Feelings of longing, camaraderie, and toil abound in Tori Tinsley’s solo exhibition HUGS at Laney Contemporary. Given the show’s title alluding to acts of love, I was instantly drawn to the attention and care Tinsley lent to rendering her paintings. Applied in thick, juicy strokes, the paint has a feeling of liveliness; individual marks are laid on the surface side-by-side rather than mixed and muddled. The result of this technique is vibrational, as the colors bump against each other, coexisting in harmony rather than dominating or diffusing their respective hues. Much like the embracing figures in her work, Tinsley’s minute brushstrokes also created a sense of tenderness by acknowledging how disparate parts coming together can be transcendent.
Throughout HUGS, we see the same pink, fleshy figures—which the artist also called “hugs”—in a variety of fantastical settings, sometimes pleasant, other times distressing but always on the move. Despite the comfort they seem to take in each other’s company, these characters appear to feel exhausted. Regularly prostrate, one hug can often be seen dragging the other, both aided by a donkey in a journey that plays out like a fairytale. The hugs toil through each setting unwilling to go further, yet unable to stop. This existential dread and longing for rest feels especially pointed following the chaos of 2020, a year that felt like a continual slog through traumatic events. However, the weight of this exhaustion is lifted in moments of reprieve found in some of the more humorous works in the show. Butt Poke, for example., depicts one figure laying face down in a verdant field while the other figure pokes their butt with a stick.
More than anything else, my desire to touch the artworks dominated my experience of the exhibition as they tempted me with their tactile, textural brushstrokes. While poring over the multi-layered floral forms in Down in the Valley, I longed to run my fingertips over the surface and discern the forms through touch as well as sight. This longing for touch was most pronounced when viewing Ossabaw for Two, a large diorama occupying much of the second room of the gallery. The same landscape and donkeys seen in previous artworks have now been stuffed to create pillow-like sculptures. Noticeably, this diorama lacked the hug figures present in almost every other artwork. To me, this felt like an invitation to take their place as the viewer and stand among the familiar scenery seen throughout the exhibition. I was thankful to have travelled to the exhibition with friends. After basking in Tinsley’s lovely testament to human intimacy and touch, driving home to Atlanta would have been insufferable alone.