Emerging Artist | R. Tom Gilleon

Star Lodge by R. Tom Gilleon

By Gussie Fauntleroy

On the Montana ranch of painter R. Tom Gilleon are places where one can still see teepee rings and circles of stones on the site of a Plains Indian village. Each circle secured the bottom edge of a buffalo-skin teepee liner more than a hundred years ago. It’s appropriate that the artist can feel this tangible link with nomadic tribes that have fueled his imagination all his life: Among his most striking works are paintings of teepees—primal geometric shapes, often glowing from firelight within, against a flat horizon line and deepening shades of dusk.

For many years, Gilleon’s creative gifts stirred imaginings of other kinds. While keeping up his fine art on the side, he worked as an illustrator for NASA’s Apollo program and later as a designer and illustrator for Disney, other theme parks, and the motion-picture industry. That experience helped develop craftsmanship and gave him a greater visual vocabulary. It also taught him to use the computer as a tool for refining ideas before turning to canvas and brush. But always, he notes, it was the client who “set up the target” for the artist to hit.

Now Gilleon, 64, sets up his own goal: to tell a story or establish a painting’s mood by eliminating extraneous details and aiming, as he puts it, for “directness, simplicity, and strength.” Gilleon’s art is at Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson Hole, WY; Borsini-Burr Galleries, Half Moon Bay, CA; Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT; and Dana Gallery, Missoula, MT.

Featured in “Artists to Watch” January 2006