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Tolon, Cananfree

Turkish, 20th–21st century, female.

Active in Emeryville (California).

Born 1955, in Istanbul.

Painter, mixed media artist. Visually explores time and space.

Canan Tolon was born in Istanbul in 1955, and at the age of one, she contracted polio. She spent the next nine years in institutions, mainly in France. This time was formative for Tolon, both personally and as an artist. She became an avid reader, using books as a replacement for the childhood she wasn’t able to experience. Upon leaving the hospital, Tolon often felt that the world around her wasn’t real; all she had known were whitewashed interiors.

Tolon’s work is also heavily influenced by architecture. Her father was an architect and in 1983 she received her Master’s Degree in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. For 10 years she worked in an architectural office but ultimately found this practice to be too restrictive. Though she was no longer a practising architect, she was still interested in exploring how one interacts with and experiences surrounding spaces. These themes are continually threaded throughout the body of her artistic work.

In the 1990s, Tolon was primarily making black and white paintings. These works were meant to be sketches for paintings but the images began to transform into their own pieces. To create these works, Tolon would cover slick, opaque Mylar paper in black oil paint, which she would then scrape and remove allowing the white to shine through. Upon first glance, the images appear to be a photograph or possibly a representation of an architectural space, but upon closer examination the viewer discovers that it is just paint, and that the painting is simply an abstract image; not representative of anything. Tolon is especially interested in our experiences with reality and the tricks that our eyes can play on us. We are constantly searching for the familiar, often thinking we see something that isn’t there.

Another aspect of Tolon’s work is her use of natural elements. Many of her pieces often include elements such as grass growing directly on canvas, or grafted into her Mylar paintings, rust created from the current season’s weather patterns and old coffee grinds. Though these works are created with a more organic process, many of the same themes of space, time, and reality are explored. For example, her installation Angle of Repose (2003) consisted of repetitions of grass being grown on rust-stained canvases that had been laid within steel bedframes. These compositions bring to mind a final resting place, reminding the viewer of the organic nature of life.

Tolon’s practice as an artist continues to evolve and change, similar to the ways in which her artworks evolve and change, whether it’s through the grass decaying or a viewer’s impression of an abstract painting. Her work transcends cultural and political viewpoints, instead focusing on the shared experiences of all those who might encounter her art and how we collectively relate to and experience our surroundings.

Group Exhibitions

2011, Driven to Abstraction, Von Lintel Gallery, New York

2012, The First Kiev Biennale, Kiev

2013, Past and Future, Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Istanbul

2014, Poetry and Exile, British Museum, London

2016, Memory and Continuity, a Selection from the Huma Kabakci Collection, Pera Museum, Istanbul

2016, TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability, Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Istanbul

Solo Exhibitions

2009, Break-in, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

2010, Fugue, Galeri Nev, Ankara

2012, Then, and Then, Gallery Paul Anglim, San Francisco

2014, LIKE, Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles

2015, Heavy, Galeri Nev, Istanbul

Museum and Gallery Holdings

London (British Mus.): Futur Imparfait (1986–1999, collection of 33 drawings in ink and graphite, some include text, on Mylar)

Auction Records

Dubai, 26 Oct 2010: Glitch XXI (2008, acrylic on canvas, 67 × 61 ins/170 × 155 cm) USD 30,000

London, 26 April 2012: GLITCH III (FROM THE GLITCH SERIES) (2007, oil on canvas, 55⅛ × 61¼ ins/140 × 155.5 cm) GBP 79,250

London, 27 June 2013: THEN, AND THEN (2012, oil on panel, four parts, each 24 × 24 ins/61 × 61 cm) GBP 30,000

London, 18 Oct 2013: Waiting to Happen (2010, oil on board, four parts, each 12 × 12 ins/30.5 × 30.5 cm) GBP 8,750

London, 18 Oct 2014: One More Time (Diptych) (2014, oil on board, 48 × 72 ins/122 × 183 cm) GBP 68,500


  • ‘Canan Tolon’, artist’s website with images, list of works, biography and publications,, (accessed 5 Dec 2017).
  • Ingersoll, Richard, and others: Canan Tolon, Step Grafik Ltd., Istanbul, 2011.
  • Bass, Jacquelynn: Canan Tolon, Then, and Then, exhibition catalogue, Gallery Paul Anglim, San Francisco, 2012.
  • Lang Ho, Cathy: Canan Tolon, Somewhere Now, Von Lintel Gallery, New York, 2013.