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Kevin Tolman

Kevin Tolman, at work in his studio

Flutter/Outono, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72" x 72", Karah Ruhlen Gallery

Signpost featured artist of the month: Kevin Tolman

Having your heart in it


In a state populated with artists—part-time artists, dabbling artists, would-be artists, and their entourage—Kevin Tolman is the real thing. He makes his living at art, as he has done most of his life, and is represented at the Albuquerque Museum, the State Capitol, and a half dozen galleries. Since childhood, he has never wanted to be anything but an artist, and for at least fifteen years he has painted every day, six days a week, like a regular job.

Only it’s not a job to be an artist, exactly, in that there’s no job description, no organizational flowchart, no billable hours. To step into Tolman’s studio is to taste the nebulous activity that occupies him from morning to night, in the absence of any guidelines. Indeed, to be an artist full-time consists largely of writing those guidelines for yourself every day.

The object, of course, is to create objects. But what is the goal? For Tolman, it seems to be about refining the process of art-making itself: noticing what interests him in the world and then “distilling” it, as he puts it, onto canvas or paper. This is not the cliché of “inspiration”—which hardly arrives at work with his morning coffee—but the discipline to “constantly turn the crank” in the act of painting, inspired or not.

His project, these days, is large canvases—three to six feet per side—awash in earthy acrylics and layered with drips, squiggles, dots, and scratches that reveal layers of painting underneath. Warm, lively, and harmonious rather than frenetic or cerebral like so much abstract expressionism, Tolman’s paintings are continuously compelling: They draw you into looking over and over, edge to edge, without ever being really knowable. Almost always, their source turns out to be the close study of nature.

Again, this is not inspiration as we think of it—representing nature’s beauty in a landscape (although he did start out painting impressionistic landscapes)—but distilling that beauty through the eyes, hands, and mind of a craftsman who seeks the essence of a mark, like a Chinese calligrapher, to emerge effortless and true. Tolman likes to tell the story of a dragonfly that flew into his studio and preoccupied him for some time, leaving its influence only in a cryptic squiggle across the top of a drawing. He is similarly captivated by clouds, leaves, rocks, the way that nature wears on manmade surfaces.

“I try very hard not to think too much while I’m painting,” he explains. Whether or not you see his squiggle as a bug’s flight is of no consequence to him—Tolman paints for himself, he says, in a private dialogue, a personal effort to arrive at forms and relationships that satisfy him enough to stop.

Often this involves working on several pieces at a time in the adobe home he built twenty years ago in the North Valley and has since converted to a studio. Moving from one canvas to another helps with detachment, he says, in “an elaborate improvisational game” that alternates between the deliberate courting of chance—nature in its constant unfolding—and periods of concentrated looking and decision-making, layer upon layer.

Large canvases compete for wall space in his former living room, while a shaded patio in back accommodates even larger canvases on a permanent easel. In the bedroom, works on paper are stacked in drawers under the bed; in the driveway, a vintage Pontiac Grand Am with flat tires testifies to his origins in Motor City.

Born in 1949 in Detroit, where he graduated from the Art School of the Society of Arts & Crafts, Tolman got the travel bug in his late twenties—spending time in Ireland, Texas, Kansas, and Los Angeles, usually as a result of a personal relationship rather than career planning—before ending up at the Ramah Navajo Reservation in New Mexico in 1981. He has since been to Portugal, France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, and looks to travel to recharge his batteries with new impressions. The rest of the time, he makes a home in Corrales with his wife, gallery owner Sara Smith, who also represents him.

Slight and soft-spoken, calm and unassuming, Tolman is wary of being quoted or posing for a photograph; he seems to prefer keeping the focus on his art rather than risk misrepresentation by other media. In a half-dozen artist’s statements written in as many years, he states and restates, as in his paintings, what it means to him to be an artist.

Art, one learns, is mostly about working—maintaining continuity, sincerity, and focus from day to day and year to year. “If you have heart in your work,” Tolman says, “you can’t go wrong”—eventually it will resonate with the public. But more important to the artist, what keeps him going is that there isn’t anything in the world he would rather do.

“I paint because I am in awe of it all,” Tolman writes. “I suppose making art is my way of celebrating, and explaining to myself, what this incredible beauty and mystery all around me is. … On a daily basis, never is this anything but interesting, even at its worst. This is great fun.”

Kevin Tolman’s “Improvisational Journeys” opens at Karan Ruhlen Gallery, 225 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, on June 13 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit runs through June 26., 505-820-0807.

stereogram book

Priester unveils latest stereogram book

Hidden Treasures—3D Stereograms, published by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., New York/London, is Gary Priester’s third book of stereograms and his fifth published graphics book. The book contains sixty of Priester’s and sixty of co-author Gene Levine’s latest stereogram images. Also included is a short history of stereogram images, tips for viewing the hidden 3D images, and an explanation of the different kinds of 3D images included in the book. Hidden Treasures—3D Stereograms can be purchased at Barnes and Noble or from any of the online book sellers.

Eye Tricks—Incredible 3D Stereograms, Priester’s last book of stereograms published in 2006 by Arcturus Publishing in London, has sold over 180,000 copies. Priester and co-artist Levine are also the sole contributors to the popular Japanese magazine series, TJ MOOK, now up to Issue 15. Published by Takarajimasha, Inc. in Tokyo, the TJ MOOK series has sold over 3.8 million copies.

Priester has been obsessed with stereograms since the mid 1990s when the Magic Eye series first took the world by storm. He has created well over five hundred 3D images and is currently creating a new body of images for his next book. Levine and Priester have been called stereogram masters and credited with taking the art of stereograms to new levels.

In addition to stereograms, Priester has produced monthly online step-by-step tutorials for British graphics software company Xara Group Ltd. for thirteen years and has contributed over fifty software and hardware reviews for Communication Arts Magazine. In his spare time, Gary designs websites, logos, and more stereograms. [See his stereogram, on page 33, this Signpost, and on the Signpost website at]

Albuquerque Folk Festival returns

The Albuquerque Folk Festival celebrates its tenth year on Saturday, June 21 at EXPO New Mexico, expecting to attract more than three thousand music, dance, and folk arts fans to participate and learn during a full day of 120+ performances at eighteen venues throughout the grounds. Festivities begin at 10:00 a.m. (gates open at 9:30 a.m.) and end at 11:00 p.m., with the three concurrent dances beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Festival goers can look forward to Main Stage debuts by Autoharp Hall of Famer and master storyteller Bryan Bowers, and The Wilders, who hearken back to the formative years of recorded country music. Also making their Main Stage debuts will be Le Chat Lunatique from Albuquerque; Los Primos, who won Albuquerque The Magazine’s 2006 “Best of the City” award in the Mariachi Band category; and Native American folk stories and songs from Mike Lopez, with traditional flute from Richard Hardy. Additionally, returning to the Main Stage is Syd Masters and the Swing Riders, renowned for Masters’ melody “Under New Mexico Skies.”

The LadyFingers will perform on Stage 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. as part of the venue for local performers.

The three dances at 7:30 p.m. are a Barn Dance under the Stars with music by South by Southwest; a FolkMADS Contra Dance with live music by the Albuquerque Megaband (introductory instruction for beginners at 7:30 p.m.); and an African dance featuring music by African Sounds.

Public radio station KUNM (89.9 FM) will be broadcasting live from the Main Stage between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon.

Admission is $10 in advance for adults; advance tickets can be purchased in Albuquerque at Baum’s Music, 292-0707; Encore Music, 888-0722; Apple Mountain Music and Harp Shop, 237-2048; Marc’s Guitar Center, 265-3315; Bally Dun Celtic Treasures, 881-0980; Grandma’s Music and Sound, 292-0341; Music Go Round, 875-0100; and Music Mart, 889-9777. The Rio Rancho ticket outlet is Baum’s Music, 994-1108.

Gate prices are $15 for adults, $5 for seniors 60+ and children ages eleven to seventeen. Children under the age of eleven will be admitted free of charge. Evening dance tickets only are $10 for the public and $7 for FolkMADS members. In-and-out parking passes may be purchased from EXPO’s parking lot attendants for $6.

Detailed information is available from the website,, by email at, or by telephone at (505) 255-6027.

The Albuquerque Folk Festival is a nonprofit, 501(c) 3 organization.

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Call to Artists! Placitas Holiday Sale applications ready

Artists are invited to apply for the 27th annual Placitas Holiday Fine Arts & Crafts Sale, a juried show that takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving, on November 22 and 23, 2008. The event has acquired an excellent reputation for high quality fine arts and crafts, good food, fine wine, and lots of fun at 3 central locations in the historic village of Placitas: Anasazi Fields Winery, Placitas Elementary School, and the Big Tent next to the Presbyterian Church. Artists do not need to be Placitas residents to apply and can print an application from the website at: PlacitasHolidaySaleArtistsInfo2008.htm

If you would like an application mailed to you, call Bunny at 867-2731 or Nancy at 867-2450. The deadline for application submission is July 21, 2008.

The Cradle Project raises awareness and funds for African orphans

The Cradle Project will open on Saturday, June 7 in Albuquerque. This historic and unprecedented art installation—two years in the making—will feature over five hundred cradles and cribs made by artists from around the world, using solely scrap and recycled materials. Using the symbolism of empty cradles to represent the lost potential of an estimated forty-eight million children orphaned by disease and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, The Cradle Project is designed to provoke action. The ultimate mission is to promote awareness about this crisis and to raise financial support to help feed, shelter, and educate these forgotten children. Set against a towering backdrop of falling sand, these empty cradles will speak volumes about the permanence of loss, as children’s lives and potential—these cradles—become buried.

In order to raise funds, The Cradle Project requested a sponsorship of $100 for each of the cradles in the installation. Additionally, all cradles will be available for purchase through an online auction, beginning June 7 and closing June 17 at All proceeds from the sponsorship and purchase of cradles will be donated to The Firelight Foundation, which awards grants to grassroots initiatives that are directly addressing the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

The exhibition is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., with an opening reception on June 7 from noon to 5:00 p.m. at The Banque, located at 219 Central Avenue NW in Albuquerque.

Rio Rancho libraries offer musical entertainment in June

The folk music duo Charmed will perform a mix of violin, keyboards, and vocals at the Esther Bone Memorial Library on Thursday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m. Most of their material is original with a new-age feel. The duo describes their music as “twisted folk” and their sound truly makes for an enchanting evening. This program is free; however, tickets are required and are available at the adult information desk. The Esther Bone Memorial Library is located at 950 Pinetree Road SE. More information is available at 891-5012, ext. 3128 or via email at

Summer reading programs start at the Loma Colorado Main Library on June 11 at 2:00 pm. with a program entitled, “Catch the Reading Bug.” Indiana Bones, aka Mike McCartney, a talented and creative performing artist will spin his tales of bugs and other fascinating critters.

Singer/songwriter Andy Mason will bring his special brand of music to the Loma Colorado Library on Wednesday, June 4 at 2:00 p.m. Andy will have children and parents alike hand- clappin’ and foot-stompin’ to his engaging original tunes.

The 2008 teen summer reading program, Metamorphosis @ Your Library, is themed around the various transformations teens go through as they move into adulthood. Teens can register for the program at three locations beginning Tuesday, May 27: Loma Colorado Main Library at 755 Loma Colorado Drive NE; Esther Bone Memorial Library at 950 Pinetree Road SE; and the Star Heights Learning Center at 800 Polaris Road.

Summer story times for children ages three to six will take place at the Loma Colorado Public Library at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Mondays beginning June 2. For more information, call the library at 891-5013, ext. 3032.

On June 24, award-winning virtuoso guitarist John Sheehan will play a free concert at the Loma Colorado Library at 6:30 p.m. His eclectic repertoire includes elements of rock, blues, jazz, folk, pop, Celtic, and classical music. Admission is free, but tickets are required. For information, call 891-5013, ext. 3030.

Chamber Music Albuquerque presents June concerts

Chamber Music Albuquerque will present two free concerts in conjunction with ABQ Uptown Shopping Center. The Borealis String Quartet will perform on Saturday, June 7 at 2:00 p.m. and the St. Lawrence String Quartet will perform on Saturday, June 14 at 2:00 p.m. Both concerts will be at the ABQ Uptown fountain.

Founded in 2000 in Canada, the Borealis String Quartet has become one of the hottest of the younger string quartets performing today. The Borealis String Quartet has established itself as an ensemble praised for its dynamic performances, passionate style, and refined musical interpretation.

Among the most popular ensembles to appear on the June Music Festival, The St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) has established itself among the world-class chamber ensembles of its generation.

CMA will also present the 67th Annual June Music Festival from June 6 through June 15 with the Borealis String Quartet (June 6 at 7:30 p.m., and again on Sunday, June 8 at 4:00 p.m.), Antares Quartet (Wednesday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m.), and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, June 15 at 4:00 p.m.) at the Simms Center for the Performing Arts on the Albuquerque Academy campus, 6400 Wyoming Boulevard NE.

Comprised of four virtuoso instrumentalists, Antares draws from a vast and colorful repertoire for violin, cello, piano, and clarinet, as well as its various trio and duo configurations.

Ticket prices for these concerts are $22 to $44 when purchased in advance or $24 to $46 when purchased at the door. Student tickets are half price. Tickets may be purchased online at; at the CMA office, located in the Symphony Center at 4407 Menaul Boulevard NE in Albuquerque; or by phone at (505) 268-1990. There will be a free pre-concert discussion one hour before each concert.



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