In the galleries: Whimsy rendered starkly, in black and white
by Mark Jenkins
June 7th, 2019
“Cities and buildings have an organic quality in Ben Tolman’s astonishingly detailed drawings and prints. Among the artist’s pictures at Gallery Neptune & Brown are ones in which geodesic domes grow like mushrooms on a shelflike structure, a massive egg is enclosed by scaffolding, and the walls of a house are partly stripped away to reveal some sort of protoplasm within. It’s impossible to determine whether the exotic elements are separate from the commonplace buildings or somehow part of them.
Tolman grew up in Wheaton, Md., whose tract-home expanses he has depicted in earlier work. But most of his scenarios are urban, and combine sheer fancy with close observation of D.C. (He recently moved from Washington to Pittsburgh to convert a former school into shared studio space.) In the largest vignette here, people swarm a cityscape that includes a concert, a protest and a security checkpoint that shoppers must pass on their way to a market. The pieces of this puzzle are realistic, but some of them — such as a rock outcropping topped with trees both real and fake — are incongruous.
Although he occasionally employs small touches of color, the artist relies mostly on a profusion of thin black lines, dashes and dots. Sometimes he stipples part of a picture so tightly that the area appears to be textured paper, but the grain is all hand-drawn ink. Tolman is a master builder whose every mark is as solid as a brick or a plank.
The show also includes three splendidly smudgy charcoal drawings by David Nash that represent the British artist’s tree sculptures. The drawings, which the gallery has shown before, are as immediate as Tolman’s are elaborate.”
Ben Tolman & David Nash Through June 15 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.