Under artist's spell, the mind travels

Margaret Ross Tolbert has transformed the small, quiet galleries of Maitland Art Center into a visual journey of change. It is a voyage that begins in a two-dimensional springs grotto and continues through the ancient doors of the Silk Road in Southeast Turkey.

The Gainesville artist studied under the renown painter Hiram Williams while attending the University of Florida. Since then her work has been exhibited in 17 solo and 35 group exhibitions in the United States and Sweden, while her frequent travels to Europe won her commissions of paintings, lithographs and murals from organizations in Turkey, France, Oman and Azerbaijan.

The intimate, low-ceilinged middle gallery at the Maitland Art Center is the perfect setting for her "A Springs Grotto," a mosaic that recreates an underwater descent. "Painting and entering the springs are perhaps the two most similar experiences on the planet," says Talbot. "They are both transformational arenas of heightened awareness." Panels of mirror wink like sunlight amidst the brilliant blues, muddy greens and browns of the abstractly painted canvases. Fish appear on some, she says, "like a blinking eye or silent spasm of revelation."

Talbot sets her canvasses near the edges of springs or out on pontoons, capturing immediate impressions with paint and brush. To reflect the changing environment, she reconfigures the canvases each time the mosaic is installed. "I conceptualize this project as a moving continuum, able to be framed by many different sites, with fluid borders and shifting painted surfaces," she says. In this way she elicits new discoveries while maintaining the works original integrity.

This sense of timeless continuity pervades her seven "Doors" paintings which were inspired by her travels along the ancient silk-trade routes in Southeast Turkey. Each began as a stream of consciousness sketch as she recorded her impressions of the mosques, marble palaces and striped facades. She later translated these into dramatic paintings, including "Door to Harran, Temple of the Planet Worshipper," which portrays a large black portal in which float a lion's head and toppled sculptures. These are artifacts from Nemrut Dagi, an isolated mountain mausoleum dating from 63 A.D. The work tempts the viewer to step through and find modern relevance in the vestiges of ancient civilization. The doors become a metaphor for opportunity, discovery and enlightenment. In Talbot's own words: "Just by deciding to enter, you begin the journey of change."

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