Big canvases, Microsoft paint, panoramic photos–Tanner Simon expresses his art in different mediums. It’s no surprise coming from an artist with a wide array of skills, interests, and expertise. Born and raised in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, Tanner is now on his way to get his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of South Florida.
Tanner was a crafty kid in middle school and high school. In the sixth grade, he made extra bucks by selling paper boats to other students. In high school, he was already skilled enough to build his own Tesla coils. Yes, the high voltage, high frequency, “do not try this at home” kind of Tesla coils.
It’s no brainer that a person as talented as Tanner would face a challenge in choosing the right college course of study. Why would he confine himself when he could do so much? He went to Elizabethtown College in Lancaster, PA majoring in Biochemistry at first. Then shifted to Electrical Engineering. Then Education. Then finally, History. And he did all of this in the course of three weeks.
“I wanted to go into electrical engineering, but I found out that it was not fun. Like [how] making stuff on my own was fun.”
After three years in college, Tanner enrolled for another major in Fine Arts. He graduated in 2020 with a double Bachelor of Arts in History and Fine Arts as well as a Minor in Anthropology.
Painting in the Attic
The question is, what made Tanner suddenly decide to pursue the arts?
Aside from the fact he is naturally a witty, creative, and crafty person, Tanner found an abandoned attic on top of his history department building. It was a perfect opportunity. He had (clandestine) access to a very large space. For Tanner, it was time to get painting. It didn’t matter if it was midnight or two in the morning. With a small flashlight, canvas, brushes, and paint, Tanner developed his skills and passion for painting.
A highlight of his time in college was during a 10-week residency he did as an undergrad for Fine Arts. During this residency, he made around 120 paintings of the Lancaster countryside. He’d get up at six in the morning to paint the sunrise and continue throughout the day, driving around and setting up in different spots. When the sun started to set, he would go back to his studio and continue to paint until 4:00 AM. He’d then sleep for a couple of hours and do it all over again the next day.
“I barely slept, but I’d got so much work done and it was wonderful.”
Even with a workload, Tanner never ran out of ideas. In fact, to this day he doesn’t consider facing creative blocks to be one of his biggest challenges as an artist. By his own account, the real challenge is having so many ideas and not enough time. He could have as many as fifty ideas in a day, but with painting as his main medium, it would be impossible to finish them all in one day.
Tanner likes to take an approach to painting similarly to how he approaches history and anthropology- with an unbiased perspective. He says it’s like trying your best to listen to everybody and look at everything, from every tree to every blade of grass.
Tanner shared with us some of his pieces. One of these pieces is somewhat of a different approach to Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. We may know Napoleon as a mighty, masculine, and powerful figure, but we also have to acknowledge that his conquest wasn’t for the good of all. Tanner points this out by parodying Napoleon in his painting:
“If he really was as great as some people say he was, I think he would look more like this because he wouldn’t be hurting anybody. He’d be making people happy.”
David’s Napoleon also inspired Tanner to start painting huge pieces. Many of his canvases are as large as 102 by 82 inches, bigger than most 4K flatscreen TVs. Some of his works like J’Raf and Evening In are this size.
Tanner describes his art as post-ironic absurdism. There’s sincerity in them, but they also come from a nihilistic place. He makes upscaled contemporary art to represent how our culture doesn’t make sense because it’s too broad. “There’s so many different opinions that people take as a true authority.”, he adds.
Right now, Tanner is focused on finishing his Masters in Fine Arts at the University of South Florida. When he finishes in 2024, you’ll most likely see him teaching at that university and making a living off his art.
Of course, we asked him our favorite question: What advice can you give to your 12 year-old self?
“I don’t know if I’d tell him anything. Maybe just start painting so I’d be better now.”