ST. PETERSBURG — It’s not often that one artist is prolific enough to fill all the galleries in The Morean Arts Center. But Tampa-based artist Leon “Tes One” Bedore has risen to the occasion with his exhibition “Good Intentions: A Retrospective of Catchin’ Wreck,” on view in St. Petersburg through Oct. 25.
For a 45-year-old artist, a retrospective that goes back 30 years is an impressive feat. But “Good Intentions” underscores how prolific Bedore is in his multi-dimensional exploration of mediums and concepts that inform his distinctive style.
As with any retrospective, it’s important to understand how he got started.
As a teenage artist attending the Pinellas County Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg, Bedore was inspired by hip-hop and graffiti culture and wanted to make his mark on the city. In 1992, he adopted the name Tes One because he was searching for a tag that he liked to create in graffiti.
He would go out at night and paint his somewhat nontraditional style of graffiti, under the assumption that business owners would appreciate his art. But that wasn’t the case. Graffiti is considered vandalism, and at age 17 he was arrested for the infraction. A copy of his mug shot hangs on a wall in the exhibition.
Luckily, a business owner approached the school looking for an artist to paint a mural. Bedore appreciated that he was given the freedom to paint what he wanted, rather than a beach scene or a company’s logo.
“Those were really the only two types of public art that had existed. There wasn’t room for different ideas of art in public spaces like that,” he said. “So thankfully, this business owner ... gave me this opportunity to let me do whatever I wanted. And when that happened, as kind of small as it was, it was a big ripple in the community here. I ended up meeting a lot of other artists who saw that as an example of like, wait, this is something that we could do.”
Regarding murals as public art was slow to catch on in Tampa Bay. But Bedore kept at his practice, which went beyond graffiti into graphic design, painting and sculpture. By 1999 or 2000, Bedore’s style blended graffiti with graphic design, and a new Tes One emerged.
He teamed up with other artists and began showing works at local galleries. Soon, he was getting invited to show in other cities, and eventually his art went international, something he said he never anticipated. Since then, he’s been commissioned by clients including Nike, L’Oréal, Absolut Vodka and Architectural Digest.
It was the exposure to other cities’ acceptance of murals as public art that got him thinking about the potential for St. Petersburg. In 2012, he curated “Leave a Message” at the Morean Arts Center, which featured graffiti and street artists.
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“The point of that show was taking art that lives in the streets and bring those artists inside and then having a portion of that exist outside,” he said.
A few years later, he help found the Shine Mural Festival, which brings artists from around the world to adorn walls in St. Petersburg. He’s no longer involved with the festival, but its creation has left a profound mark on the city.
“Good Intentions” is organized into sections in a visually stimulating manner that lets the viewer appreciate Bedore’s various techniques and concepts, bound by a recurring theme.
“The biggest reoccurring theme in my work is contrast,” he said. “So not just in the technique of how I do it, there’s contrast and colors and all that. But there’s contrast in the message half the time.”
This contrast is prominent in the series “Natural Instincts.” Bedore combines two different motifs — signage and nature — printed on aluminum sheets. He imagined a dialogue between them that conveys a different message. One titled “Let’s Go Swimming,” featuring an alligator in the water with a sign that reads “Walk Ins Welcome,” is particularly cheeky.
In his 2022 series “Across the Spectrum,” Bedore explores a new color palette of vibrant oranges and aquas. In the “Rare Earth” series of painted laser-cut wood wall sculptures, he lets shapes and colors inform his direction. The result gives landscape vibes. A set of two floor sculptures titled “Rare Earth (Variant)” are plant motifs that Bedore experimented with to see if he could make sculptures that could live outside.
Bedore cuts deep with social commentary in the “Community Service” series of paintings on wood. His “Masked Crusader” piece from 2020 that treats healthcare workers as superheroes received international attention. It was included in public art installations in Los Angeles, New York City and London, where the image was displayed in the windows of a building. It has also been collected by the Library of Congress and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Music is a big inspiration that comes through in several series. There are giclee prints of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. For the poster series “Audio/Visual,” Bedore made the works while listening to music, letting it inspire the abstract works by emotion.
He collaborated with his 9-year-old daughter, Cyan Bedore, on the “Runs in the Family” series. He painted backgrounds for her sweet drawings, which he said was a great bonding experience. The series hit a note with viewers; all of the paintings sold.
Photographs detail Bedore’s collaborations with the Vitale Bros. They have formed a mural crew called Up & Over and painted commercial buildings throughout Tampa Bay.
A guitar that Bedore painted for his dad has special meaning. Gregory Bedore was a left-handed guitar player, but this left-handed Les Paul guitar, titled “Tes Paul,” is not for sale. Gregory Bedore died just two weeks before the exhibition opened. Bedore didn’t think he would be able to finish working on the show but credits support from friends, family and the Morean team for helping him carry on. The show is dedicated to his dad.
Bedore hopes his exhibition inspires young artists to keep pushing their boundaries and challenge themselves, as he has.
“I try to stay grounded ... I don’t want to lose sight of the young, naive kid who didn’t know what he was doing, but had all this ambition. And I just try to remind myself, oh, that’s right. There was a time where nobody knew who I was, I wasn’t getting paid for it, I didn’t have permission to do it. And I still did it. That’s who I try to keep with me as I move forward.”
If you go
“Good Intentions: A Retrospective of Catchin’ Wreck by Tes One.” On view through Oct. 25. Free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Morean Arts Center. 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-822-7872. moreanartscenter.org.