From Bread Thief to Artist: Brief History of Tosh Clements

From Bread Thief to Artist: Brief History of Tosh Clements

By Debra Herrick

At fifteen, Tosh Clements went to high school for two hours and then dropped out. He built a boat in Carpinteria and then drove it to Canada to surf, taking the boat into different fjords.

He hitchhiked, hopped trains, went to punk shows, graffiti. Aside from a couple classes at Santa Barbara City College, he didn’t go back to school.  

“I had a crazy, turbulent family life,” said Clements. “My parents split right before I would be going to school. My grandpa died of a cocaine overdose. I was living with my mom. She has her own addiction and legal problems. It was actually more convenient for her not to have the responsibility for me.”

He paid his way and took care of his little brother and sister by shoplifting—bread, groceries, goods, whatever was needed—even some small scams to pay utility bills.

He was arrested for graffiti five years later, at about the same time as his mom was in court. That worked in his favor, the court had sympathy, and he was given community service, told to get a job and to take up a new sport other than surfing and skating.

Clements went to work as a server and food runner at Toma Emiliano’s Italian Restaurant. He started cycling with his brother. He raced bikes for a few years until he broke his knee and got back into graffiti. 

He’s 29 now. He’d spent a long time doing other things, but says he always had a “proclivity towards aesthetics.”  

Early on, Clements made his bones as a photographer, starting at age 12 and later getting gigs in lifestyle photography throughout California.

Tosh Clements

Around 2014, Clements and his friend Morgan Massen had an idea—to create a space that people want to be in, a coffeeshop/arts gallery that would connect artists around the world. This theory led to their business partnership, Breakfast Culture Club, “by and for a group of friends who like to make things and go places.”

In launching Breakfast, Tosh took on the project’s graphic design and merchandise marketing, and he liked it, even more than photography. Quickly, Clements became prolific in drawing, influenced by old tattoo flash fluid graffiti characters.

Clements prefers to work quickly and practice skills. Take fluid graffiti snakes. Clements had to figure out how to do it quickly and then master the fluid brush stroke.  

And so, when he went to Europe in 2016, and visited art museums for the first time in his life, he was wonderstruck by the monumentality of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Miró and so on. Clements knew that he would begin a painting practice in reflection of these works.

“Seeing big paintings, seeing Picasso and Matisse in real life, there was something about the way it was presented that I appreciated. I just decided that it was something that I wanted to try because it really resonated with me.” When Clements came home from that trip, he bought a paint-set and started painting.

While Clements’ demeanor leans towards careful study and experimentation, he’s aware that by eluding school and structured training in the arts, he’s “missing out on that growing with and learning from a big depth of painters in a condensed space and time.”

Nonetheless, Clements has found a brush stroke, a palette, a balance to his work that is controlled, sophisticated-at-times, while maintaining the playful surprising elements of outsider art.  

“My way of going to art school or not going to school means I get to try stuff out every day and find out in my own way, not with anyone telling me how to feel about it. I stumble on it in my own way.” 

“(If I had formal training) I would probably know a lot more that I don’t, and that would have informed my work differently. I never learned oil painting, for example. I like that I just get to pick a method or pick up a paint brush and I get to make it and use it as I want to.”  

In his more recent works, you can observe how Clements is moving away from Matisse-influenced single brushstroke figures within amorphic color cosmoses a la Miró, and towards large minimal color block abstractions in line with the influence of Ellsworth Kelley.  

“For me color blocking is a practice of restraint. More true to how I practice photography.” 

New work by Tosh Clements will be on view in “POV: Tosh Clements, Arturo Heredia, Madeleine Eve Ignon, Tom Pazderka – A LUM Art Zine Show,” January 18 to February 8, 2019 at the Santa Barbara Center for Arts Science and Technology, SBCAST, 513 Garden St., Santa Barbara.  

An opening reception will be held on Friday, January 18, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at SBCAST. Drinks, music, art. Open to the public.

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