The Texas Bird Project, an exhibition of new paintings and prints by Houston artist Frank X. Tolbert, will be on display from March 25 to April 29, at William Campbell Contemporary Art. A reception for the artist will be held on Fort Worth Art Dealers Association (FWADA) Spring Gallery Night, Saturday, March 25, from noon to p.m.
The show will include Tolbert’s most recent bird-themed paintings, as well as the suite of eight commissioned etchings that launched his Texas Bird Project in 2014. Works in the series encompass a variety of sizes, ranging from 5 x 7 inches up to 80 x 140 inches, and feature land-dwelling and water birds, including, among others, blue jays, hummingbirds, owls, egrets, and pelicans.
Though largely realistic, Tolbert’s expressive bird renderings also exhibit a rich, stylized aesthetic that gives the compositions a visual and psychological twist. More than straightforward portraits, the bird studies engage with layers of fluid lines and color that invite viewers to consider more than the surface imagery. “My pieces have more of an element of emotional content rather than realism,” says the artist. Tolbert’s narratives reveal a deeper connection between artist and work than mere observation. The layering of pigments and planes, both physical and emotional, create a depth throughout each surface, literally and figuratively.
Whether juxtaposed against spare, contrasting backgrounds or inhabiting lush natural habitats, Tolbert’s avian subjects evoke a sense of place, though perhaps not a strictly physical one. “It’s somewhat about the subject matter and my surroundings, but it’s an emotional experience,” Tolbert explains. His birds reflect this sentiment through their active, kinetic postures and expressions—they do more than characterize painted shells of sentient beings; they communicate. Several appear introspective, at ease and lucid in their environments. Others are confrontational, with piercing stares that bridge the space between picture plane and viewer. These iconic creatures embody the dialogue between artist and artwork, artwork and audience.
Tolbert refers to himself simply as “a drawer.” Whether he employs oil paint, oil stick, or graphite, he considers whatever he picks up as a drawing tool, and feeds off that direct connection between the artist’s hand and the transformative surface. He writes, “Being a drawer is a physical thinking process, a way to engage the subliminal world of feelings and ideas of the moment.” Consequently, Tolbert’s pieces reveal his own emotional responses through physical means: evident mark making, saturated colors, and line patterns that create movement and energy throughout the space, resulting in two-dimensional pieces with a highly tactile presence. “Making these marks is what motivates me,” he explains. “There’s a spontaneity involved.”
Tolbert has incorporated birds into his work throughout his career, but the Texas Bird Project is the first series to focus exclusively on the winged animals. The project began in 2014 as a commission but soon evolved into a years-long endeavor, which the artist sees himself continuing into the future. The exhibition at William Campbell Contemporary Art marks the first time Tolbert’s Texas Bird Project has been shown in the Metroplex.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Renowned Houston artist Frank Tolbert has forged a career over the past five decades, during which time he has exhibited in more than a hundred venues around Texas, across the United States, and internationally. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in galleries, museums, and universities in Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington, Atlanta, Austin, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, New Mexico, and Germany, among others. He has been commissioned to create several murals in Dallas and Houston as well.
Tolbert’s work has been featured in many publications, including the Austin AAmerican-Statesman Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Houston Chronicle, and Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram, in addition to such magazines as Artlies, Art in America, and ARTnews. His pieces appear in a number of public collections, among them the Dallas Museum of Art; the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art in Austin; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the San Antonio Museum of Art; San Antonio’s Witte Museum; Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and the University of Texas at Austin. Frank Tolbert attended North Texas State University in Denton (UNT), and Texas Tech University.