Canan Tolon: Sidesteps

Visual artist Canan Tolon’s work is on display in her first major exhibition in a London institution. Titled Sidesteps, this grand scale solo exhibition at Parasol unit provides an in-depth insight of her works from 1986 to the present day.

A mixture of abstract and organic, the exhibition includes Futur imparfait, 1986–1999, an impressive series of 33 ink-wash and crayon figurative drawings that were recently acquired by the British Museum, which are on show all together for the first time in the UK. Another of the standout exhibits is Time After Time: an immersive piece that takes up three walls of the room, drawing the eye in from every angle with its seemingly repetitive patterns, which on closer inspection contains clever differences created through its play on light and space.

Born in Istanbul, Tolon’s childhood was spent in various European countries. She studied design in Edinburgh and London, receiving a BA from Middlesex Polytechnic / Architectural Association, London in 1980. She went to the USA to further her studies, graduating with a Masters in Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley in 1983. She then worked some ten years in several architecture offices while continuing her work in the visual arts.

Her paintings and installations have been exhibited internationally. She has works in a number of major public collections, including the British Museum, London; Istanbul Modern; IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts); the Nesrin Esirtgen Collection, Istanbul, Turkey; and the di Rosa Collection, Napa, USA. She now spreads her time between San Francisco Bay Area and Istanbul, Turkey.

Canan Tolon. Courtesy of Galeri Nev
Canan Tolon. Courtesy of Galeri Nev

Space is the main subject of Canan Tolon’s work, especially in the way it is visualised, politicised, imagined and remembered. Always astute and elaborate, her technique for creating space may at first sight seem random, but is clearly the result of painstaking investigation, premeditation and control. A number of Tolon’s oil paintings are executed in black-and-white or mute colours with brighter touches. Whether large or small in scale, their form often suggests architectural imagery. Formally precise, rhythmic and structured, they are also simultaneously elusive, transient, accidental, and surprise viewers into reassessing what they see.

Tolon’s paintings are also informed by her own photographic experience and skill, though she uses no collage or printing techniques in their making. Rather, she works hands-on with tools, such as straight edges and knives, to produce an effect of ‘instant reality’. This is particularly true of her works on Mylar, which at first glance look like photographic prints of something familiar, yet on closer examination the ‘photographic reality’ falls away and their illusionistic nature is revealed. Tolon’s aim is to make paintings that are apparently recognisable, yet elude description.

Canan Tolon, ‘Untitled (polyptych)’, 2001. Rust and pigment on canvas, 267 x 274 cm (105 x 108 in). Photo: Hakan Aydoğan
Canan Tolon, ‘Untitled (polyptych)’, 2001. Rust and pigment on canvas, 267 x 274 cm (105 x 108 in). Photo: Hakan Aydoğan

Her London exhibition is curated by Ziba Ardalan, the founder and director of Parasol unit. Canan Tolon: Sidesteps is accompanied by a comprehensive book, including an artist interview by Ziba Ardalan and essays by Bill Berkson and John Yau, published by Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art. A related programme of educational events at the gallery includes lectures, poetry readings, animation and storytelling workshops.

Exhibition dates: 15 January – 16 March 2014

Venue address: Parasol unit – foundation for contemporary art, 14 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW

Opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 am–6pm; Sunday, 12–5pm

Entrance: admission free

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Main photo: Canan Tolon, ‘Glitch II’, 2007. Oil on canvas, 140 x 180 cm. Tim and Nancy Howes, private collection. Photo: Eli Ridgway.