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Nan Rae Gallery Hosting ‘Complex Simplicity,’ Celebrating the Work of Carolee Toon

Welcoming the decade with a very special survey, the Nan Rae Gallery will host “Complex Simplicity: A Survey of Paintings and Drawings,” curated by David Pagel and showcasing the work of Toon (1936-2016), a revered and influential contemporary artist, and professor at Woodbury, in an exhibition that opens on Jan. 25 and runs through April 4, with an opening reception from 6 p.m.- 8 p.m. on Jan. 25.

Carolee Toon’s distinctive artistic voice is found in her monochromatic, non-objective abstract paintings that on first look appear as exceptionally simplistic but in actuality are profoundly complex. In the work of this engaging contemporary artist, these concepts are not just opposites; they are complementary. Her beautifully crafted, idiosyncratic paintings and drawings with hyper-refined surfaces, expose unique relationships between shape, color and surface. Her subtle obliquely shaped paintings on meticulously sanded wood unite the duality of reflection and absorption of light.

David Pagel, the esteemed critic and professor from Claremont Graduate University, will curate the exhibition, providing curatorial acumen and historical breadth to Professor Toon’s artistic work. The exhibition consists of paintings and drawings currently owned by Woodbury University and various private collections within Southern California.

“Carolee brought her distinctive artistic sensibility into the classroom,” said Sue Vessella, Dean of the School of Media, Culture & Design. “She was revered by students and faculty alike for her high standards, meticulous aesthetic, and artistic voice. “I’m thrilled that this exhibition is an opportunity to remind us of her work and incredible legacy.”

“She established the Design Foundation program at Woodbury, introducing beginning students to a broad-based visual and verbal vocabulary common to all art and design professions, which provided a way for them to integrate this knowledge into discipline-specific design studios,” said Dean Vessella.

“Carolee created a rigorous and positive learning experience for the students that exposed them to concepts of art and design, requiring them to absorb new ways of thinking and expressing meaning,” said Randy Stauffer, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Woodbury University.  “Carolee’s ability to transform simple materials into the most exquisite surfaces is analogous to her ability to transform students. Her expert teaching skills encouraged them to find their own meaning and voice, leading them to their individual creative paths to thoughtful and cogent design solutions. She instilled in students a love of design history and insisted that the profound ideas that impact all great art be found in their work.”

Toon was director of the first gallery at the university, supporting both campus and community exhibitions, and was instrumental in the university’s inaugural accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Her personal artistic vision and educational philosophy toward art and design education has had an enduring impact on the university and its programs.

Complex Simplicity: A Survey of Paintings and Drawings runs from Jan. 25 – April 4

Above image:
Silky 1997 (detail)
One-shot paint on wood
9 x 13 x ¾ inches
Courtesy of Linda Hudson