Sadly recently passing away after battling illness, celebrated and hugely popular contemporary landscape artist, Bill Tolley’s legacy is one of towering illustrative substance and needs to be seen to be believed. Characterised by beautifully coloured, simply-detailed houses, there’s a certain magic and graphical mystique to Tolley’s images, which in some cases seemingly witness said houses floating in space, neither anchored nor pitted against any notable structure, whilst in others they’re harnessed to the sides of mountains or clinging to the fringes of a watery setting. There is a glorious sense of joy and spiritual enlightenment to Tolley’s hallmark pieces, readily brandishing a purity and innocence that’s so often wanting in contemporary cityscape art, and which will happily endure with time.
Tolley was born in Chiswick in London and like so many naturally gifted, generation-spanning artists won a place at the prestigious and much-respected Central Saint Martins College of Art in the city. although in Tolley’s case he was a mere 15-years of age when he was awarded a much sought-after scholarship for a three-year course which had been set up to catch pupils at a young age and artistically groom them for a future in the arts by engaging with their spontaneous, naïve approach to the subject ahead of engendering creative disciplines. Essentially, and although a contradiction in terms from the outset, the idea was to almost manufacture an artist with a free-thinking, outside the box, blue sky thought process at a still impressionable age, and before implied cynicism or pessimism took hold.
Someone of Tolley’s furtive mind and imagination would have doubtless been considered the ideal candidate in hindsight, and on completion of his course he enrolled for National Service. Once he’d despatched with the necessary military interlude, Tolley returned Saint Martins, this time on a part-time basis, basically ‘sitting in’ on lectures at the art school. Once he’d gained enough further insight and tutoring Tolley thought it prudent to enter the commercial world of art, and eventually aspired to become a freelance visualizer, finding employment and plum roles with a selection of advertising agencies, design studios and mail order companies as it happened.
Tolley began to embrace oil as a medium in which to paint, as a hobby still at this juncture we hasten to add, in 1969, and chose the unusual surface area of stained glass on which to hone and perfect his new art sensibilities, before making the courageous decision of turning professional as an artist a year on, in 1970. At the time, Tolley expressed a love for the seemingly finite vibrancy and texture that could be explored and instilled via this blend of materials and mediums. This particular, personal style is still very much in visual evidence in his most recent works, which in terms of illustrative subject matter has often been favourably compared to Lowry, which of course is one of the highest appraisals an artist operating his this genre could receive.
During his lifetime, Tolley developed many set views on art in general and would express them when called upon to do so, yet from a personal perspective was forever exploring and pushing the boundaries so as to challenge his own far-reaching skillset. Interestingly, Tolley never took ownership of any of his own original compositions, and spoke at great length about painting for other people’s enjoyment first and foremost, as opposed than the prioritising of profiteering. Tolley fervently believed that if commercial reasons were solely behind your motivation to pick up a brush and palette then the art would be devoid of honesty and genuine feeling and creative substance, the core elements discovered in his trademark paintings.
Tolley also felt that a large percentage of professional artists spoilt their work by intellectualising it, saying; “If you evaluate art it automatically loses that magical feeling”, adding; “Philosophy satisfies the mind, whereas painting satisfies the emotions”. Tolley stressed that his work went through a series of evolution rather than being contrived pieces, which ultimately involved a depth that rendered it far more intriguing, implying that painting shouldn’t ever be about being logical in any way, shape, form or context as it’s an emotional pro-action or response.
Tolley showcased his work across the globe, including numerous one-man exhibitions in America, Canada, Malaysia and Australia to name but a few, while the late artist’s original works and limited edition prints remain in strong demand throughout the world to this day.