Langley Tolbert is as smart, complex and multifaceted as her fine abstract art. Having worn many hats in her lifetime, the one that fits best is that of painter, casually seated behind an easel at her Lake Martin home.
Tolbert was taken with art and all things creative at a young age. By six, she was drawing things that lit up her world, like horses and paper dolls. By high school, she expanded her artistic talents with stage sets for plays, floats for the homecoming parade, and title as editor of the yearbook.
From there, she attended the University of Alabama and eventually graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in English and a minor in Fine Arts. She soon found herself far away from the fine art world as an award winning writer and producer. “I started working in advertising and broadcast production [for] radio and television. I suppose I didn’t know how special it was at the time, but I was assistant producing the live Bear Bryant Show every Sunday. Everything we did was on the fly … it taught me a lot about production, writing, public relations and adapting to any situation,” Tolbert said.
After spending many years in PR, advertising and production, as well as raising her children, Tolbert realized that she had been away from her first love of painting for nearly 30 years. “As my children grew up and left the house, I found myself longing to get back into painting. I turned my garage into a makeshift studio. Then several years later, I moved to Lake Martin and started filling my time with art again,” she said.
The time she took from her creative work was not a set back, but rather like “riding a bike,” Tolbert says. “The moment I sat down and put my brush to the canvas, it just came flooding back, and I got into the zone,” she recalled. “It was like I had never stopped painting at all.”
Tolbert soon began searching for gallery representation, which she quickly found within the Montgomery area at Stonehenge Gallery, Gallery One, and Gallery East.
“The skills I learned in my years in PR and advertising really served me well. You can be a really talented artist, but without marketing yourself and your work, you may go completely unnoticed. It’s no exaggeration for me to say that I spend half of my time creating art and the other half promoting it,” she said.
And while Tolbert credits her success to her marketing skills, her art is the real star. Her subjective abstracts come from intuitive painting where Tolbert chooses a color palette, simply puts the brush to canvas, and lets the paint tell her what to do.
“I don’t start with a defined subject in mind. I just start with random shapes, color, depth and shading. Many times, I will turn the painting sideways or even upside down as I’m working to change my perspective. Often times I’ll see things that I didn’t before and it will show me where to take the painting,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert also uses materials like sheetrock mud, gel medium and all kinds of paper to create unique textures in her acrylic based paintings. She often takes photos of her work in progress, as stepping away from the painting or viewing it in a new light can help guide her next steps.
“People often ask me how I know when a painting is done, and the truth is I just feel it. Each one is different, and it’s an instinctive feeling I get when it reaches a certain point. It’s easy to overwork a painting or miss something special by stopping too soon. I’ve really had to learn to let the painting speak to me,” she said.
While her paintings are bold, colorful and popular with collectors, Tolbert said she never stops growing. “I’ve learned so much from other artists over the years, and I think that keeps my style evolving. I like to challenge myself, and learning new techniques and incorporating them into my work keeps me going and keeps things fresh,” she said.
Each year, Tolbert attends the Alabama Art Colony retreat at the Children’s Harbor Camp on Lake Martin. This artist workshop allows fellow fine artists to come together for six days and five nights to learn new techniques from teachers and renowned artists from all over the world.
“It’s a fun way to push myself to step outside of [the] box in the art world. I learn new ways to express myself through my art, while taking a little break from life. It’s a gift I give myself each year, for me, from me,” she said.
Thanks to the techniques she’s learned at the Alabama Art Colony and the urging of her friends and neighbors, Tolbert has begun a new venture in her art repertoire which she calls “fun art.” Her lively and quirky representations of life on the lake include subjects of fish, boats, flowers and more, all tastefully done in her signature style, with a twist.
“Painting has always been my passion, and I’m lucky to be able to do what I love every day. I’m continuously learning and evolving, and I hope that my work will continue to reflect that to the people who share it with me,” said Tolbert.
For more information on Langley Tolbert or how to purchase her work, visit www.langleytolbert.com or contact her directly at Langleywarn@yahoo.com. She is also on Facebook and instagram as Langley Tolbert Art.