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Reviews of the Artist

Suzanne Bybee : John Tomlinson's Modes of Escape, Dark Storms and The Misery of Men

Suzanne Bybee © August 2015

Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension.
JOHN DOS PASSOS, The Prospect Before Us, 1950


The passage from intuition to reflection, from knowledge of the real to expression of that knowledge in viable form is always precarious and difficult.  It is, in short, a kind of translation, not from one language into another, but from one state of existence into another, from the purely sensuous impression into the purely reflective and critical act.

JOYCE CARY, Art and Reality:  Ways of the Creative Process, 1961


   There is light but there is also image, and together, beaming with intent, John Tomlinson’s drawings reach across the room to see if you are paying attention.  Existing on a translucent substrate, the drawings are forever skating, hovering, floating with emotion – their rendering is not about the surface in which they inhabit, but the environment they continually animate; and they are moving, with action, sometimes absent from a body, away and against the invisible and the implied.

   Heads are islands unto themselves, exercising in an emotional horizon, looking both ways purposefully for conversation, outburst, and yearning. The signposts in these faces and in the environment allow the viewer to read the discussion, even eavesdrop, and be compelled to respond or at least wonder if it is even a good idea to join in.  There is a visual commitment speaking out through the graphite line, a distinct, confident mark-making emanating from mouths and glowing from entities drifting together and also away.

   Much of the time, there is no body to speak of – in this realm it is not a necessity.  Still, there are times when the rest of the body is accounted for, exclaiming and rooted as way finder, a tracking mechanism in space.

  Black is the dominant guide in the plane – “white” is a counterpart hewn from the remainder; graphite conveys and its emphatic line ensures that there is nothing missing in the story.  Where no mark has touched the surface, the eye hovers above and migrates beyond, following translucency, in search of meaning, pursuing intellect, traveling from whence it came. The breathing, blowing, calls out to light through a storm and even a whisper. Pieces of prose surf along these winds, and leave us to consider a link of tangible words that connect to their brotherly images in an attempt at literal conversation.  It is a moment of revelation, an utterance, and the witness to non-traditional speech.  The words chained together reciprocally work with image, body and atmosphere.  The message, the emotion, are both anchored and yet fleeting; the sound of a fixed observation heard by passerby and captured by radiance, permeating from behind, in front of and in between.


Suzanne Bybee is an artist and an independent arts administrator. Her career has included  administrator in the Smithsonian Institute Archives of American Art (2007-2015) and  manager at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Conservation Center (2005-2006)


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