For someone who spends the majority of his time making art, painter Tomata du Plenty also finds many moments in which to appreciate the art of others. He reads -- a lot. "Five, six, or seven books at a time," he boasts. "Everything from Mark Twain to Jackie Collins. I have no discerning taste, I'm afraid."
Known for his outsider-artist style, Tomata (toe-may-ta) lends his humorous take to just about any subject, producing exhibitions with titles such as "Floozies" and "101 Lucille Balls." A South Beach resident from 1989 to 1994, du Plenty now lives in New Orleans but returns to his former stomping ground at least once a year for one-night art shows at unorthodox venues, including Ted's Hideaway, 821, and West End. Du Plenty's book jones inspired his current show, "Black Leather Kerouac: Portraits of Writers Tomata Likes." He'll hawk his twisted tributes to literary figures, partial proceeds of which will benefit the People With AIDS Coalition (PWAC), Friday at the nightclub Twist.
"Kerouac" highlights more than just the wild members of the Beat Generation. Du Plenty's 200 paintings of writers are a bit different from portraits one remembers viewing in English class. For instance, says du Plenty: "I painted the Brontë sisters as strippers!" Of course romance diva Collins is included ("She's a righteous babe," du Plenty laughs), as is one notable local, Dave Barry.
The show's catchy title came from du Plenty's pleasure in hearing the way the words sounded together. "It had panache for me," he says. "In On the Road Kerouac keeps saying he wishes he were a black man. I just painted him with a leather jacket." The portrait depicts Kerouac sporting a jacket with prominent lapels set off by a halo glowing above him. Looking like a bloated Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated and alcoholic author, who disdained his fame, appears to be in the later stages of his life.
Much like Kerouac's On the Road hero Sal Paradise, the peripatetic du Plenty travels too. In his case it's from place to place, showing and selling his work. "Whatever I can get in three suitcases, I hop on a train and I do shows, either in Los Angeles or Florida or San Francisco," he says. Those in the big city put off by expensive art have nothing to fear from acquiring a du Plenty original: His smaller pieces will carry a $20 to $30 price tag. "I think that it's really important that people can afford art," he explains "People should have pretty things in their home. And what I do is kind of pretty and funny -- pretty funny."