Tampa-based artist Leon Bedore, known professionally as Tes One, has an impressive resume. The graphic designer and painter has murals all over Tampa Bay and has been commissioned by clients including Nike, L’Oréal, Absolut Vodka and Architectural Digest.
And now, thanks to a stirring image of a health care worker titled Masked Crusader, he adds the Library of Congress and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to his prestige.
The piece came about in late March, while Bedore was watching the pandemic unfold on television.
“It was one of those moments where I was struck by what’s happening in the world,” he said.
While watching the news, he was impacted by the footage of hospitals with health care workers covered up from head to toe. He thought the scenes from all over the world looked identical, and the workers’ selflessness inspired him to “capture how heroic their actions are.”
So Bedore sat down and made an illustration, Masked Crusader. It depicts the profile of a health care worker in a mask, superimposed with the phrases “the mighty,” “the amazing,” “super,” “daring” and “the world’s greatest,” rendered in fonts associated with comic book superheroes.
His idea was to capture the contrast between the medic and the messages: “She’s defeated, but she’s super human.”
“This year, I started a visual diary as a reminder of how I was feeling (during the pandemic),” he said. “It’s kind of a detour from my typical art.”
That detour proved to be a good move.
He submitted Masked Crusader to Amplifier, a Seattle-based organization that commissions artists to create socially conscious campaigns. They had launched a global open call to artists for a campaign in response to COVID-19, looking for public health and safety messages, and working with curators and public health officials. Bedore was one of the winning artists. Amplifier acquired the piece and blasted it out.
“They literally amplified it worldwide,” Bedore said.
Masked Crusader was included in public art installations in Los Angeles, New York City and London, where the image was projected on a building at the corner of Oxford and Poland streets.
To his surprise, in November, he received a letter from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, informing him that an archival print of Masked Crusader had been acquired for their permanent collection.
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And this month, Bedore received word that the piece had been acquired by the Library of Congress. Amplifier submitted the piece to the federal cultural institution.
Bedore said he was in shock when he got the notice via email.
“I didn’t know it was a thing I could do, I never thought of what that process would be,” he said. “I’ve been very humbled by it ... This is major. It’s such an honor to even be considered and the fact that it was chosen is flattering.”
He said it’s significant that the artwork is included in the Library of Congress because people in the future can look at this moment and hopefully learn from it.
When the image started rolling out in different parts of the world, Bedore received many responses, including from health care workers and their families who appreciate the art and its message.
“It’s the least I could do,” he said. “They’re doing the actual important work.”
Bedore likens this recognition to getting a response to a message in a bottle. He said he can never anticipate what the responses will be and often people see aspects of his work in ways he never imagined.
Prior to all the international recognition, Bedore made a run of 50 digital prints of the illustration as a fundraiser for Feeding Tampa Bay and the United Way. When people shared their donation receipts to either organization, they received a print.
He’s releasing another limited edition of 50 serigraph prints on Dec. 17 at tesone.com.
“This has been eye-opening about the power of art and how far it can reach and its impact that becomes something meaningful for people,” he said. “This is what keeps my energy and creativity flowing.”