Ben Tollefson’s The Distance that Separates One Person’s Heart From Another’s is the latest chapter in the local painter’s odyssey through the vividly surreal world of his own making. This is Tollefson’s first solo show since his graduate thesis show (Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain) last February and he’s returned with even more of the painting-as-installation goodness that we dug last time.
Artists have struggled with Art Rise Exhibition’s compact space before, but Tollefson wears it well. Instead of overcrowding the space with oversize canvases, the curation shows restraint; he’s chosen instead to focus on three large works, accompanied by a handful of smaller paintings and miniatures. It was the miniatures that immediately caught my eye. “They were really refreshing because they were so quick and disposable,” Tollefson explained. “I use them as sketches to inform the paintings. That led to me thinking about collaging with paintings – like paintings on top of paintings as their own collage.”
Pattern and complementary color are Tollefson’s trade tools, but collage is his bread and butter. Covering the back wall in swooping blue hearts, he carries over the trademark motif of his oil paintings. “In the past [the painted walls] have been kind of more decorative treatments, but it’s kind of led me to think of the wall as a painting – as an extension of what I do in my studio,” he said during the opening reception last Friday.
The inclusion of skywriting within the works is also something new for the painter. Originally conceived of as an elegant compositional solution inspired by a fashion editorial in a magazine, the bits of skywriting scattered throughout Tollefson’s newest works may at first seem romantic. “I’ll wait,” declares one of the pieces. The artist, too self-aware to miss a chance to laugh at such irony, explained, “I think about painting as something permanent but as a moment as well. Skywriting is very much a moment that fades, but when you paint it it doesn’t. Of course, you see so many images a day that this too will fade.”
Lest the work venture into over-sentimentality, more skywriting reads “Shit’s getting sentimental” – a wink to viewers and a cynical reminder to Tollefson himself.
The Distance that Separates One Person’s Heart From Another’s is on view at Art Rise Gallery until April 13. Click here to see more of Ben Tollefson’s work.