INSPIRE ME! Artist, Tom Torluemke

Religious Art especially Christian art seems to not 
be welcome in the competitive contemporary art world. 
"Birth of Jesus" (2010) acrylic on wood, 42" x 24" x 18"
A&O Board member Ted Givens, AIA deserves the credit for introducing me to the work of Chicago artist Tom Torluemke, and I was thrilled when he accepted our invitation to be this month's INSPIRE ME! Artist of Month: June 2013. Torluemke's work is not your conventional religious art, and many including Tom will even challenge my presumption to label it as religious art, or to claim him as a religious artist. Others will note that he doesn't actually live in Chicago but instead resides in Hammond, IN near Chicago; but was born in Chicago and is represented by a Chicago gallery. Make your own judgements because that's exactly what his amazing work challenges you to do.
  1. What is your faith tradition and how does it impact your art? I was baptized and raised Lutheran, went to a Lutheran Grade School and High School. I also taught art at Valparaiso University for a couple years. The way the experience affected my art, and me was that I was raised to try and be a good person and do the right thing. Follow the Ten Commandments. Most of my work is socio-political and autobiographical. I don’t consider myself a religious artist but however, because of my background my work deals with all of the above themes.
  2. "Crucifixion" (2009) oil on canvas, 30 x 40"
  3. Describe your artwork. What style or genre is it? The style ranges a great deal. Depending on the idea or concept, I try to match the appropriate style to the idea category. So it could vary from almost pure abstract through semi-realistic to straightforward realistic illustration. 
  4. "Jesus Speaks To The Children" (2007) porcelain & glass tile mosaic, 12 x 26 ft., Andrean High School, Merrillville, IN
  5. Have you ever had to defend exploring religious ideas? No, people have asked me if I am religious or Christian, but that’s as far as it went. But to go a little further, religious art especially Christian art seems to not be welcome in the competitive contemporary art world. Unless of course, the particular artists are anointed by the powers that be, by passing their “liberal” art test, like for example, Richard Tuttle who I think came from a religious background and uses the notion of redemption in his work. Also, Theaster Gates who has a strong religious background. I also find it somewhat confusing that we are quite a religious nation that doesn’t accept religious art. Everybody believes in something.
  6. The Hugging Wall, 1998 Sign enamel on brick 38 x 70 ft. Substation No. 9, Hammond, IN
  7. Who collects your work, and why? It’s a whole range, from working class men and women to doctors, lawyers and businessmen and women. Why, I don’t know if I’ve quite figured that out. But I may guess that it’s my no holds barred approach as well as one other element. Many people have said, that they enjoy my paintings, because they find something new in them all the time. 
  8. "Betrayal" (1998) acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12’ Collection of The Brauer Museum of Art, gift of NiSOURCE
  9. What do people say about your work? Most often, my work is described as brave or fearless. But on a more comical note, they’ll approach my paintings like a Where’s Waldo poster and say, “Where’s the penis? I know it’s got to be in there somewhere.”
  10. Sermon on the Mount, 1997 Installation, R.H. Love Gallery, Chicago
  11. What other artists have influenced your work? Michelangelo, Goya, Arnold Bocklin, Alfred Kubin, Van Gogh, Otto Dix and George Grosz. 
  12. "Birth of Jesus" (2010) acrylic on wood, 42" x 24" x 18"
  13. How can A&O readers collect your work? If you are in the Chicagoland area, you can visit Linda Warren Projects or their website at Or you can organize a serious, buying dinner party and we will show up with a truckload of art OR a not so extravagant solution, you can visit my website,
  14. "Fearsome Fable – Tolerable Truth" (2012) Installation, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
Today, Tom's work is a signature feature of the Indianapolis landscape. I first became familiar with it inside the Indianapolis International Airport ("The Glory of Sports" and "A Work of Heart"), a 2005-2008 public art selection process led by Ted Givens, AIA. I grew more familiar with his work inside the downtown central library where his "The Book of Life" was installed in 2009; and I pass his Superbowl mural "Simple Pleasures" commissioned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis every autumn  weekend as I head towards Lucas Oil Stadium for a Colt's football game. His "Simple Pleasures" (2011) was even featured in The New York Times. While neither of these last three works are conventionally religious, they are all works that give meaning to human existence, which is the essence of religious art anyway--right? I am totally enjoying my pursuit of religious ideas and stories through Tom Torleumke's eyes, and I hope you have too.
"Samson" (2011) 44 x 26 x 24 inches. Medium: acrylic on paper


Ginger Bievenour, Vice President Alpha Omega Arts said…
Torluemke's works are bold and strong and can produce a visceral response. His diversity of mediums is quite amazing. I see echoes of past masters like Grunewald and Hieronymous Bosch in his works which makes them only more intriguing to me.
Tom is absolutely one of my current day favorite religious artists. His story is a moving one and I can't wait to meet this man known so well by so many other Hoosiers.

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