St. Petersburg got its first taste of painter/muralist Leon Bedore’s work in the early 1990s. The Pinellas County Center for the Arts student was a graffiti artist, a kid with a bagful of spray cans, creating kamikaze style in public places. That’s when he took on his tag, Tes One. The name didn’t really mean anything – it looked cool, and it sprayed out fast.
He even got arrested once.
These days Bedore is one of the bay area’s most respected, recognized and appreciated artists, with work on walls and on canvas, and he still signs everything as Tes One. “I didn’t put too much thought into it then,” he says, “but when I think about it now it reminds me of time where I didn’t know the rules and boundaries of things you can and cannot do within different art forms, or different cultures or styles.”
Over time he applied this freewheeling aesthetic to painting, and then graphic design and illustration, and sculpture, and now his intriguing hybrid work is commissioned by galleries and mural shows and individuals, and by companies as diverse as Nike, Absolut, Toyota, the New Yorker and the Brooklyn Nets.
Bedore was a key member of the team that founded St. Pete’s SHINE Mural Festival – the most demonstrably demonstrative public art show in town – in 2014.
A new exhibition of his work, Good Intentions (a Retrospective of Catchin’ Wreck) opens with a 5 to 8 p.m. reception Saturday at the Morean Arts Center, during the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk.
He’ll never not be Tes One. “It reminds me of when I was kinda naïve and looking at this as just ‘I want to create art in public spaces.’ I feel like I always need to hold on to that. I never want to get too comfortable and forget that yeah, this is something I truly love to do.”
St. Pete Catalyst: It was 1992 when you began signing your graffiti and street art as Tes One. What were you thinking about then, and how did that affect your own artistic arc?
Leon “Tes One” Bedore: I loved the graffiti culture and art scene. That’s where I started – but what was true then is true now. Way back then, when nobody was even giving me permission to do this, my intention was to create something that people would enjoy looking at. It was completely naïve of me, but I thought for sure that if a business owner came out the next day and saw what I did, they wouldn’t want to paint over it. Because they’d be happy it was there. Looking back I see how audacious that was.
That has carried on into all the projects I do. I look at it, especially in a public space, as the responsibility of making it the best that I can make it. I think public art is kind of a big deal – to put your work out there like that. We should all do our best to make it as good as it can be.
Thirty years ago … hey, you were a teenager.
Back then, there were only two or three kinds of public art that you would see. It would be either graffiti, which was shunned – it was associated with a bad part of town, or something like that; there were painted signs and logos for businesses; and then every now and then you might see a Florida beach scene, or water. But there really wasn’t art for the sake of art at that time, in the streets.
But it’s something that I believed in quite a bit. And I’m not alone – there was others that did, as well – but I felt for sure, if we can just prove this concept, how amazing would it be that we can do better than beige walls everywhere? These can be canvases for all of us to enjoy.
Although your style is recognizable, your subject matter and color and design choices are varied.
I try really not to limit myself and my tools and my mediums. I really, really do enjoy the exploration and discovery of new techniques. It is something that – well, yes I have a style that probably re-occurs through my work. I am trying to push it in different directions.
With regard to public art, and the responses of business owners, could you see the change in the community? Did you recognize that they were starting to appreciate and enjoy the art?
Absolutely. In the early 2000s, I had the good fortune of being invited to three different cities – in Florida, Texas and California – to paint murals. And they had already grown with their public art in those places, and had seen firsthand the reaction that the community had to those projects.
Then I came home. I know St. Pete is a very proud city for its arts scene – as they should be, it’s absolutely incredible – but it occurred to me that wow, you wouldn’t necessarily know that this is a city of the arts from the outside.
All these amazing glass-blown sculptures and paintings, they were all indoors. It was something that really stood out to me at that time. We did an exhibition at the Morean called Leave a Message. I was the co-curator for that show with Amanda Cooper. The entire point of that exhibition was to showcase artists that paint in the street, and then have a portion of that exhibition exist on the outside as well. Kind of an inside/outside exhibition.
It felt important to show St. Pete ‘Here’s an idea – we can actually have these areas to be dedicated to art.’ This was also a natural growth within St. Petersburg, and so other artists that are local and very talented and amazing started doing public art as well, and getting permission from businesses to paint the sides of buildings and the backs of alleys.
It seems strange now, because of all the public art that’s in St. Pete, but that first hurdle was actually kind of tough. People weren’t eager to lend their buildings to some unknown artist and let the artist do their work, without it being spelled out and described what it was gonna be.
The first year of SHINE was difficult, but we ended up kind of proving that concept to the city.