True bromance — Tes One and Bask at CASS

Pound and a Bear Hug reunites the artists for a redux of their first joint show.

Bask and Tes One: Pound and a Bear Hug
April 24-June 6

Opening reception Fri., April 24, 7-10 p.m.
CASS Contemporary Gallery, 2722 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa,

The friendship between artists Bask and Tes One goes back to the 1990s, when they were comic book nerds and teenage graffiti artists. In hardware stores, they would sneakily switch out nozzles on spray paint from other aerosol cans to enhance the precision of their masterpieces on “The Clearwater Wall” — once gifted to young street artists by a landowner near the city’s Frisbee golf course.

click to enlarge TILE UP: Tes One at work at CASS. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
TILE UP: Tes One at work at CASS.
Today, works by the artists, both 37, can be found in national magazines and celebrities’ homes. Tes One’s illustration of Ryan Gosling behind the wheel of a sports car appeared with a movie review of Drive in The New Yorker, and around 14 of Bask’s paintings, including a re-creation of his 2004 work “When It Rains, It Pours,” depicting a gigantic bomb plummeting toward the Morton Salt Girl, appear in the film Iron Man 3. CL visual art critic Megan Voeller reported in 2012 that the movie’s star, Robert Downey, Jr., snagged the painting as a souvenir and purchased a 16-foot-long painting that Bask and Tes One made together several years before.

This Friday night, they’ll reunite for the opening reception of Pound and a Bear Hug at CASS gallery in South Tampa. Named after the artists’ very first exhibition together in 2005 at the now-defunct Covivant in Seminole Heights, the event will offer food catered by Datz and spins by DJ Fader.

The works will not share themes or content. There will, however, be commonalities in the size and number of works on display on each wall; both artists worked separately and individually over the past four months, and a week and a half ago, they completed murals on garage doors in Hyde Park Village as a satellite installation of the show, arranged by CASS.

“The reunion for me was more personal in the sense of the act of the show is me being able to share the room with my brother and be able to put on an amazing show,” Bask says.

Ales “Bask” Hostomsky was born in the Czech Republic; when he was a child, his family fled to the United States, and he later dropped out of Dixie Hollins High. Leon “Tes One” Bedore moved to St. Pete from Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Gibbs High School’s arts magnet program Pinellas County Center for the Arts. Both consider themselves self-taught artists.

“Tes had the first legal graffiti wall in St. Petersburg when we were in high school [on Central Avenue near 49th Street],” Bask recalls. “We would make pilgrimages to see it.”

Tes’s early career involved designing and illustrating fliers for underground shows and parties back during the early to mid-’90s. “I was making flyers for primarily hip-hop events at Jannus, Masquerade and Junction Pizza,” he shares.

Around four years later, in 1999, Fusion Gallery, formerly next to the Emerald on Central Avenue in St. Pete, featured Bask in a solo show.

“That was the first wave of contemporary art interest in St. Pete,” Bask said of the Fusion scene. The event spurred Tes into action and he began to get commissioned work himself in the early 2000s.

Propelling the local-artist-driven downtown St. Pete public art scene, Tes One teamed up with Chris Parks, aka Pale Horse, and the Vitale Brothers to design the ultra-vivid mural on the wall of the State Theatre. Bask countered with a solo mural a few hundred feet away.

A mutual admiration and spirit of healthy competition continued to fuel Bask and Tes One’s friendship — more so than social pastimes. “We both tend to be antisocial and introverted,” Bask admits. “We don’t socialize too often or hang out with too many artists. We just do our own thing, but there has always been that constant level of being inspired by each other. When we reach a milestone, the other is inspired to go further.”

Neither artist enjoys describing the content of works. “I’d rather leave it up to somebody after I’m dead and gone to explain what it is,” Tes says with a laugh, but he doesn’t shy away from discussing his technique.

“Something that took me a while to identify, even after I had been creating for years, is I like to take what’s on the inside  and reveal it on the outside,” he says. (One series in the show, in fact, is called “Inside-Out.”)

Above all, Tes enjoys a contrast of digital graphic design and hand-drawn illustration, colors and figures. “I really enjoy the exercise of having the two things coexist,” he says. Tes’s signature resembles a Mac power symbol made from the letters T.O.

While Bask employs a mix of imagery and media, he incorporates more socially conscious motifs in his work. Though the presence of product labels and logos have become Bask’s calling card, his works have veered more toward the abstract. “While it’s still there, I’ve been relying less on iconography,” he adds. “It’s a lot less poppy.

“I look at myself as a mad scientist when in the studio, because I’m constantly messing with textures and paints — making mistakes and learning from them. Who knows what the work will look like in 20 years?”

Tes says that both he and Bask have reached a stage in their career where they want a proper place to show their works. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the support that CASS has given us,” he says of Jake and Cassie Greatens, owners of the nearly 1-year-old CASS gallery. “It’s really a great space,” he adds.

Tampa destination aside, they are proud to be from St. Pete. “I lived in Detroit and love it too, but I love where we’re from," Bask said. Citing established local contemporary artists like David Williams and Rocky Bridges, he added, “We want to follow in the legacy of showing what inspiration this area can bring.” 

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