Here are the dos and don’ts of commissioning art for your home or business, courtesy of Amy …
Tao LaBossiere has learned the hard way that public art has its perils.
Once, he was commissioned to paint an elaborate mural on the walls of a Connecticut restaurant. When he returned a few years later to look at the work over which he had toiled, both artistically and physically (painting murals is an act both of creativity and endurance), he found that the mural had been all but destroyed by the addition of a flat-screen TV.
Recounting the story over pizza at Blind Pig Pizza Co. in Hartford, where LaBossiere created the restaurant’s showstopping custom bar top, he shrugs it off. As if to say, it’s the price you pay when you create art that’s not hidden behind a glass display case, or protected within a sterile art gallery. It’s art that exists in the real world where it can be seen, enjoyed, often touched, and, yes, sometimes destroyed.
“I want the people that view my work to experience a sense of creative joy that changes their perspective — the way they see the world. There’s whimsical creative potential in everything,” LaBossiere says. “I like to think of it as transforming buildings from one type of facade to another. For example, Bear’s BBQ (original Hartford location) is a cinder block wall, but when the mural is complete it looks like an old barn with a tin roof and a stone chimney. It’s really a transformation.”
LaBossiere has dedicated his career to unlocking that hidden potential, whether it be in a gray factory wall made to look like a warm wood pub, or a concrete retaining wall painted to evoke an intricate stone wall and garden, or from found and discarded objects of various kinds transformed into something new and often extraordinary.
“So many artists are selfish, but I see Tao as the kind of artist who many times when he’s creating, he’s creating thinking about the viewer. Where many artists do it the other way around: they’re creating for themselves,” says his wife Amy LaBossiere, who is an artist as well and handles the business end of the Art of Tao LaBossiere, the company the couple runs.
“Most of my work is for other people. I’m trying to be of service with my art,” Tao says.
LaBossiere creates many works on commission, and he and Amy enjoy helping companies brand themselves and solve problems through fine art. They also work with individuals looking to commission artwork for their homes. Though LaBossiere’s work is labor intensive, he strives to make his services as affordable as possible. Mural paintings start at $20 a square foot, but can go up to $100 a square foot depending on the detail of the work, and generally average out to about $40. Individual illustrations and small sculptures range in price from less than $100 to $1,000, with most costing around $300 to $400.
If you live or have spent any time in the Hartford area, odds are, whether you know it or not, you’ve already experienced some of LaBossiere’s work. He painted the striking mural of a bear against a wood-sided building at the original Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ location on Arch Street in Hartford, as well as the Everlasting Spring in the Secret Garden mural outside St. Mary Home, an assisted-living facility in West Hartford, and the mural that adorns the walls of the Still Hill Brewery taproom in Rocky Hill. In addition, he’s designed and painted the logos for the centerpieces of several basketball courts in the state, as well as murals for many other Connecticut restaurants, including a new mural for J’s Crab Shack in Hartford, expected to be completed this spring.
At Still Hill Brewery, the taproom is dominated by a painting of an open-beam, barn-like pub that spans two walls and transforms the room. What is usually an industrial area at breweries becomes a warm, cozy spot with a true pub feel thanks to the mural. Scott Barbanel, owner of Still Hill Brewery, explained he had approached LaBossiere about doing a small mural with just the brewery’s logo. But when he saw the space, Tao instantly had a vision for something far bigger, and Barbanel got caught up in his enthusiasm.
Tao and Amy’s loft apartment at ArtSpace Hartford is as much a part of LaBossiere’s work and life as anything. In the 1990s he took a hard-hat tour while it was still under construction and signed on as its first tenant, moving in on Thanksgiving weekend of 1997. Since that time he has served as the volunteer director of Hartford ArtSpace Gallery, organizing shows that feature and promote the work of established and emerging artists.
It is through the gallery that he and Amy met. Amy was displaying a piece at the gallery and needed a pedestal for her installation. She was told to call Tao, which she did. “He said, ‘Come down and we’ll meet and I’ll talk to you about it,” Amy says. “So, I met him and he offered to make me a pedestal. I thought, ‘who does that?’ I was really impressed with him, and I thought he was the most handsome guy I’d ever seen.”
Tao was raised in Voluntown. His parents were schoolteachers and the family ran Still Waters, a country retreat in Voluntown, during the summer when they were off from work (Tao and Amy are in the process of fixing fire damage on the property and reopening the resort). It was at Still Waters that LaBossiere learned to serve others and got the experience fixing things with his hands that would later serve him as an artist working with a variety of materials. As a child he also developed his love of art and creating, thanks to his mother encouraging him to finger paint at a young age. “I can clearly remember receiving lots of love and positive reinforcement for my finger paintings, so I guess to this day I somehow feel like I’m going to receive love when I do my artwork, which I’m lucky to still receive,” LaBossiere says.
As an adult he attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Hartford Art School, before launching a career as a professional artist.
Today, Tao and Amy’s studio is a wonderland of artistic expression. Large open windows overlook Bushnell Park and much of the Hartford skyline. But as great as the view is, your eyes are constantly drawn to what’s inside the studio. Perched near the ceiling is an oil drum with teeth protruding from the rims, giving the impression that the drum’s opening is a gaping mouth. It’s called Jaws and it’s made out of a 55-gallon steel oil drum that LaBossiere “recreated as a monster, because it symbolizes the voracious appetite of the oil industry preying upon us to feed it, or it can also symbolize our voracious appetite for oil.”
One wall is dominated by a towering painting of magnificent underwater creatures. It’s a large-scale mockup of a future project LaBossiere hopes to undertake in the atrium of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.
After a tour of their apartment, the next stop is LaBossiere’s studio, a subterranean lair that feels like a superhero’s hideout. On the walls hang various pieces of art in development. There are also sculptures scattered through the room: a giant bull pulls back, ready to charge, in one area, while in another part of the room a group of rusted, demonic Star Wars stormtroopers stand in formation.
The afternoon ends with a trip to the new location of Bear’s Smokehouse in Hartford, where LaBossiere designed many pieces, and the nearby Blind Pig where he designed the etched copper bartop. The bar provides the speakeasy ambiance and design that the barbecue pizza spot was going for. “It’s the heart and soul of the place,” says Justin Morales, Blind Pig’s managing partner.
At the bar, LaBossiere tells the story of works of his that were either painted over or otherwise marred by renovations, redecorations and the natural ravages of time. It’s a fitting conversation because at the moment we are not only touching one of LaBossiere’s latest works of art — the bar — we’re eating on it.
For information about Tao LaBossiere and his art, go to