March 23, 2020 | By Jennifer Ring
Making Art in a Time of Social Distancing
Theo Tamborlane reflects on her changing world
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Theo Tamborlane’s world is changing, and so is yours. But for Theo, the change began three years ago, when she moved from New Jersey to Florida.
“I was in [New York] City three days a week. Three days a week I was painting in New Jersey in the two studios I had there, and Sunday I was taking off to be with my husband. That was my life for years,” says Tamborlane. “This has been a big transition for me, from New York and New Jersey, and the world of art I was immersed in up there, to down here.”
Life in Florida moves at a much slower pace, but it’s more than that.
One of the first things newcomers notice about Florida art is that many artists here tend to prefer Florida subjects. As Tamborlane’s daughter helped unpack Theo’s artwork in her new Florida home, she asked her mother to promise her something. Promise me “that you will not paint water and birds and flowers like everybody else does down here,” Theo recounts.
Seeking to adjust to life in Florida, Tamborlane started getting involved in the community. “I really have to seal my roots here,” she explains, “because I’m not leaving. My husband is very happy here.” Tamborlane joined the Dunedin Fine Art Center, the Leepa-Rattner Museum, the Morean and the Chamber of Commerce — through these connections she’s made friends.
Tamborlane now shows her work with six more established Florida artists working in Dunedin and Clearwater — Karen Baker, known for her nature-inspired pastel paintings; Wendy Boucher, known for “painting with paper;” artist photographer Elizabeth Faubert; potter Merrill Kramer; textiles artist Pam Pawl, who has her own shop in Dunedin; and interdisciplinary artist C.W. Petit. Together, they are the Uncommon Art group.
“The women that are in this group have been here, and they’ve been doing their art for years,” says Tamborlane, “I wanted to promote them as artists as well as promote myself as a newcomer. Artists don’t ever get as much attention paid to them as they should. When you come and see the quality of work that these ladies do, as well as what I do, it’s uncommon.”
As Tamborlane adjusted to life and art in Tampa Bay, she started a new series called My World. In My World, Tamborlane processes her changing world through art.
Like the rest of her work, My World is mostly abstract, but it is also highly symbolic. Tamborlane completed her first painting in the series, a predominantly green diptych, in 2018. At the bottom of the painting, pink, blue, purple and lime green rectangles represent skyscrapers in the city. As you work your way up, the blocky cityscape morphs into curvaceous lines of foliage. “This is my transition,” says Tamborlane. “I’m coming from a city to a more country vibe area.”
“St. Petersburg (aka 18 Shades of Brown),” started as a simple exercise in analogous colors. “I went to my paint box and I saw all this brown paint, and I asked myself, ‘How’d you get all this brown paint?’ So I laid out 18 shades, and I started from the bottom up.”
“After completing the painting, Tamborlane says she was befuddled. “I’d developed kind of a city look, but not a city look.” And that’s St. Pete in a nutshell, half downtown and half beach town. Looking back on it now, Tamborlane says her 18 Shades of Brown illustrates her process of getting to know the city. The yellow circle is the sun shining over an abstract landscape. Underneath, ripples of water flow through the city’s sewers. Harsh lines throughout reference the strong shadows created by afternoon sun.
As Tamborlane continues work on My World, her world is changing once again. Her Uncommon Art group normally shows together once a year, but this year, the gallery they planned to show at is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. “So the April Uncommon Art show that I curated — [that] I’ve worked on for the past six months or more — is not going forward,” says Tamborlane, “which is kind of sad.”
Showing in a gallery for a month is very expensive, Tamborlane tells me, “even at Stirling Gallery.” She’d recruited 14 area businesses to sponsor the event, some of which might suffer financial setbacks from the pandemic. Thus far, it’s looking like the show will most likely be rescheduled for September. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that all our sponsors will still be our sponsors,” says Tamborlane.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how all these coronavirus-forced changes affect the upcoming paintings in Tamborlane’s My World series. “I have my easel up now,” she tells me. “I’ve got a big 48 x 48 [inch] piece up here, ready to go. It’s four panels — each panel is going to be a season of my life.”