Studio Visit: Roy Tomlinson
Where Creativity Works: Inside Roy Tomlinson's Southeast Portland studio.
Untitled Magazine visits the working studios of PNCA students, faculty, staff, and alumni, taking a closer look at lives and spaces of sustained creative practice.
If, after parking under the Morrison Bridge, you were to walk inside the old John Deere factory in Southeast Portland, just across from Le Bistro Montage, ride up a few flights in the massive freight elevator, and cross a short, dimly lit hallway, you’d find yourself outside Roy Tomlinson’s studio. Over the past few decades, the Portland Storage Company (who now owns the building) has converted a few of the upper floors of the historic warehouse into warrens of artist studios. PNCA’s Mack McFarland has a studio there. So do Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, MFA ’09 and London Lunoux ’11.
He’s had a studio in the Portland Storage Company building for a year and a half now. If he’s not teaching a class at PNCA, he’s likely inside, with music playing from the speakers by the window, hunched over a flat canvas using his little finger to add detail to a piece from his current monochromatic series. On sunny days, clear light pours in from the wide, north-facing windows. This new series of paintings is a departure from Tomlinson’s previous work and is the result of a five-day workshop intensive with Gary Simmons at Anderson Ranch in Colorado.
“I had forgotten what it was like to be a student,” says Tomlinson, who describes how, because he was without his usual tools, he began experimenting with simple patterns of black and white on small sheets of paper. When he laid the sheets alongside each other, something exciting began to happen. The places where the pages met seemed to “vibrate against the edges.”
Tomlinson laughs, “Is it scary after thirty years of painting to be regrouping? It’s delightful actually. This summer, god, that was great. It really rocked my world. There’s something about this process, this thing, that I really like.”
When Tomlinson walks into his studio, turn on some music, and sit in the single upholstered chair “taking it all in.” Hanging along the walls are multiple works-in-progress.
“I like to work in multiples, to work on a show’s worth of work all at once.”
There’s no Internet, so when Tomlinson’s there, he’s there. Tables along the walls contain the current tools of his trade: gesso, brushes, India ink, Vaseline, squeegees, palette knives, etc.
“This new work is very basic,” Tomlinson describes. “Dumb, almost. Early on, it was about smearing lines on paper. But the banal can be infinitely complex.”
As Tomlinson gestures across one of his paintings, you can see what he means. The black and white pattern and grid makes your eyes cross and suddenly Tomlinson’s arm dissolves. It doesn’t look as substantial as it had a moment before.
“I saw Laurie Anderson perform at the San Francsico Art Institute,” describes Tomlinson. “She had a white violin bow, and was standing in front of a slide projection. As her violin bow moved in and out of the projection, the lights and the image and the movement made something 3D out of something 2D. It was almost a hologram, in the middle of the room.”
A bit later, Tomlinson scoots across the studio on a stool (“Used to be my wife’s, but I stole it.”) and refines an edge on one of the paintings.
“I changed an edge,” he says. “Made it a little tighter. It’s magic, how that can change everything.”
You can view more Tomlinson’s work on his portfolio. You might also be able to peek into Tomlinson’s studio during the open studio evening at Portland Storage Company on November 2, from 5-8pm as part of the First Friday SE Art Walk.