McClain Gallery is happy to announce Shane Tolbert’s third solo exhibition: Memory Dilemma. The exhibition expounds on the artist’s process based work, including figurative drawings for the first time, alongside his painting and collage work. Playing off of Tolbert’s layering technique, the drawings reveal a cyclical return to imagery, thought process, and the way themes are honed through thoughtful play and automatic response. 

Tolbert furthers his experimental practice and mines the studio as a place of potential: somewhere memory and experience, stored in his body and muscle, can translate onto canvas or paper and tell him something he didn’t know before. As Tolbert puts it: “[Memory and experience] accumulate in my emotional state each day I enter the studio and compound in the work over time like sedimentary layers of mudslides and volcanic ash.” Studio ephemera, like painter’s tape, often makes it into the finished work, as a reminder of the originating space. Tolbert’s tried and true painting techniques – like masking, in which the tape is applied, painted over, and then removed – and his acrylic paint pours on plastic sheeting – applied like decals to the canvas – are emblematic of that process. The layering of patterns in the works on canvas continue to create visual tension as titles provide hints to personal experiences: Pencil Me In and Overcommitted and Okay give us a peek into the artist’s quotidian experiences.

Attempting to come to terms with a difficult, often dark political landscape and the non-stop news coverage of armed conflicts worldwide, Tolbert leans on drawing, specifically portraiture, to analyze visual overload. Included in this exhibition are two portraits of significant political figures: one of the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, the other of Gabriel Boric, the newly elected Chilean president who has been a leading voice of the country’s turn toward social democracy over the last decade. Tolbert writes: 

            Putin came out of the distress of a 24/7 news cycle of the war in Ukraine. I needed to purge myself of his bad behavior. Boric was a balm… a chance to think about positive, collective agency for a better society…Putin’s head is from a 90’s photo of him in a turtleneck. I really imagine him behind bars without actually drawing a prison cell. I copied the body of Schiele’s Russian War Prisoner (1916, Art Institute of Chicago), and suddenly I have what I want with the added benefit of removing Putin’s rank to that of a private. 

The series of works on paper depicting cowboys was created during a residency at the Ucross Foundation in November of 2022 which takes place at a working ranch in Wyoming. Tolbert began each day with a portrait of a smoking cowboy as a reflection on masculinity, expectations, violence, and isolation: likely themes in such a remote place of work. He used a different medium each day: charcoal, permanent marker, graphite pencil, collage elements. Each portrait was approached with no conscious ideas, but relied on muscle memory. The resulting cowboys are sometimes forlorn while others are confident with a sense of swagger – perhaps a distillation of the artist’s state of mind but just as likely is a sense of memory of past encounters, or an affect from someone else, trickling into the work. As a working artist and creative worker, running the space Best Western out of Santa Fe with fellow artist James Sterling Pitt and undertaking arts administration work at a nearby college, Tolbert knows all too well the million directions one gets pulled into daily. Tapping into his subconscious responses threads Memory Dilemma into a tapestry revealing Tolbert’s approach to art-making amid the distractions of daily life. 

SHANE TOLBERT (b. 1985, Corsicana, TX) currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tolbert received his BFA in Painting from the University of Houston in 2008 and his MFA in Painting from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2010. Tolbert’s work has been exhibited twice at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and has been the subject of solo shows at McClain Gallery in 2018, 2021, and 2024. McClain Gallery exhibited Tolbert’s work in its two-artist booth at Untitled Art Fair, Miami in 2019 and in a solo online exhibition in 2020. In New York, Tolbert participated in the Edward Albee Foundation Residency, Montauk and has shown with David Richard Gallery and in the group show UnderErasure at Pierogi Gallery. Public projects include a large-scale installation at Northpark Mall in Dallas, an outdoor installation at the Blaffer Art Museum’s downtown Houston satellite space, and commissions for United Airlines. In 2022, he took part in the Ucross Residency in Clearmont, Wyoming. His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Glasstire, and Visual Art Source, among others; and his writings have been published in Southwest Contemporary (previously THE Magazine).