Contemporary art and screen prints at new Inverness gallery

David Briggs
Painter Tom Biagini's new Inverness gallery and shop features house-made screen-printed shirts and hoodies alongside West Marin landscapes and scenes of Los Angeles.   

Returning to his roots, artist Tom Biagini opened a new gallery this month in First Valley Inverness after years away in Los Angeles. He plans to use the space to display his oil paintings, sell screen-printed apparel and breathe new life into downtown with a community gathering space. “It was the right spot at the right time,” he said. “I didn’t want to see a spot in Inverness turn into something that didn’t benefit or enrich the community, so for me to come in and create something I’m passionate about, it’s wonderful.” When you walk into his gallery, a large portrait of David Bowie greets you. Turn to your left, and you’ll see a sumo wrestler surfing a gnarly wave, and on the right, a sunny landscape of Tomales Bay. Meander into the next room to see a graffitied panda and dark city streetscapes. Although the scenes are varied, his style has consistency: The colors bleed into each other, the lines are imperfect, and the brushstrokes are fast and loose. He likens his approach to cooking without a recipe or dancing without choreography; his strokes are like a fighter’s punches, applied instinctually. “The best paintings always happen the quickest,” he said. “Because usually there’s a spontaneity where everything is working… I get invigorated by the abstract nature.” He paints many familiar landscapes, like Drakes Estero, Millerton Point and Mount Vision. He’s painted the launch-for-hire building 10 times, because new angles and times of day draw him back. The pieces from Los Angeles have a different feel: They’re darker, moodier and centered on a city street rather than nature, reflecting the duality of the two places he calls home. Mr. Biagini started painting full-time seven years ago but has always been a creative person. When he was a kid running around in Inverness, he loved to draw action figures and dreamed of being a comic book artist. In his 20s, he was a drummer in a funk-rock band, then he took a painting class at the College of Marin. His first painting of Chicken Ranch Beach turned out well, launching the beginning of an off-and-on relationship with the form. In 1997, he took a different path and opened West Marin Fitness after realizing the area needed a gym. Clients signed up right away, and the business was successful. But hanging art among the workout equipment did not quench Mr. Biagini’s thirst. He sold the gym to his sister, took acting classes and moved to Los Angeles, where he tapped into a creative current that inspired him to paint more. His first series in Los Angeles was of a gang of traveling sumo wrestlers, whom he depicted living a bohemian lifestyle filled with motorcycles, martinis and beautiful women. The humorous figures were a hit, so he screen-printed them onto clothing. Now, he’s revamping the screen-printing business with a new logo, “INV,” for Inverness. The hoodies are available at his gallery, which is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 5 Inverness Way South.