“The Paint of Paint” by Toni Littlejohn
Toby’s Art Gallery, Point Reyes Station, January 3-21, 2018
The urge to make marks, to create is essential to our human nature. For thousands of years, we have ground up colorful rocks and soils, added them to a binding fluid, and made paint.
For me, working with paint is a messy deal. Not only does it adhere to the desired surface, but it leaps onto my skin, shoes, clothing, and crawls into my fingernails. It’s gooey, slippery, with an unpredictable mind of its own. Paint is succulent, a temptress for touch, an invitation to dare the unfamiliar. At times opaque or thick and other times transparent or thin, the paint and the painting practice allow for some feelings that don’t yet have words to emerge from my unknown murk into the light of day.
Working with paint is to work with the earth: the fiery eruption of magma, the flow of water to make alluvial fans, the upheaval and erosion of mountains, the freeze and thaw of glaciers. I ride with the paint as it pours, floods, heaves, bends, cracks, warps and wrinkles its way downhill on the canvas, creating earthscapes made of the paint itself. I influence the paint’s flow by thinning it with water and propping the stretched canvas up on its sides, adjusting the frame like a sailor trimming the sails. Excess fluids slide over the edges.
My painting practice implicitly evokes the ancestors who also made marks with the earth. These ancient wisdom beings encourage me to paint my experiences of freedom, compassion, spaciousness and joy.
Review by Judith Selby Lang, August 2016
In Earthed, Toni Littlejohn's dynamic new series of paintings at Crome Architecture evoke a time beyond geological time, a place beyond geographical place. These landscapes, although undeniable mysterious, are familiar terrain. We know these places in the intimate inner space of the pulsing of our blood and in the infinitude of outer space in the pulsing of stellar light.
As a glacier moves over rock with the dense weight of its accumulated gravity Littlejohn's paint moves with a destiny and viscosity as it flourishes across the picture plane. Her palette is inspired by the fiery magma of a volcanic eruption, the verdant green of the jungle and the polar chill of the Aurora Borealis.
Littlejohn is a master artist who uses absolute control - she knows what she is doing - and she uses absolute spontaneity in her ability to let it flow.
For several years Littlejohn has been a participant in a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice which includes lying down on the ground to connect directly with the geological forces of the earth. She describes this exercise as way to become increasingly alive to her own earthiness and to feel the vastness of time and space in every part of her body.
She resides on top of the San Andreas Fault rift zone just north of San Francisco where the possibility of seismic shifts are ever-present. Influenced by the natural movements of the earth she moves paint on the canvas by pouring, sliding, buckling, warping – allowing the actual and material fact of the paint to flood the canvas working its magic as it granulates the pigments
On September 8, 2016 a flash drive with images of her paintings will blast off into space aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx on a journey to near-Earth Asteroid Bennu that will encircle this close body before returning to Earth with a carbonaceous sample in 2023.
In addition to her studio practice she has been an art teacher in elementary schools, art facilitator at cancer retreats, and board president of Gallery Route One, a non-profit arts organization in Point Reyes Station. Since 1992 she has been leading art workshops called “Wild Carrots” where she uses traditional as well as spiritual materials to encourage student spontaneity and trust in the creative process.