Staying Young

93-year-old artist Ann Tolson continues artistic evolution

Special to the Union Leader
April 17. 2014 12:54AM
AT WORK: Ann Tolson's recent painting projects found her revisting a creative approach she employed earlier in her career. 

Art may not have played a role in her childhood or early adult years, but it certainly has meant something to Ann Tolson in the past six decades.

At 93 years old — or young, depending on how you look at it — Tolson recently unveiled new works of art at the New Hampshire Art Association's Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery, 136 State St., Portsmouth.

Well known in the region for work in acrylics, for which she uses hard edges to mainly paint figures and capture their body language, Tolson elected to revisit her past in her latest exhibit, "Recent Paintings — Something Different."

"I wanted to copy a style of painting I had done in 1992, at a friend's suggestion, even down to the colors I chose," she said.

Noting she was "out of ideas" for her next project, she decided to take her friend's advice and paint landscapes as opposed to figures. For Tolson, though, the objective was not to depict any sort of reality in a landscape, but rather express her own interpretation of it.

"They're simplified, almost abstract with quirky things thrown in," she said. "There are odd figures within the paintings, too, with many of them overlooking the landscape."

As for what she hopes people feel when they see her current exhibit, Tolson humorously noted, "I think people who liked my stuff before may hate these paintings."

In a more serious vein, though, she said she hopes people laugh at her work and take it for what it is — something light-hearted and something different.

"These paintings are really fun and freaky in a way," she said. "I had fun doing them. It made my old brain work."

As for how she entered the world of art in the first place, Tolson, who was born and raised in England, cites an experience she had while vacationing in Spain in the 1950s.

"I was on holiday, lying on the beach and swimming, when I noticed several people with easels outside painting," she said. "I thought to myself, 'That looks like much more fun than just sitting on a beach'."

Interested in oils, Tolson initially concentrated on the impressionist style and most often depicted landscapes with soft edges. After three or four years, though, she said she felt she was not making any progress and instead decided "overnight" to change to acrylics. Describing herself as more of a weekend painter at that point in her life, it was not until she moved to Norwalk, Conn., in 1969 with her husband and daughter that she decided to paint more seriously.

"When I first arrived, people asked me what I did, and I didn't want to just be a housewife, so I decided to take some classes," said Tolson, who noted she moved to Portsmouth with her husband in 1994. "I felt like I was starting from scratch, but I was developing my own style."

Nearly half a century later and having won numerous awards for her work with shows in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and even New Zealand, Tolson said she still is developing her style and has no plans to slow down any time soon.

"I'd like to develop what I'm doing now into something more abstract. I'm not sure what I'll do really, but I think it will be fun to find out once this show is done."

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