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Tove Witzerman Langridge – with a name like that, you’d best be an artist…

It’s a rare privilege to be able to see firsthand an artist’s journey from tentative preteen to self-assured expressionist, but that’s what happens when your oldest friend is a constantly evolving genius. Okay, maybe genius is a bit over the top, but he’s pretty smart and good at art, and well…in my book that makes you a genius.

Tove Langridge and I met when we were five. I thought he had too much hair, he thought I was a bitch. We were both right. I think I spent roughly twelve of the twelve years we were at school together teasing and bullying him, but in a totally platonic version of the little boy who pulls the little girl’s hair because he likes her, I was only mean to Tove because I was jealous of him. 32 years later he has no hair for me to laugh at and I’m no longer a bitch so much as a cynic, but I’m still pretty jealous of his talent.

Tove can do just about anything. Photography, painting, sketching, writing… In school he did all that plus tennis, swimming and drama. He even played the clarinet in the school band. And just to prove it is possible to be good at everything, he was a whiz at science and maths. Oh, and he was school captain. Plus, and he really couldn’t give a shit about this, he’s really good looking. Like, people stare at him just because he’s beautiful. It’s gross. See why I bullied him?

Tove

As we got older I realised that in Tove I got the perfect complement to me. All the things I just listed about him are nothing like me, and for that reason we fit. I call him my puzzle piece. For a long time he lived in New York and I hardly saw him. Thank goodness he’s close by again, not that we get much time to see each other now either. Life, hey?

Just before Tove flew away to Manhattan and a scholarship at SVA, he was painting watercolours that were a bit sort of Picasso and a bit sort of Matisse and, frankly, a bit sort of fucked up. I mean, some of his paintings of women really made me wonder if he had any clue of anatomy at all. I liked them though. My favourite of all of them from this time is one I fished out of the rubbish and had framed without his knowledge. He might not have been happy with it, but I knew it was a treasure.

It didn’t take long for Tove’s work to change dramatically when he got to New York. He was working with Michael Goldberg, one of the last abstract expressionists of the New York School of the 1950s and 60s. I hated it – messy, abstract shit. I resisted his changing style. It didn’t do anything for me. Where were the self-portraits? Where were the women with their tits hanging near their ankles?

And then, one day, it clicked. My unsophisticated brain finally recognised that there was more of Tove in one of his abstract works than in a hundred realistic self-portraits. I was with him in New York when my conversion occurred, which feels like a hundred years ago now. Seven weeks of Tove patiently explaining Kandinsky, and Miro and Rothko to me finally paid off – I felt I could read abstract expressionist art, even at its most primal. I could see which work had come easy to him, and which had required more effort. I could make out emotions in his colour combinations. As he said to me one day, “Why bother making art that isn’t ambiguous? Art for me is a reflection of life and life itself is ambiguous.” Told you he was smart. I love that I can stand in front of one of those paintings and let the emotions it evokes just kind of wash over me. His drawings from this time are some of my favourites – circular, swirling sketches full of depth and whimsy.

A prolonged stay in Guatemala before coming home changed his work again. I could see the pull of Naïve Art, and the paintings of local artisans. The drawings took on a childlike aesthetic, playful and full of colour and movement. They were Central America on paper, and I loved them.

He’s back in Australia now and absorbed in his new business bringing international contemporary art to the masses. He’s still an artist, but the other half of his brain, the practical side, has taken over for the time being. And so, while he’s focussing on building his empire, I thought I’d focus on his artwork. I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been dragging out the old stuff!

All images reproduced with permission.

If you want to see what Tove is up to now, check out http://twfineart.com/

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