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Tiki Tom Combs Beaches to Make Dazzling Art out of Trash

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Tiki Tom is in the far end of the exhibition space when we arrive, in the black light room. Looking like a weatherbeaten, white Rastafarian, he's fussing with a set of banged-up hub caps painted in fluorescent colors over a coating of his secret recipe of faux-cement surfacing. More typically, his art's primary materials are the driftwood and beach glass and whatever other flotsam and jetsam he finds as he scours the beaches of South Florida, several hours a day twice a week for the last 40 or so years. "I see faces in the objects," he says.

Tom started collecting used hub caps at garage sales too, after they started to turn up on the sand, the mandala-like shapes irresistible. And just about any found object is fair game, like the bag full of medical waste including thirty or so used hypodermic needles that now radiate around a death's head on a black background under the headline: "Welcome to the Beach!"

A fella deeply committed to a path all his own, Tom Bazinet (as he was) is a Palm Beach County boy, a graduate of Forest Hill High. His fascination with the beach started early, "When I was thirteen and found my first sea beans," he told us. "Since then I've traveled to pretty much every shoreline in the United States. Part of what I want to do is make people aware of the need to clean the beaches."

Supporting himself as a treecutter and plants tender, Tom's clients became collectors of his art. He also became well known locally for his striking vehicles -- a sea glass adorned Jeep, a seashell-covered motor home -- the latter of which was regularly seen parked outside the mid-'90s/early-'00s alternative community center/artists collective The Hut, by the railroad tracks in West Palm Beach's Flamingo Park neighborhood, where Tom was in residence for some time.

Tom's first one-man show opens Friday night at the Boynton Beach Arts District, hosted by Rolando Chang Barrero's effervescent ActivistArtistA gallery. The works are a striking collection of totems and effigies and "buoy babies." The detritus of the waves mixed with discarded commercial products emerge as spirits and gods of an environmentally-aware cargo cult. Living plants are married to some, strangler figs that, he says, "Will grow and wrap around the piece, taking it over and giving it life."

"People hear 'beachcomber art' and think of the arts and crafts mirrors people make that are decorated with beach glass," Tom told us. This isn't that.

One Man's Trash: The Work of Tiki Tom. 7 p.m., November 8 opening, closes December 20. ActivistArtistA Gallery, 422 West Industrial Ave., Boynton Beach. Call 786-521-1199

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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