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Art and the City – March 2017

They chase the ambiguities of existence in a boundless zone of suggestion – all possibilities and no answers. Each drawing is his personal exploration, with no attempt to translate it for you. You’re on your own as you search for doubts and dreams in the dangerously seductive intricacies of Ben Tolman drawings.

I wrote that seven years ago. Maybe you, like countless others, have found yourself seduced by Ben’s ever evolving, ever-searching exploration of the mysteries of the ordinary, the familiar.

They flow from the pen that connects to a mind that is always on the alert for unexpected vacillations of reality. Therein lies the magic. It is the disassociated elements of each drawing that give it the power to entrance, to keep you captive.

Neighborhoods decay. Featureless new construction is balanced on crumbling buildings with ubiquitous graffiti. There are stairways to nowhere. Floating brick panels. People walking in obedient lines or climbing stairways like mindless robots. Blobs that lurk in dark doorways or ooze from color-stained neocortical mounds.

There may be a social message, but is it condemning, or simply an observation?

Ben says his work is not so much about art as it is creativity. But it is. It controls your eye as well as your mind. The difference is that his art is not always intentional, it’s intuitive. It’s incidental to the notions and visual ideas that escape to the paper.

Ben Tolman follows the path that winds back through all of art history, back to the caves and beyond. He’s tracing the mind’s endless exploration of the images of thought. www.bentolman.com

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
Ben Tolman sits in a dark corner of a cluttered warehouse on Capitol Hill, for 8-10 hours at a stretch, immersed in his own mind. He is in a silent conversation with the inhabitants of the drawing paper in front of him. He sets them free to talk back, to be equal partners in the conversation. A conversation interpreted only by the pen.

While Ben has a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art and an MFA from American University, he says his drawings are more about creativity than “art.”

While it is true that almost all art contains some level of creativity, not all creativity is art. Ben is one of those who accomplishes both at a very high level. He uses the tangible traditions of drawing, design, and color to explore the intangible realm of ideas. It’s his search for delightful surprises.

It’s difficult to say exactly what creativity is, but it is not doing the same thing over and over, no matter how good it looks. There has to be an extension, a conscious push for the “different” or the extra. Sometimes it’s a thrashing about in the artistic tent you pitch for yourself. Or a quiet and controlled expansion of vision – one work leads to another.

Granted, not every new work of art has to be creative. Some of the great artists found their niche and stayed right there, producing masterpieces. But there is something in the searcher, the thrasher, or the chronically dissatisfied with whom many of us can identify. We are never going to reach perfection, or even a lofty perch on the tree of life.

But who cares? It doesn’t matter. As long as we try something a little bit different, or look at something in a new way, the world will continue to be fresh.


“The Hill Rag’s Art and the City”
Hill Center Galleries
Old Naval Hospital
921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
March 2-April 30
Opening: March 8, 6-8 p.m.

For the past year I have revisited artists whom I profiled years ago. I wanted to catch up, see how they have progressed in their ideas about art and life. What I found was wonderful. This is the concluding show of the work of those 12 artists at the Hill Center in March and April, opening March 8.

The range of ideas, theories, and techniques is truly exciting. They are top professionals and recognized leaders in their respective fields: Alan Braley, Tom Bucci, Tati Kaupp, Matt Sesow, Jan Kern, Andrei Kushnir, Anne Marchand, Ellen Cornett, Dana Ellyn, Patrick Campbell, Barbara Nuss, and Bruce McNeil. My “REvisit” profiles will accompany each artist’s exhibit, as well as excerpts from my “Thoughts” about the themes and subjects of their work.

This is not to be missed. You won’t see a show of this quality and stunning professionalism again. If you are thinking about buying, get there early because each artist has an extended collector base and wide following.

The show is sponsored by the Hill Rag. This month I begin the 15th year of the column by revisiting Ben Tolman, but I will profile new artists as well.


Pam Rogers
Capitol Hill Art League
545 Seventh St. SE
Duration of Residency: March 1-April 18
Public Hours: March 1, 6, 10, and 11, 14, 15, 21, 23, 25, 29, and 31 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 3, 5, and 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Demo and Happy Hour: Friday, March 10, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Opening reception: Friday, April 7, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

With “Botanica Magnifica” Pam Rogers, artist in residence at the Capitol Hill Art League, will begin an installation “that is sculptural in form.” It will be mounted throughout the gallery. Her work is always open and filled with light. She makes her pigments and sculpture materials from wherever she is, native or invasive. It’s all about how we connect with a particular place and with the planet.

Pam will be creating narrative scrolls and largescale paper works in the gallery, so you will have a chance to see the process, watch them develop from start to finish. Besides the Demo/Happy Hour event on March 10, including “libations and light bites,” she will be available to engage with visitors on multiple weekdays and Saturdays through March and April. For the schedule see www.chaw.org or call 202-547-6839.


Pepco Edison Place Gallery
702 Eighth St. NW
March 3-16
“Emulsion” is the annual large juried show, 66 artists this year, exhibiting the whole span of media, technique, and subject. Prize money has been awarded for first, second, and third place, plus two honorable mentions. The opening reception is March 3, and closing reception is March 16. It’s always a great show with a terrific group of people.


A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim Magner can be reached at Artandthecity05@aol.com. His award-winning book, “A Haunting Beauty,” can be acquired through www.ahauntingbeauty.com.

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