THOMAS LOLLAR :: LOVER OF ART :: A Neoillusionist Portrait
What do you call a man that loves Art so much it is all he seeks to pursue? Not just its creation but its history, its process, its purpose, its pursuit; its collection, its auction, its spirit? This is what must be asked of the man in question, Thomas W. Lollar. An American gentleman, a lover of antiquity, a person of thorough thought and careful consideration, Tom is a wealth of knowledge and experience: He was the Director of Visual Arts at Lincoln Center for 22 years, he helped to start and manage two New York Art Galleries in the eighties, he is an instructor at Teachers College - Columbia University, he has been a professional ceramic artist for over 20 years with a long list of accomplishments on his CV (www.tomlollar.com), he has advised private collectors as well as major organizations as to which art would be the best addition to their collection and he has borne his love of antiquity by traveling to Rome every year to soak in the echoes of a people long since gone, collecting their relics and dreaming about their stories; of all these things, he is a man who “wears many hats” but seeks to weave a thread through the multiple perspective fragmentations of his loves of Art by the passion of his life.
A life that began in the 1950’s American Midwest, little Lollar was drawing maps in the sand as early as he can remember at the family cottage on Lake Huron. He would spend his time on the beaches, fascinated by the secrets the borders held within, the intrigues of geography and the contours of history. He would take roadmaps from the glove compartment of the family car and draw his own maps on top, never mind the trip, a new destination could be had! “Tom, what did you do to this map?!” He chuckles to himself as he recalls how angry his father would get when next he pulled out the map. With a great-grandfather who was a sculptor and architect in London, Mr. Lollar has always felt a bloodline affinity for architectural sites, particularly from ancient times, and takes a great source of inspiration from them in his own artwork, winding his love of making things (also sprung from childhood) in the creation of steel tables with marble maps of ancient Rome, or steel sculptures of objects inspired by ancient Rome, or paintings on marble of classical structures like the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius. Fortunate to be supported in what was to come his life’s pursuit, Tom went on to study what had always come as a natural passion.
In 1973 he received his Bachelors of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Ceramics from Western Michigan University, and in 1979 completed his Masters of Arts in Ceramics and Art History. Feeling like he was suited predominately for creating and for teaching, there where he would be able to share his love of Ceramics, Sculpture and Art History, Lollar began a career in Art Education at Parsons School of Design/New School for Social Research directly out of school in 1979. In 1988 he began teaching Ceramics, Sculpture and Drawing at Teachers College - Columbia University and has been there concurrently where he is proud to say the philosophy is to give the student a piece of clay or a piece of marble and show them how to work with it, but not show them what to make with it. “You’ve got to make what grows from your own experience,” he imparts, spoken sincerely as an educator whose goal is the thorough understanding of his students that the experience of their life is their greatest asset as artists and what will give their work its true spirit. In the wake of this intention and accompanied with the explorative process of how inspiration becomes Art, Mr. Lollar just completed a lecture for his class about the Reclining Figures of Henry Moore at the Lincoln Center. He wanted his students to see an example of “how.. ideas go from an outside experience to becoming a work of art.” Moore seemed like a prime candidate as the history of the Reclining Figures is quite interesting and it proved to be an engaging lesson. Presenting a BBC documentary from 1965 to show that the inspiration of Moore’s Reclining Figures were sketches made during the Blitz of WWII depicting Londoners taking refuge in the underground stations lying uncomfortably on the concrete. These sketches were to become the beautiful bronze abstract sculptures outside of the Lincoln Center. What were once fidgety, weary and in precariously adjacent angles, humans strewn this way and that as the German bombs crashed overhead, were now transformed into a relic of history for all to share of Moore’s experience. For Tom, the importance is not just of the end result to convey to his students, but of the whole process that went to inform it, the thread that holds it all in tact, “So to put together the history of the time, 1940, this young artist’s experience sketching these figures and then 25 years later creating a Reclining Figure for Lincoln Center, and I bet most of the people that go by there have no idea what that Reclining Figure is inspired by, so to me that’s really important to weave in the history, the tensions and also the exhilarating moments of the time too, and to the artist’s experience.” Leading back to the philosophy of Teachers College that personal experience is a unique occurrence that can only be brought about by the individual, themselves if seeking to honestly create something that has spirit and gravitas.
“I find it kind of troubling that history is not taught as much anymore and that there are big gaps in how young people understand how we got to where we are right now,” he recounts with a tinge of remorse revealing that many of his students didn’t even know who Henry Moore was, thus revealing an even deeper significance of the lesson. To Tom, history is such an integral part of understanding context and meaning which allows one to see a greater value in the whole, and Lollar’s knowledge of Art History is partly what has made him so valuable as the Director of Visual Arts at Lincoln Center for so many years, at his own organization, Benefit Print Project and also as a trusted Art Advisor to some very prestigious American collectors. The ability to select artists whose relevance match the need of the time, and to the articulation of their work that will bring the most advantage in the complementation of whatever setting it may be, an auction, or for a public or private collection. When asked what he saw as his main focus in Advising for private collectors he said it is to find the thread of what they have already assembled and offer works of Art that will augment the flavor already established by the individual or family. In this, as in all aspects of what he does, it is not simply his knowledge, but his love of Art that makes his work successful. For the Benefit Print Project, taking the basic principles from his position at Lincoln Center, commissioning prints (though now BPP works across many mediums) to auction or sell to help fund different arts organizations, Mr. Lollar at BPP most recently helped select two works for the American Friends of Museums in Israel’s Inaugural Gala by El Anatsui and Mickeline Thomas, both very influential artists of the Contemporary. To see Tom at a Gala is to see a man at home. He moves with ease through the sea of endless acquaintances and looks on with excitement as the work of his selection goes to the floor for auction. Knowing the value and significance of these two particular pieces, he was untroubled that neither of them took any bids, he knows they will sell in the coming month for much more, still benefiting the AMFI to achieve their mission of supporting nine lesser known museums in Israel. He has taken the position of Art Advisor/Dealer and put it to an organization he built with his partner Paul Limperopulos that financially advances non-profits in their creative programming:
Since its inception in 2010, Benefit Print Project has also published editions in consortium with culturally significant institutions and organizations in Africa, Asia, and North America, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; American Friends of Museums in Israel, Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, CITYarts, The Market Theatre, Momenta Art, and Parrish Art Museum. Benefit Print Project has also interfaced with many others, such as the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Brooklyn Academy of Music, MUSE Film and Television, San Francisco Symphony, and Services for the UnderServed.
For all of these things, there is something deeply charming about Thomas Lollar; his love is pure. His pursuit is honorable because it is the passion that has been compelling him since he was a child. He is living out the name that his life was called to be, Art Lover and Purveyor; A Neoillusionist; One who connects the pieces from antiquity to the pieces of today by questing after the story that connects them; the human experience that has shared this vast borderland of existence binding together the one spirit that is Life itself, asking the question of implicate order and influence, seeking the road to unity in one’s life by following the paths that come most naturally under foot with the understanding that these are the ways mentioned to pronounce your name. Tom Lollar, Lover of Art.