My Sunday Sun column (available at baltimoresun.com) is about artist Tony Shore’s Tiny Tony project, something that might seem completely whimsical — and I’m a sucker for Baltimore-style whimsy — but it’s really an extension of the narratives Shore first developed in black velvet.
For more than half his life, Shore has been painting on black velvet, and the images emanate from the white working-class Baltimore he knew growing up in Morrell Park on the southwest side of the city. In his earliest work, Shore captured some of the same Baltimore that John Waters depicted in film, with the very large exception that, where Waters played it for shock and laughter, Shore was a realist and his art an hommage to the Baltimore of shift work, corner bars and risky lifestyle choices.
In a later series of paintings that revealed amazing maturity and command of light, Shore showed the brutal aspect of those choices. His paintings depicted a form of violence that, by current Baltimore standards, seems old school — fist fights and beatings, the kind of ugly stuff I would hear described in District Court when I sat through morning dockets. “Some of the images are of my family, and some aren’t,” Shore told the late Glenn McNatt, Sun art critic, in 2008. “But they’re all based on things I saw or heard of when I was growing up. My family may or may not have been involved in the incidents I describe, but I was there as a witness. I’ve also seen similar things since I’ve been back in Baltimore [after living in New York]. I’ve actually witnessed several beatings in Morrell Park similar to what’s in the paintings.”
Some of those dark images were hard to behold.
Not so with Tiny Tony, Shore’s latest project (on Instagram in two places: tonyshorepainter and tinytonysthriftstorefinds) that marks him, once and for all, one of Baltimore’s most interesting artists.
When I visited him at his studio the other day — the studio pretty much bristling with flea-market kitsch and discarded toys — Shore made a half-joking reference to a need for therapy. He suggested that his ongoing hunts for objects to fill the Tiny Tony universe had grown out of control. He seemed self-conscious about the clutter in his studio.
This struck me as not the problem, but the point. In seeking out 1/6th scale objects to furnish Tiny Tony’s Formstone rowhouse — Shore found a washer and dryer Saturday morning at Diamond Point Flea Market in Dundalk — he’s recreating the world he knew, the rowhouse-and-duplex Baltimore that still lives in Tony Shore’s heart and mind and survives in parts of the community today.
That Tiny Tony developed during the pandemic makes it all the more special and valuable. Thus, the headline on my column: Out of the misery of the pandemic, the joy of Tiny Tony Shore and his Instagram adventures.