By David Perloff and Amy Cantor
Long after the downtown hustle falls hush for the night, one light shines in the dark. Beside it, a man and his work: decadent, timeless masterpieces to which the man devotes his graveyard shift, every single day for nine months. The rest of the year, he travels to find inspiration and step into the light.
For the past few months, artist Tim Cantor has been fine-tuning perfection in a sprawling East Village loft guarded by tall, carved wooden doors. A piece of art itself, his creative space feels like an old-fashioned apothecary, its antique glass beakers brimming with powdered pigments, marble mortars and fine brushes tipped with oil paint.
This is where Cantor creates paintings he keeps secret from the world - including his wife and muse, the warm and doting Amy - until they are complete. The process takes two years, give or take a hundred sleepless nights.
A 100-year-old wooden box that once possessed the paints of his great-grandfather sits beside Cantor as he works, as do other curious and silent mementos that speak to his past and his extensive world travels. Objects d’art, from a taxidermy peacock to miniature skeletons of winged things adorn the walls.
“I’m not creepy,” Cantor says with a gentle laugh, his green eyes narrowed and twinkling as he smiles.
He doesn’t look creepy. Closer to clean-cut, really - dark hair, modern clothing, handsome features. As he sips the evening’s only cocktail (at Bice Ristorante in the Gaslamp), nothing about Cantor’s outward presentation suggests he’ll toil through the wee hours, breathing life into macabre images that seem to reincarnate a magical, 500-year-old realm, one which survives today only inside his head.
At 3 p.m., he’ll awaken, leaving a few hours of sunlight before returning to overnight solitude.
Cantor is soft-spoken and shy, and for the 23 years he has been with Amy, she has become his voice, she explains, sometimes speaking her husband’s mind. She’s his confidant, his living biographer, his biggest fan. The familiar likeness often captured in his paintings, she is his window to the outside world... and the world’s only access to him. She talks about his being born in the summer of 1969 in San Francisco, where he began to paint with oil paints at age five.
By the time he was 15, Amy continues, Cantor had his first one-man show, an exhibition from which one of his original paintings was acquired to be hung in the permanent collection at the White House. It was then that galleries and publishers worldwide called upon him, wanting to sign him into exclusivity.
Once old enough to fly the coop, Cantor traveled, painting images that would hang in celebrated fine-art galleries around the world. When he turned 30, he decided to open a gallery. He could have done so anywhere. He chose San Diego.
Fourteen years ago, Cantor found a Fourth Avenue location to call his art’s permanent home. Today, the gallery has grown to become an important destination for his proselytized masses, art collectors and critics who come by the thousands (really) when he unveils his work - some of which will remain on exhibit at this Gaslamp address for years to come, despite already having been purchased (for up to $100,000 apiece) by international collectors.
Now, on the eve of his 45th birthday, Cantor is set to unveil “Nostalgia,” a collection of 33 paintings that only Amy and a handful of collectors have seen before their being published in this magazine. Over the years, Cantor has discovered that keeping what he’s painting a secret frees him from inhibition, thereby multiplying his motivation to share the final product.
Cantor expresses the essence of “Nostalgia,” perhaps, with “Through the Waters,” an oil painting of pieces of a shattered clock suspended alongside a self-portrait of the artist - painted at 39, but aged to 90 years.
Why did Cantor choose PacificSD as the solitary outlet through which to reveal his new works to the world? Two reasons: the magazine arrives in the mail at his East Village apartment; and, given his nocturnal work schedule, this guy really doesn’t get out much.
Experience “Nostalgia” and meet Cantor at the exhibition’s October 4 opening (look for the line circling the block at Fourth and Market), or stop in any time the doors are open, which typically begins a few hours before sunset.
If you visit after the opening, it will likely be Amy who greets you, as she loves nothing more than to come to know people who are touched by her husband’s art. As for Cantor, he may actually be in the back room, listening in silence as people react to his work. If he’s to emerge, the lights will dim moments in advance.
Nostalgia Artist Reception
October 4, 2014, 6:30 to 11:00 p.m.
On permanent exhibition thereafter
527 Fourth Ave., Gaslamp