How can an intense tornado, spinning and forcing its way through several streets full of homes, be an inspiration? That’s what visual artist Tom Hoitsma wondered when his Dallas neighborhood was devastated by a tornado in the fall of 2019.
“With winds up to 140 miles per hour and at three-quarters of a mile wide, this tornado literally came right down our street. By some act of God, the tornado jumped over the first five houses on the east end of our street, including my house, which I was in at the time with my kids, but destroyed most of the homes just west of us,” says Hoitsma. “We have all seen images of this kind of destruction on television, but to walk the neighborhood the next morning and see the destruction with my own eyes was completely surreal and deeply disturbing.”
After the devastation, when families whose homes were destroyed literally began picking up the pieces of what was left, Hoitsma began to see the beauty in the carnage. He collected the twisted and tangled metal from the wreckage on the street. “I sat on it a while, deciding what to do,” Hoitsma says. “It took a long time to process that experience and articulate it visually. Then the neighbors rebuilt, and that inspired me to see the resiliency of the human heart after total decimation.”
He came up with a plan to show that flexibility of the human spirit to revive and thrive with a new series, The Heart of the Matter. These heart-shaped metal wall sculptures, created from the twisted remnants of his friends’ and neighbors’ homes, are Hoitsma’s new focus. He is well-known for his large-format, expressive abstract paintings, and the new sculptures, at about 5 by 5 feet, also make quite a statement on the walls of his clients’ homes—although he will take commissions to design them in custom sizes and colors.
The main idea Hoitsma wants people to take away from this series is joy. “The metal pieces are damaged and bashed but with creativity and paint, they show no sadness, only joyfulness,” he says. “We all go through experiences but mostly dust ourselves off and start again to find joy. With The Heart of the Matter sculptures, I am trying to evoke an emotional response through a visual experience.”
Although Hoitsma’s sculptures are on display in a Los Angeles gallery, he is mostly connecting with clients these days through a studio-direct model. This enables him to talk personally with each client about specific needs and commission pieces if needed to meet certain specifications.
Today, Hoitsma is enjoying fabricating his own materials to use in The Heart of the Matter sculptures, having run out of tornado-destroyed source material. He finds fabrication as a way to introduce even more visual variety into the series and increase the sophistication of the tangled hearts he sculpts. This flexibility in sourcing materials is akin to the resilience of people dusting off what’s left and making something new of it. He is reclaiming and rebuilding, much like his neighbors in the post-tornado days.
His paintings are known for their vibrancy, and in this new series, he seems to have found a way to turn tragedy into triumph. Above all, Hoitsma sees joy in these sculptures, just like all of his other artwork. He describes The Heart of the Matter as meaningful work for him because of the personal experience. “There are two categories of survivors,” he says, “people who are joyful and celebrate every moment and those who can’t let go. All I really see is joy because I believe we create our own realities. This work reaffirms my commitment to positivity. The glass is half full.”
Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.