Tonya Henderson Rollyson: Artist’s Abstracts Reflect Mood, Personality


Tonya Henderson Rollyson

Although abstract, it’s easy to find mood in Tonya Henderson Rollyson’s acrylic paintings, 10 of which are on display at Sterling Heights City Hall through out April.

“Spiraling Down,” in which a dark looping spiral whirls into a black abyss, represents what Rollyson called “a bad day.” “Fading Funk” is also black with spots of bright yellow, symbolizing the start of something good. Another painting in the same series, Rollyson said, “feels like a headache. It’s as if your head is going to explode looking at it.”

The emotional paintings are part of a series of 20 which, when lined up, tell a story. “It was like reading a book,” Rollyson said. The series was also among the first abstracts painted by Rollyson two years ago.

Rollyson, who lives in Gaines, is the Sterling Heights Artist of the Month of April. Her displayed paintings are on sale for $500 each by calling 989-271-9576. While paintings such a “Leo,” a textured medium abstract which clearly features the face of the lion, may not reflect changing moods, most of Rollyson’s art and the art displayed in Sterling Heights features Rollyson’s signature shape - a circle. Rollyson admits she’s intrigued by the shape and uses it in many different ways through her art. Her favorite displayed painting in Sterling Heights is called “Becoming the Circle,” in which it appears as if circles are taking root in soil. An early abstract features layered circles shaped into a tunnel.

“I realized that circles were my signature,” she said. “It’s amazing how many ways you can paint a circle, to look like bubbles, discs in flying through space, spheres, spirals ...” Rollyson has not always painted circular objects and abstract art. Rollyson, who says she believes a person does not become an artist but is rather born one, received an associate’s degree of occupational studies in visual communications from the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver. She worked as a freelance graphic designer for ad and marketing agencies, and full-time at WJRT-TV 12 in Flint where she designed on-air graphics, commercials and other artwork.

Rollyson decided to focus on fine art and work from her home to avoid putting her children - Zach, 18, and Katie, 16 - in daycare. She also began painting almost exclusively with acrylics. She started teaching art classes, and continued to paint and show her contemporary works. Rollyson also paints murals, floor cloths and glassware in addition to canvas. Her switch to abstract a couple of years ago gave her more creative freedom, she said. Many times, she will start an abstract painting without having an idea of what to paint. She’ll layer modeling paste with acrylics and metallics on canvas, bringing the painting to life. An image appears and Rollyson further develops.

Her work has been showcased throughout Michigan and the United States. Rollyson said she is proud to have had five pieces shown at the Agora Gallery in New York City. Besides Sterling Heights, her work is also currently displayed in Flint, Owosso and Austin, Texas. Although her children are now teens, Rollyson continues to work from her home studio, located in her dining room. She hopes to one day turn her pole barn into a large studio.

Image Credits: Kaleidoscope, 2007 Acrylic 18" x 18"

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