By Peter Tonguette For The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Lowell Tolstedt is an artist in a state of slow transformation.
During the course of a career that began in the mid-1960s, Tolstedt has
shifted from monochromatic scenes rendered in graphite to vivid still lifes
created with colored pencils.
The artist's evolution might have been incremental, but his development is
obvious in an exhibit on view at Keny Galleries. Included in the show are
drawings dating from 1965 to 2000.
Visitors to the gallery in German Village can track Tolstedt's trajectory: The
foyer, for example, displays 1960s-era works in sketchy black-on-white, while
the central room features 1980s-era works with tentative traces of color.
"I didn't do the drastic switch to a full Technicolor production," said
Tolstedt, 78, who grew up on a farm outside of Burke, South Dakota, and taught
at the Columbus College of Art & Design from 1967 to 2005.
By the 1990s, however, the artist was regularly using rich reds, deep blues
and other colors.
Regardless of the vibrancy (or lack thereof) of his work, Tolstedt's subjects
have remained constant. In his drawings, the artist recreates unremarkable
items encountered in both the natural and manmade worlds. Fruit is a common
subject, as is kitchenware.
Tolstedt's commitment to what he calls "observational drawing" was formed in
part while pursuing his master's degree at the University of Iowa.
"I didn't like the direction that was going on at the time at Iowa," Tolstedt
said. "This was a time when Jackson Pollock, (Willem) de Kooning and all of
those were working, and everybody was doing what I considered to be derivative
kind of stuff."
Instead of abstract expressionism, then, Tolstedt focused on "fundamentals."
The artist's agility is apparent throughout his work. For example, the
graphite drawing "Diner Cup" (1984) faithfully recreates the textures - both
shiny and matte - of an empty coffee cup, while the colored-pencil drawing
"Strawberry (Study)" (1998) rigorously reproduces the dimpled surface of the
Tolstedt frequently happens upon items to draw, such as the broken branches
seen in a series of graphite-and-colored-pencil drawings.
"I was out in the yard after there was a storm that went through and a lot of
limbs fell off the tree," Tolstedt said. "I was just out there to clean it
Among the exhibit's most powerful works, the resulting drawings show the
jagged, splintered branches in close-up.
Loneliness pervades many of the pictures.
People are absent entirely, and it is not uncommon for just one or two objects
- for example, a single seashell or a pair of marbles - to be featured in the
foreground with background detail omitted.
In the remarkable graphite drawing "Chalk with Light" (1988), every nook and
cranny of a piece of chalk is depicted as it rests on an otherwise bare
Other pictures are quietly haunting.
In the colored-pencil drawing "Study: Candles" (2000), two candles are shown
side by side, but only one features an active flame; the second has been
extinguished, with only a faint stream of smoke remaining.
A similar sense of transience is expressed in "Guaranteed Wash 'n' Wear"
(1967), a stunning early graphite drawing depicting a dress shirt on a hanger.
Below the shoulders of the shirt, however, the lines become increasingly
faint, and it eventually seems to disappear.
No matter: The objects depicted by Tolstedt are sure to live on in his
masterfully controlled, beautifully realized drawings.