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Tip Toland: Melt, The Figure in Clay

September 23, 2008 - February 8, 2009


Bellevue Arts Museum is organizing a new exhibition by Northwest sculptor Tip Toland entitled Melt, The Figure in Clay. On view from September 23, 2008 through February 8, 2009, this solo exhibition will feature six to eight life-size and larger-than-life human figures, most of which will be new works debuting at Bellevue Arts Museum. (right: Tip Toland, Dive. Photo Richard Nicol)

Constructed laboriously of clay, stoneware, synthetic hair and paint, Toland's human figures look strikingly realistic. In this exhibition her subjects range from children to the elderly, all captured on the threshold of self-awareness: an aging woman swings playfully above a yawning box of jet black sand, a bathing-capped octogenarian prepares for her ultimate "Dive," a scrawny nine-year-old in a wet swimsuit shivers against life's chillingly harsh elements, while a young boy is caught in the act of the discovery of his body. In her figures, Toland frequently captures themes of age and aging and their spiritual, physical and psychological implications, as well as the metaphor of nudity as humankind's natural and lowest common denominator. "What is of primary importance to me is that the figures contain particular aspects of humanity that they can mirror back to the viewer," says the artist. "It's the vulnerability of humanity I am after. That is one reason for choosing very old or very young subjects."

Toland's male and female nudes expose to the scanning eyes of the viewer the unforgivable signs of bodily decline. Through her laborious constructions of human figures in clay, the artist touches upon the stages and transformations of human existence. Toland's work is always poetic, passionate and compassionate, and yet can be disturbing at times. Toland's figures evoke a striking realism -- as for the facial expressions, or the likeness of the painted skin, with its detailed repertoire of imperfections -- that leads one to believe that these sculptures actually have been modeled as portraits of specific people. This is not the case, however. In force of such realistic likeness, Toland's works have the displacing and unsettling quality of mirroring back to the audience those emotions, wonders, pleasures, insecurities and fears on which the very definition of humanity is founded.

At the center of Toland's visual art is the representation of the body as both corporality and vessel, as well as a mirror of the immaterial part of the human being. Toland's sculpted busts and free-standing figures offer a broad range of personifications of inner and universally shared states of being: relating hope to the beauty of life, coming to terms with aging and its inevitable burden of fears, the internal strife of one's self-image against his or her external physical decline, the struggle to survive disease, death and the threshold of the unknown. Whether caught in a moment of confident intimacy or uneasiness, these men and women share a deep emotional connection with the viewer. The artist explores the naivety of youth and the vulnerability of feelings, the weirdness and bliss of life and its encounters, the unexpected, the unforeseeable, the material and the spiritual.

The reach of Toland's work expands beyond the sphere of the private and personal into the public and societal realm. Toland's work becomes a commentary on both the difficulties of being oneself in a society wherein ageing and physical impairment are sources of emotional loneliness, physical isolation and social ostracism.

A Virginia A. Groot Foundation Award and National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship recipient, Toland received an MFA in ceramics from Montana State University in 1981 and a BFA in ceramics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1975. She has taught extensively nationally and locally at schools including Louisiana State University, University of Montana, Montana State University, University of Washington and Seward Park Clay Studio. She exhibits nationally and is represented by Nancy Margolis Gallery, NY. Her work is in many prestigious collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tip Toland: Melt, The Figure in Clay is organized by Bellevue Arts Museum.

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