Kevin Tolman’s delightfully absurd biology

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
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Kevin Tolman’s abstract canvases at Birmingham’s Robert Kidd Gallery range from the sunny to the somber, but all are enlivened by an intriguing, low-key sense of the absurd.

The show, “Kevin Tolman: Recent Paintings,” is up through Nov. 7.

Many of these acrylic and mixed-media works, like “Listening/Late Evening” with its grays and mustard yellows, look a bit like water magnified hundreds of times, revealing an unseen universe of loopy forms and patterns.

But Tolman, who says his work is often inspired by what he sees in nature, presents a remarkably complex petri dish, one in which amoeba-like blobs happily coexist with sharp-edged triangles of the sort rarely found in nature.

Indeed, there’s a puckishness to a number of these works, a mixing of dissimilar forms that fuels both curiosity and low-key amusement on the part of the viewer.

For example, in addition to apparent microbes, “Listening/Late Evening” also features a narrowing, segmented pipe resembling the large horn trumpets once employed by the elderly deaf over a century ago.

Or take “Plaza/Metamorphosis,” which in addition to a parade of ovals and squiggles, stars a bright red square containing what mathematicians call a square prism.

Tolman, a Detroit native born in 1949 who graduated from Cass Tech and the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts — now the College for Creative Studies — has lived in New Mexico since the early 1980s, and you can see this southwestern influence in the artist’s use of strong mustard yellows, and the occasional blazing-red canvas like “Circus Parade.”

Tolman is an undeniably interesting colorist, with a passion for injecting strong, surprising pigments into fields of dishwater gray, a collision in hues that can’t help but attract the eye.

The artist’ s work has been collected by the Albuquerque Museum, the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico State Capitol and, intriguingly, the Venetian Hotel in Macau on the Chinese coast.

‘Kevin Tolman: New Paintings’

Through Nov. 7

Robert Kidd Gallery, 107 Townsend, Birmingham

9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.


(248) 642-3909

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