Tip Toland’s fascination with faces—drawing and painting them in art school, plumbing the knowledge and experience she found there—led to painted bas-relief sculptures in wood and clay, then three-dimensional ceramic work reflecting an entire human character. Life-size characters, in fact, resonating with uncompromising realism. Or rather, to some, hyperrealistic characters embodying humanity on the margins, their vulnerability and sensitivities portrayed through an intentionally diverse collection of unconventionally beautiful personalities.
Toland, 72, divulges that 90 percent of her work is autobiographical. “A lot are direct self-portraits,” she explains. “But I also choose characters through which I can portray an aspect of myself.” Interested in representing the body in liminal physical or psychological states, Toland focuses on the inelegant bodies of the young and aged. Her aim is to “go after vulnerability . . . that’s where we find our humanity.” In this way, her work—as arresting, disturbing, or compelling as we may find it—mirrors our own fragility.
Having taught around the world, Toland has inspired and mentored countless figurative sculptors. Through her acutely honed observations and knowledge of anatomy, Toland trains students to find expressive details. By sharing her experience in building large-scale work, she’s moved the ceramics field forward.
Toland earned a BFA in ceramics from the University of Colorado and an MFA in ceramics from Montana State University. She’s received a Visual Arts Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from Washington State’s Artist Trust, and a United States Artist Fellowship. Her work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Yingge Ceramics Museum, Taiwan; and the Haegang Ceramics Museum, Icheon, South Korea, among other institutions.
Using paint, chalk pastels, and hair, Toland embellishes her ceramic figures with “uncanny skin quality, utterly convincing hand gestures, and eerily spontaneous facial expressions,” wrote Ceramics Monthly. Wrinkles, moles, sagging skin, expressions of joy or distress are all present, a testament to an individuality that’s universal.
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