Contemporary Art, has a dehumanizing ring to it, as if the show were about the body and nothing else. This isn’t actually the case, though the stated intention of the title is to refer to [...]

David Tomb

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891 The question beneath the surface in our subconscious is why? Better yet, it is the declarative, who cares? The subject is portraiture in art today. For David Tomb, the [...]