Category: In The Artist's Studio

Tom Bolles: Paintings that Glow

Influenced by color field painting and op art, Tom Bolles approaches his work with an emphasis on light. Each painting glows from within its minimalist but dimensional composition. Learn more about the artist and his multilayered process.

“I am constantly attempting to create paintings that glow, as though they are backlit.”


Tell us about your background. When did you start creating art?

My father was an architect and the owner of a contemporary art gallery. My mother was talented at drawing and sculpting, though never pursued either except as hobbies. Our home was filled with painting and sculpture by both local and international artists. Consequently, my siblings and I had virtually no choice but to be interested in art and architecture.

I was supposed to follow in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by becoming an architect, but in high school decided that I preferred the hands-on nature of fine art.



Describe your creative process.

The majority of my recent art starts out on my computer, using Photoshop. Ten years ago I began to use Photoshop because I was creating paintings with a digital content of 1’s and 0’s.

Now the computer serves as my sketch pad, an efficient way to explore lots of ideas for paintings through trial and error. I refine the better results and have them printed on canvas. The printed canvas is like an underpainting in traditional art. The design is fully laid out, and the approximate colors are there. Then with a brush, palette knife, and spray gun I apply multiple layers of translucent paint.

My goal is that the finished painting has lots of depth, an immaculate finish, and luminosity.



What inspires your color choices?

My color palette goes through wild mood swings. Right now I am working on several pieces with a very bright palette, including fluorescent pigments, and several more that are dark and brooding. The bright palette harkens back to op art and psychedelic art of the 60’s. The dark palette is reminiscent of the palette of Pierre Soulages and Mark Rothko’s darker paintings.

What both groups of paintings have in common is an emphasis on light. I am constantly attempting to create paintings that glow, as though they are backlit. In a few paintings I have incorporated LED lighting to enhance their luminosity.


How has your work evolved over the years?

How many years back should we go? In elementary school I was copying op art paintings by artists like Frank Stella and Bridget Riley. In high school I was silk screening psychedelic posters for concerts and events. In college and throughout the 80’s I was doing geometric abstraction paintings. In the early 90’s I was experimenting with sculpture, using neon, sheet metal, and resin.

I then headed in a more minimal direction through the first decade of this century, making monochromatic acrylic and tinted resin paintings. In the second decade I think I finally learned how to paint. It is as though I had synthesized all the techniques and knowledge acquired over the decades.


My biggest challenge now is that I get restless after having created several paintings in a similar format, and try to come up with something new and different. That said, there is a common thread in each series of paintings, sculptures, and prints: the influences of op art, minimalism, and color field painting in all my work over the decades. In my world they intersect and overlap.


More from Tom Bolles:

View our current selection of work.
Explore additional blogs, videos, and installation photos.