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Destinations in Your Mind: An Artist Spotlight with Tom Reno

Photo by Ethan Sleeper

Tom Reno is an abstract artist originally from Southern California who now resides in New Mexico. He is the paragon of a free-spirited artist who lives much of his life as a nomad traveling across the United States. Reno's spirituality and life philosophy are integral to his creative process. He describes his paintings as “destinations in your mind."

The Beginning: From Hollywood to Vietnam

Reno was born in Hollywood in 1948 and grew up in California's San Fernando Valley. He was a creative child and often made art, but never with the expectation of one day becoming an artist. After he completed high school, he served for three years in the United States Army in Vietnam— an experience which he ironically referred to as “enlightening.”

Reno's time in the military gave him a renewed appreciation for life and freedom. He sought to live life entirely on his own terms from then on. The day he left the military, he tore off his shirt, jumped in his car, and drove straight to Denver to ski with his friends. The fervor for living life to the fullest hasn't left him to this day.

Before Reno became a professional artist, he was a sign painter for many years. Sign painting was, what he called, a “freedom job". He could make a living while traveling around the United States, free of bosses and obligations. He found businesses looking to have their old signs restored and, and he offered to paint them. He felt satisfaction with “becoming a little part of each town."

Tom and Paula

Reno’s life story is full of synchronicity; many times, chance encounters propel his narrative forward. In the late 80’s, he was living in Cayucos, California with his adolescent son, who was trying to make money mowing lawns. Reno dropped his son and a friend off at a ranch to look for work, but later found them laughing about how they had tricked someone into giving them money but did not fulfill their promises. Reno, determined that his son would not proceed with the con, took the boys back to the ranch and made them finish the job.

A woman was waiting at the ranch when Reno arrived with the boys. Her face shifted from anger to relief as she saw the boys getting out of the truck ready to work. Her name was Paula Zima. She was impressed by Reno's efforts to teach his son values. Reno and Zima became immersed in conversation. Reno then asked her on a date and they’ve been a couple ever since.

It was after Reno met Zima, a soon to be acclaimed sculptor, that he started painting and exhibiting with success. One of his most memorable experiences from his early paining career was when he approached a gallery with a collection of his of paintings to see if they were interested. They bought three pieces on the spot. His face lit up as he retold the story, “I walked in with 12 cents in my pocket and walked out with twelve-hundred dollars.”

His Process

Reno's goal for painting is to "tap into the energy of the moment". He starts by looking at a canvas and waiting patiently for inspiration. Suddenly, he sees a color combination or compositional pattern and begins working. “It’s almost like a place in your mind that you go that you can’t describe." Reno’s opinion is that abstract art is a pure form of expression and an energetic practice. He believes excellence in abstract art is a function of life experience rather than technical knowledge. When asked about whether he received any formal training, he responded “I'm not really a formal training kind of guy.”

Reno describes his art as the antithesis to his work as a sign painter. Sign painting is repetitive and highly controlled. Conversely, abstract paintings are spontaneous and physical like a dance. He draws an analogy to life, and describes:

"Paintings encapsulate a mini lifetime on each canvas: there's the rush of starting- some things work, and others don't, and in the end it all seems to be about perseverance."

See more of Tom Reno's art on his artist page and explore the 10 new pieces we've recently added to our collection!


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