By HELEN HUDSON
Kelley Tomlinson is a noted Midwest digital arts artist and maker. Like all other artists in the country, he has had to cope with the strange and disconnected situation of 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the global population in tragic and untold ways. It has been especially hard on independent artists whose livelihoods depend on sharing visions of life through their work. Yet artists and creative people also tend to be inventive problem solvers. Such is the case of artist Kelley Tomlinson and our Athens Arts Gallery in downtown Crawfordsville.
So, what do you do when you have a show scheduled to open in the middle of a pandemic when the entire Midwest is closed down due to the COVID-19 virus? Tomlinson and Athens Arts simply began saying, “what if?”
As restrictions have eased during these last couple of weeks, Tomlinson loaded up his art work in Dayton and took an actual road trip to Crawfordsville where he hung his show in the Fishero Gallery with no fanfare and with only basic help from Athens Arts director, Diana McCormick, and a couple of local artists. Every one took distancing and hygiene precautions. While Tomlinson was in town, the artists and board of Athens Arts held their first Virtual Artist’s Reception. No large community crowd mingled with the artist; no one saw his work in person at the Gallery, with local music and homemade refreshments rounding out the evening. Instead, a nice “crowd” of friends of Athens Arts gathered on line to listen to Tomlinson speak about his work and to have a preview showing of “3 Three III.”
Kelley Tomlinson’s work is particularly suited to this disrupted time. He looks at items and people in the world as they have been reproduced in photographs or cartoon images. He then sets his stamp upon them, often transforming old images into colorful, artful graphics that disrupt, duplicate, and add to the meaning of the original. In this way, the world of commercial images that bombards us each day is examined and given fresh significance. That resonates especially just now.
Tomlinson works in clear, clean geometric shapes and colors. The line is essential to him. He gives us pause and we look again, more deeply. He doubles, or, in this particular show, triples, images. This signature technique of repeating an image and then tying it to geometric forms builds new understanding of our human-centered world.
Last spring (2019) Tomlinson was one of a group of select artists from around the country whose work was selected for Athens’ Arts national-level, juried salon “*Untitled”. His work held visitors’ attention for a long time and provoked much discussion. Now we have the chance to see more of his work, following re-opening guidelines. In the meantime, please take the opportunity to visit Kelley Tomlinson’s Facebook pages to see additional images of his work. Then, when the gallery reopens, please visit Athens Arts to see a wide selection of his art pieces.
In the meantime, here is a verbal rendering of a work you can view on line:
Imagine a 20-year-old woman with long dark hair and olive skin looking straight at you from a photograph. She is slender and wears a fashionable, black, cinch-waist jacket with a plunging neckline. Her head is tilted slightly to achieve that smoldering runway look. She stands against a stark white background.
Now imagine a young combat soldier in full gear: a camo battle helmet strapped on. The soldier is clad in wrinkled brown fatigues, paused on duty in front of a khaki landscape, backed by the distant, blue mountains of Afghanistan.
These two images do not portray separated sweethearts nor are they contrasting images of young people doing very different kinds of work. Jarringly, they are the same person, photographed at the same distance from the camera’s eye. The single human figure is divided in half, sliced vertically down the middle. Imagine a line bisecting each image, sharp as a razor. The young woman’s right half portrays her as soldier; her left half shows her as fashionable young woman, maybe headed out clubbing. Neither side of her mouth is smiling, as she gazes straight at us, telling us her story.
Whether Tomlinson is working with the blacks, reds, and whites of stark cartoon images or with arresting old photos of, say, Buster Keaton or Soviet cosmonauts, or with comic strip bombshells, he nails viewers’ attention. Imagine rendering a geometric triad of 40s-era cartoon little boys in checkered pants holding black pigs. He does that too, arresting our gaze in the way of all good art. Photos of his digital collage work will make you chuckle and startle you with recognition. Tomlinson’s show is officially on display in the Fishero Gallery at Athens Arts from May 20-June 27.
Athens Arts will reopen on June 4, from 10-2 and will be open on Thursdays and Saturdays or by appointment. (Visitors are welcome to bring a private group of up to 20 people during these designated times. Please email Diana McMormick, director at: director@athensartsgallery.com) The opening will first be on a part-time basis, but days and times will increase as the gallery follows the governor’s and city leaders’ recommendations. Please visit Athens’ Arts website: wwwathensartsgallery.com. Please “like” us on Facebook and Instagram where you will also find the latest information about Athens Arts’ upcoming activities.