Artlinc Spotlight: Keith Tolen


Every year at Artlinc Keith Tolen walks quietly through the tunnel to his usual spot and does his piece, every year he has a different style and concept. Keith Tolen is also a humble visual art treasure here in South Carolina, and one of the most talented artist in the southeast area.

Where are you from? 

Thank You Dalvin, I grew up in Batesburg-Leesville SC. And when I left there I went to Orangeburg to attend SC State College at that time, where I was first really exposed to art. While there I studied art education. I have only lived in two other places in my life. Spent five years in Augusta GA, and have been in Columbia for the past 30 odd years. 

What lead you down the path of being an artist? 

I remember creating a drawing in elementary school that the teacher liked but my older brother was the drawer in the family. He was left handed and drew very well. My younger brother and I tried to copy him. I guess what helped me was going to college. In college I made the decision to study art at the last moment. It is a choice that I am so glad I made. 


What college did attend college and who were your art professors? 

Again I attended the art program at SC State in the 70’s…. It was a great time…I had a GREAT time. There were many talented individuals there at the time, both on the staff and as students. There is no question that Dr. Leo Twiggs was the number one key to being an art ed. Major. He was phenomenal individual and talented artist. 

There were two other instructors that had a great impact on my life. Mr. James McFadden who had an exceptional design eye. And no question the one instructor that changed my life was Dr. Terry Hunter…. I don’t know where to start in describing how much he impacted my life and art career. 

Who are some of the artist(s) that influence you? 

I feel that I am heavily influenced by art movements and time periods… My number one movement was the Harlem Renaissance….. I am a big fan of many of the artist of that period, Romare Bearden tops the list. I am also a fan of the impressionist movement. I love the idea of light and shadow being defined by color. I love working with color. 


Your new show at the City Hall Gallery is called “What is Art?”, what sparked the idea for the title? 

WOW we do not have time for this discussion so I will give the short version. This is a show that I am a part of along with a few local artists. The original show came together in Camden SC as collaboration with the local sculptor Jeremy Butler. Jeremy is a very talented figurative sculptor. He is great at depicting the human figure. There was a challenge in the exhibiting of human nude forms… so because of this Jeremy and I fell into the conversation of WHAT IS ART…in 2019. We ask the question of each other and felt that it would be good to expand the question to other so it evolved into the title of the show. And now it has become the title of the City Hall Exhibition and I hope it that it will continue t allow us to share this discussing about art. 

And what is art in your terms and what is your definition of being an artist? 

If I had to answer the question of what is art, it would involve the connecting of two elements… the first being TRUTH and the second being CREATIVITY… When you put the two together I believe what you get is the product and the process that leads to art. Because of this I feel the an artist is the person that has the job of creating and defining the visual elements of the time period. The artist cues in to the world around them and assist the culture in finding it visual message. 


What inspires you to create? 

I am easily inspired to create and it does not take much to set me off. I know it sounds simple but EVERYTHING inspires my creative juices I see ideas almost everywhere I look. 


How do you start your process stretch, brainstorming, and straight to the surface? 

I keep sketch books so when something hits me I doodle or scribble notes and ideas…It is my goal to draw something every day… SO maintaining a sketch book is always the best part. 

You do a variety of different mediums when it comes to your art, is that by choice? 

I feel art is an energy, so the variety of mediums that I use are often driven by the range of energy that I want to put into the design 

And if you had to choose one medium, which one would it be? Believe it or not if I had to pick just one thing to do it would be photography. I started as an photographer as a child…I got a small Kodak camera as a child for Christmas and was always the one in the family that walked around with the camera…. I love photos… 

Where can people learn more about you and your art? Well sorry to say that I do not have a web site…It is on my to do list and I have tried several free ones… I have a local Studio that I open at least once a year along with a Facebook page…. Currently I am working on getting my art out and in front of a wider audience. 

THANK YOU for this opportunity… 


Thank you Keith!




2 thoughts on “Artlinc Spotlight: Keith Tolen

  1. “Keith Tolen is also a humble visual art treasure here in South Carolina, and one of the most talented artists in the southeast area.” This describe him so well. He is also one of the kindest, eager-to-help people I have ever known. I am blessed to know him! May God continue to bless this precious man.


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