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Provincetown

Oil on Canvas,
76 cm x 102 cm (30" x 40")

Available through a commercial art gallery: Inquire

The subject of this painting is the window of a novelty shop on Provincetown’s Commerical Street; the artist photographed this window on a visit to Provincetown in the early 1990s. It is typical of many images that Tolmie collected during the early stage of his Window Series: complicated arrangements of miscellaneous objects in a store window, often verging on kitsch. In its execution, though, this painting is unlike the artist’s previous window paintings: it is in oils rather than watercolours, and instead of featuring Tolmie’s usual palette of colours it is a classical grisaille. Where the early window paintings tend to be delicate, requiring minute observation, this piece is bold, and makes a strong impression from a distance. The artist continues to experiment with focus: elements that are in focus in his photograph are painted out of focus. In other words, focus for the artist is no longer dictated by optics, but becomes a property that he can manipulate for aesthetic effect.

During a recent visit to Chicago, Ken Tolmie made frequent trips to the Art Institute to study the paintings of the American magic realist Ivan Albright (1897-1983). Seeing Albright’s work in person for the first time reawakened Tolmie’s interest in this old Provincetown image because of its tonal range. Albright’s paintings tend to be primarily grey with colour accents; in this painting, Tolmie’s greys are all tinged with colour. Moreover, the subject is perfect for an exercise in painting minutiae, an approach typical of Albright’s work. While in Chicago, the artist would visit the Art Institute by day to view the Albrights, and then go home to work on this painting, looking for insights.

The elements within the painting -- wizards, dragons, etc. -- co-incide with North American culture’s growing interest in fantasy, an interest driven in part by the release of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. This interest was not at all in the artist’s mind when he collected the image over a decade before painting it, nor even when he decided to paint it. Nevertheless, he is intrigured by the connection between what he conceived of as a technical exercise and growing popularity of fantasy.

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