The Jasper Project is bringing a brand new project to light during First Thursday this month: The Tiny Gallery Series.
Jasper’s goal with this project is twofold – to support artists in our community and to encourage budding art collectors to start their collections. During upcoming First Thursdays, Jasper will be teaming up with local artists to display their work for sale at affordable prices in their studio at Tapp’s Art Center.
Kicking off the first series is local artist and South Carolina native, Keith Tolen. “I’m honored that I’m kicking this off; it’s hard to believe,” Tolen said with a chuckle as we chatted over coffee, “But I’m nervous too. I want to do this event justice.”
Tolen has been studying and working on his craft for decades now. An art education major in college, he worked in both retail and real estate before landing the job as an art teacher at Camden Middle School – a job he cared for and worked at for 30 years.
Beyond teaching, Tolen has been creating art since a young boy. He and his brothers used to draw together, and Tolen’s first love was film and photography. When he focused on painting in college, he became heavily influenced by the abstract expressionist styles of the 1970s, the art style that still influences him today. In his recent years, Tolen has tried to challenge himself by taking classes in different art styles, such as still life. All of these influences come together for his Tiny Gallery Series where there is one thing in particular to expect: eggs.
Tolen said that the form of the egg is key for painting. It is between shapes, not circle or oval, pointed at the top, and plays with light and shadow in simple yet complex ways. He is using eggs in these paintings as a “balance of the simplicity of the egg and the chaos of abstract expressionism.”
“I hope these eggs take on a personality and travel from canvas to canvas, taking on the identity of its surroundings while still maintaining its own integrity,” Tolen says, “I love color, and the challenge with these paintings was to have backgrounds rich with color but for the eggs to be the draw, to be very neutral.”
This will be the third time Tolen has shown his egg paintings this year, the first two times both to a positive critical reception. When asked about past accolades in his career, however, Tolen told a powerful story about a young girl in his first 6th grade class who took her passion for origami and taught an entire class of 50 students her art, holding their attention on a Friday far after the bell had rang.
“I could sell a painting for a million dollars,” Tolen said, “But it wouldn’t compare to the moment that girl stood in front of her peers and captivated them with her art.”
From this comes the importance of an event like the Tiny Gallery Series. Like what that girl did for her class, “Art inspires us; it educates us.” Tolen said.
When asked about his goal for his paintings in particular Tolen said, “There’s two things I want people to say. Either ‘I can do that’ or ‘I appreciate that.’ I want people to see my paintings and be inspired to go use their creativity and make something of their own, and if not to at least look at them and know they mean something special.”
This event is, again, not just a chance to see art from local artists but to help the community of Columbia start their own art collections. “It’s important to have art in the home beyond just for exposure,” Tolen says, “Having original art on your walls builds bonds, connections, and it demystifies the idea that only certain people can experience art. Art is for everyone.”
Future artists participating in the Tiny Gallery Series include Olga Yukhno, Bonnie Goldberg, Dave Robbins, and more.
To see Tolen’s work, stop by Tapp’s Art Center in Studio #7 starting at 6:00 p.m. this Thursday, October 4th, and be sure take a piece of his passion home for yourself.