“Something isn’t quite right with Tim Collom. On the outside, Collom is doing far better than most of us. In the past year, he has been featured on KCRA-TV and HGTV speaking about real estate and in the pages of The Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Magazine showcasing his paintings.
Both businesses are growing lucrative. Collom closed 33 homes last year worth a combined $11 million, making him one of the most successful real estate agents at Dunnigan Realtors in Sacramento. His paintings are now selling for thousands of dollars and fetching international interest. Collom is climbing his way into the canon of Sacramento celebrity landscapists, a summit held by Gregory Kondos and Wayne Thiebaud. Last year, his art also raised more than $17,000 for charity.
And yet Collom struggles to garner respect in the art world. Local artists have accused him of being inauthentic, complaining to D. Oldham Neath, a close friend of Collom’s and a guru of sorts for the local art community, that Collom is shortcutting his way to success.
“The art community is saying, ‘but wait, we see you on TV talking about real estate. We see your face all over town, so how can you be a serious artist?’” says Neath, who runs Archival Framing on Folsom Boulevard.
Follow that logic. Tim Collom isn’t the real deal. He’s breaking the rules of art by following the rules of business. He wears a suit and pastes his face on bus stops in East Sacramento — a fast-talking, clean-cut, type-A servant of the establishment. Collom isn’t a starving artist. He isn’t a starving anything. He obviously hasn’t struggled enough.
William Falkner once wrote “an artist is a creature driven by demons.” Ernest Hemingway called depression the “artist’s reward.” Depression? Demons? That sounds scary. Not Tim, right? He’s too smiley, and his paintings are too happy; it’s all pink sunsets, flourishing trees, happy dogs and vivid seas. Certainly not the work of someone possessed by demons.
Well maybe not demons, but … better let Collom explain it.
“It was in Redwood City at about 5:00 p.m., right after dinner. I remember [my father Martin] came home early. My mom was still at work at the emergency room. He was stressed, he was visibly stressed. I was probably 12 years old, and I wanted to talk to him. Kind of, ‘how was your day.’ I wanted to play and do different stuff. I didn’t understand why he went right to the art, but he went to do it as a release. It wasn’t like he never played with us, but he just had this stress going on, and I think he used the art as a tool. It was this figure drawing, a (nude) woman, and he was just working on it. And I just sat on the couch and watched him draw. I just wanted to be around him.”
The image of his father, a former computer programmer, standing in the family room drawing charcoal illustrations on a paper canvas taped across a graphite board is a fixture of Collom’s childhood memory. But life changed after that day in Redwood City.
Martin gradually lost the ability to placate his stress through art. That stress grew into a greater disturbance that affected the entire family. Collom declines to speak publicly about it. But he will say that his parents divorced when he was 13, and Martin lost contact for years afterward. Collom now communicates with his father through written correspondence and speaks glowingly of him.
“I think everything shapes people, and that was one of those things where you see your own dad go through certain things. Especially when he is like Superman,” Collom says. “I had to step up in a certain role in my family and help my mom. People have always said I’m more mature for my age. I was selling real estate when I was 21 years old.”
Each night, Collom makes himself a cup of decaf coffee and sits down to paint at 9:30, after having worked as a realtor for eight hours, practiced mixed martial arts in the late afternoon and spent several hours in the evening with his wife and 13-year-old daughter. He paints until about 1:00 a.m.
“He doesn’t shut down, and he goes like that week in and week out. But that’s his personality. He’s just wound up tighter than most of us,” says Geoff Zimmerman, owner of Dunnigan Realtors.
The kind of people attracted to the real estate industry typically need a consistent stream of praise, adds Zimmerman. Realtors often “didn’t get a lot of slaps on the back growing up,” she says, adding that she knows nothing of Collom’s childhood. But when a real estate agent closes a deal, the high is transcendent. “People just start telling you they love you and how wonderful you are, and man you just float out of their house,” Zimmerman says.
Collom relentlessly strives to gain the affection of just about everyone he meets, offering his services in ways that many would find socially terrifying. He used to walk door-to-door in residential neighborhoods for an hour each weekday morning, introducing himself to 100 different strangers and talking about available listings. He would return to homes even after having doors slammed in his face. One time, an old man sprayed him with a hose, but he kept coming back and even made a joke out of the hose incident. “I wanted to win him over,” Collom says.
Collom also sends out postcards to homes in East Sacramento and a regular ‘letter from the heart,’ in which he pens a personal anecdote. One letter detailed the time he got a pedicure. “What happens is, ultimately, they get to know who I am, and I think that’s what is most important,” Collom says. “I love people, and I think it helps me go, ‘I’ll show you some of my pain that I’ve gone through, like embarrassing moments you normally wouldn’t talk about.’”
The pedicures, the TV appearances, the inexhaustible hustling, the competitive worlds of business and art — these are all easy topics for Collom to discuss. His history with his father Martin is not. Though the picture isn’t complete, all this talk of art and authenticity, the need for constant approval, the demons (whether or not they exist), that all may have something to do with a father’s love. Collom says Martin is proud of him. The importance of that validation isn’t easily put into words. Fortunately for Collom, language isn’t his only form of expression.
On August 19, the artist posted one of his paintings on Facebook: Martins Beach, an actual location in Half Moon Bay. On the top of the canvas is a pale blue ocean with smooth, white waves crashing to shore. Below it, the sand is spattered with a series of large umbrellas, presumably staked in the ground to protect families from nature’s more uncontrollable elements.
On the post, Collom wrote, “Every painting has a story and this one happens to be mine. … Second night’s progress of “Martins Beach” named after my dad. The guy that took the three boys to the beach constantly and let me watch him paint. #thanksdad.”
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