Anyone who’s used to big city living will know the feeling of claustrophobia that can creep in from time to time, and even in suburbia it can feel like we’re living on top of each other. On the other side of that coin, those living out in the sticks may enjoy their extra space, but crave a bit of big smoke action and excitement every now and then.
The possibilities offered and restrictions imposed by our man-made environments, and the emotional responses that they elicit, is the subject of Ben Tolman‘s Civilized series. Judging by the Washington DC artist’s darkly cynical drawings, he’s not convinced that erecting buildings equates to human progress. In the suburbs, blocks of homogenised houses stretch into the horizon with seemingly endless banality. Viewed from a distance, the people are rendered invisible, and the smallest unit of life we see, save for a few specks out walking the dog, is the car. In the city, however, things go from boring and impersonal to squalid and menacing. Decay and destitution, both moral and physical, are rife. Naked and disoriented figures wandering in parking lots and back alleys are at first amusing, then their sad vulnerability strikes home. The figures Tolman depicts are generally faceless, and characterless. They are everyone, and no one.
Civilized is on display at CulturalDC’s Flashpoint Gallery until 28 March.