The Significance of Travel in Art
by Cassidy Mantor
Painter Langford Barksdale was first exposed to concepts of mountain minimalism during her junior year abroad in Italy. After graduation, she returned to Europe and studied in Switzerland, further immersing herself in the culture and landscape of the Alps. Today, Langford studies yoga and incorporates the colors represented by chakras to produce abstract paintings that are balanced and harmonious. Her contemporary work focuses on themes of inner healing and spirituality, and she partners with interior designers to help make the home a happy resource.
Gallerist Karen Thomas is the owner of Sisters-based Toriizaka Art. She has a unique collection of Asian art that she began building while living abroad for 25 years. When Karen and her husband first moved back to the States, they landed in Portland. They had a second home in Black Butte Ranch and ultimately relocated to live there full-time. Karen explains their decision: “We felt freer and that the air was better in Central Oregon.”
One woman is an artist and one is a collector. One was heavily influenced by travels and studies in Europe, the other by living in Asia for decades with her family. Read on to learn more about how Langford and Karen found their ways to Central Oregon and the global perspective that is captured in their work.
Toriizaka Art: meaningful stories ready to be told
“Why bother having a piece of art if it doesn’t jump out and grab you in some form—either making you think or stopping you in your tracks to admire its vibrance?”
“One shouldn’t buy art because it matches the sofa,” gallerist Karen Thomas says. “One should buy art because it speaks to you. Personally, I love figurative works, color, and saturation and I’m drawn to emotional depictions and stories attached to the work,” she shares. “Why bother having a piece of art if it doesn’t jump out and grab you in some form—either making you think or stopping you in your tracks to admire its vibrance?”
Karen is the owner of Toriizaka Art in the Hood Avenue Arts District in Sisters, Oregon, where every piece is hand-selected and carries a meaningful story ready to be told.
Karen founded Toriizaka Art out of a desire to share her love of art with others. She lived in Japan for 25 years with her husband and four children, and during that time, developed a love of contemporary Asian art and artists. Avid travelers, Karen and her husband, Jack, were always on the lookout for art that spoke to them and they began building an eclectic collection in 1984 during their first trip to India. “For whatever reason, we’d become attached to various pieces” Karen shares. “The art wasn’t always expensive, but it touched us and we had a connection to it.” For years, friends saw their collection grow and would request that Karen find pieces for their homes and offices.
Salon-style gallery – Tokyo home
Karen’s journey as a curator began in the year 2000 during her first trip to Vietnam. “I saw art by talented, trained artists that was distinctively different and led me to research the Vietnamese art scene. I learned that many of the artists attended one of three highly competitive art schools, which had been started by the French and maintained by the Vietnamese government after independence. Initially, talented students were recruited from all over the country to support communist propaganda efforts. Later, after ‘Doi Moi’ when market economic reforms were instituted, the tradition of seeking artistic talent from throughout the country made admission to these art schools extremely competitive.”
Karen returned to Vietnam in late 2005 with a goal to purchase a number of pieces and introduce the works to her Tokyo community. Her first event was well attended and surprisingly, a sellout. After that, she concluded that she might have a business. Subsequently, she founded Toriizaka Art and set up a “salon-style gallery” in her home in Tokyo where she organized charity events and wine tastings, among other things, to increase awareness of the artists she was promoting.
In 2009, Karen began curating four major exhibitions a year at the ANA InterContinental Hotel in downtown Tokyo, an engagement she continued for nine years. It was at this time that she started working with contemporary Japanese artists.
Returning to the States
In the summer of 2018, Jack retired, and they chose to move to downtown Portland. They bought and renovated three condos into a single 5,700-square-foot combined living and gallery space at the top of KOIN Tower and, after 18 months of construction, they were ready to hang their art and host events. Then COVID-19 and other unfortunate events affecting downtown Portland happened. Karen and Jack began spending more time in Central Oregon where they had a second home in Black Butte Ranch and found themselves thriving in the environment.
“We love the air and feel really free and comfortable here,” Karen reflects. They found it to be an easy place to make friends and meet people. “A lot of people who come here have spent time in big cities and have decided to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy life in a different way,” Karen observes. Hiking, biking, and pickleball contribute to their active lifestyle and their relationships with their neighbors. “Our conversations focus on travel, art collections, and what our kids are doing,” she adds.
After deciding to move full-time to their house in Black Butte, Karen and Jack purchased a building on Hood Avenue in Sisters, stripped it down to the studs and worked with Chris Mayes, a local Sisters architect, and Charlie Patterson, of Construction Management Services in Sisters, to design and build their gallery. The design reflects Toriizaka Art’s salon-style roots and contains oriental rugs and other “home” touches. “The space is purpose-built and is designed to show art in a relaxed, no pressure space with room to breathe and contemplate. Additionally, the space has been designed in a way so that we hope to be able to continue our tradition of supporting local charities with intimate events,” Karen shares. “We are looking forward to becoming a part of the community and hope that art lovers, community members, and visitors to the region will come through to learn more about our artists, their stories, and their unique techniques.”
“We love the air and feel really free and comfortable here. A lot of people who come here have spent time in big cities and have decided to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy life in a different way.”
–Karen Thomas, Owner, Toriizaka Art
Toriizaka Art’s goal continues to be to represent talented artists and introduce their creative genius in a laid-back, no-pressure environment. They strive to make each experience positive, rewarding, and memorable. Their greatest pleasure is knowing that their clients have chosen art that speaks to them. Toriizaka Art is excited to support other galleries in Sisters and grow its presence doing what it does best—presenting moving work from thriving artists in a nurturing community setting. “We are looking forward to meeting folks and having a place for people to come to enjoy seeing a unique body of art,” she says.
Langford Barksdale: Mountain Minimalism
“The opportunity to finally breathe and make a commitment to do exactly what I wanted to do independent of the demands of societal pressure brought great relief and freedom that produced a better reflection in my artwork and sales.”
–Langford Barksdale, Artist
Junior year abroad is a magical time for college students: passport stamps, staying up all night to watch sunrises, exploring new cultures, and maybe even getting to speak the foreign language that was studied in younger years. For artist Langford Barksdale, junior year abroad was truly life-changing.
Langford studied painting in Cortona, Italy, and was greatly inspired by the spiritual nature of Italian culture. Immersed in art, daily trips to cathedrals and chapels presented a spiritual climate that changed the concept of her intuitive creative process. Her boyfriend was studying in Austria, and they would meet up for adventures. They hiked through Cinque Terre and skied Cervinia on the Italian side of the Matterhorn during the summer. They ate traditional Italian food at the base of the mountain in celebration of not skiing off one of the many unmarked cliffs. As she was taking the bus up the St. Bernard pass in Switzerland, she was awestruck. Langford thought, “I’ve gotta come back here.”
Langford listened to her inner voice and moved to Switzerland to study art and theology after she graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.F.A. in Painting. Her roommate at Swiss L’abri was studying at Oregon State University in Corvallis and married a fellow classmate from Hood River. Langford traveled to Oregon to be a bridesmaid in their wedding and immediately fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. Just like her moment in Switzerland when she knew she’d be back, she had the same feeling about Bend.
Langford moved to Sunriver in 2016 after living in Aspen for over a decade. The move was a contrary departure from a bartending position she loved and held for seven years at Aspen Highlands, a place where hard-core locals loved to play and a community that made her feel welcome. It also was fueled by her desire to own her own home, something that was not possible due to Aspen’s housing crisis. When she first arrived in Bend, she thought, “This is still a real ski town.” Subsequently, she manifested her dream of home ownership in Bend.
Freedom to follow one’s truth is a key theme in Langford’s work, and she values the rare serenity that the West Coast offers. From the John Muir coast to the Deschutes National Forest, Langford believes the western landscape is a divine treasure to experience. In addition to creating a growing body of work, Langford’s journey was fueled by residencies on the Northern California coast as well as teaching and leading children’s workshops in Aspen. Her kind nature led her to yoga and she received her YTT 200 credential from Aspen Shakti. Later in Bend, she got certified in Trauma Sensitive yoga from TULA Movement Arts. Yoga inspires her art as she explores themes of spiritual harmony. Her work continues to evolve and combine intuitive healing, creative design, and care for the soul.
Langford’s mother was one of Nashville’s first interior designers. In high school, Langford began painting large-scale oil canvases in the hallways of her school. She channeled the pressure she felt from her traditional upbringing in the South into figurative expressive themes. In addition to art, yoga helped her transform out of this sense of feminine martyrdom. “It was a huge shift for me,” she says. “The opportunity to finally breathe and make a commitment to do exactly what I wanted to do independent of the demands of societal pressure brought great relief and freedom that produced a better reflection in my artwork and sales.”
“I’m very mindful of making it possible for someone to get a pop of coral in their home without making a long-term color commitment that might disrupt a marriage.”
–Langford Barksdale, Artist
Langford’s creative process invokes a dream state. Her contemporary work is informed by the Madeline L’Engle book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. “The book is about the artist’s creative journey and is a reminder to have faith and believe in yourself, follow your heart, and go to the places where you truly want to wake up and find yourself,” she explains. “I have felt that way for the past five years waking up in Bend, thanks to a number of dear friends, art representatives, and family who have supported my artistic journey. Being surrounded by nature – whether it’s a deer grazing in the backyard in Sunriver or jumping on the Deschutes River Trail with an osprey flying overhead – I am in awe of this beautiful environment. Letting nature whisper its own tale on a daily basis is quite a blessing to fill one’s creative well.”
Today, Langford’s work has evolved into a different practice. “I got out most of my teenage angst,” she laughs. “Thirty years later, I love working with designers on projects styled to make the atmosphere of the home a happy resource for a family.” She loves working with color to serve the client and enhance the home in a simple way.
That ease translates to her prices, too. Incorporating her art into a room is an extremely efficient and economic way to refresh a space. She explains, “I’m very mindful of making it possible for someone to get a pop of coral in their home without making a long-term color commitment that might disrupt a marriage.”
Langford’s artwork is in collections across the globe including the Nashville Public Library, Ameris Fidelity Bank Headquarters Atlanta, Mac Presents NYC, The Hyatt Centric Nashville, Heritage Title Louisville, Donna Summer Studios Santa Monica, L’Abri International Switzerland, and Harpeth Hall School in Nashville. She is represented by Serena & Lily, Saatchi International, and a variety of galleries across the globe. Langford works with interior designers across North America on custom commissions for clients.
“I am grateful for the team of visionaries who curate my art and am honored to work in partnership with them.”
–Langford Barksdale, Artist
She is currently participating in a nine-month residency at the Charleston Place Hotel with a group of artists from Nashville, Charleston, Atlanta, D.C., and Palm Beach. Last year, Langford’s Oyster and Pearl series was installed in the lobby of the Hyatt Centric Hotel in downtown Nashville. She says, “I am grateful for the team of visionaries who curate my art and am honored to work in partnership with them.”
Langford enjoys doing pop-ups and events in Bend. Last year, she was the first artist to display at the Grove Market Hall. Her original work is on show at Northwest Crossing at The Work-Collective. The office space is hosting an event in mid-September that is open to the public and will celebrate the community with food, music, art, and fun.
In addition to her upcoming exhibitions, Langford continues to work with interior designers that contact her to work on site-specific commissions. She has completed large focal point commissions in homes in Palo Alto, Colorado, New England, New York City, D.C., Nashville, and Atlanta. She continues to travel and immerse herself in nature and reflect that in her art.
Langford has always been surrounded by creative expression and art. She understands how interior design enhances one’s vision and lifestyle. Her ambition is to continue creating in a way that leads her and others to find themselves living their best lives. She observes that it’s what a lot of dreamers did as they forged their new lives out West, and the message continues to resonate. She says, “We put our best effort forth and let the universe do the rest.”