Gert and Uwe Tobias - Exhibition Review


Reviewed by Sophy Rickett

Published in Photomonitor

The Tobias brothers have collaborated since 2001, working with a combination of media including woodcut, ceramics, sculpture, painting, drawing and collage (as well as a little photography).  Theirs is a kind of half-world inhabited by an array of strangely truncated, abstract forms, hybrid shapes, patterns, ornamentation, and big, beautiful blocks of heavily printed colour; a world contained by an elaborate system of cross- referencing and of skewed repetition – an archive of the mind that makes complete sense, and also none at all. 

Masks, flowers, leaves, and the thickly woven seat of a chunky wicker chair float in deep blocks of colour.  There’s a miniature arm, and a hand, and a lectern, and against a background of deep, matt black, the beak of a bird emerges from a scruff of chalky mint paint.  An owl with a human hand clutches a vase, a woman chases her head.  It is as if ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ are perfectly conjoined, tied together by ‘a single pictorial idea’ that always, according to the artists, ‘has its roots in drawing’.

So while photography is not a main feature of their work, and they seem only to appropriate existing photographic images from other printed sources rather than make their own, it is still interesting to listen to the way the artists talk about their work and think about it in relation to contemporary debates around photographic representation; ‘The possibility of making a figure life-size …’, says Uwe, when discussing the expansion of scale that their process of building up an image by using segmented printing blocks, permits, ‘allows the [viewer] to enter the pictorial space; it extends the pictorial space out into the gallery.’  

Throughout the installation, the artists’ evocation of pictorial space is fluid, subject to different forces, and at times divergent traditions from 20th century art history, from the repeated motif of the Modernist rectilinear grid, which has a tendency to flatten or ‘democratize’ the pictorial space, to the idea they discuss in the interview reproduced in the catalogue supplement, of the picture as a window into another world; a proscenium. ‘This directness, this immediacy’, says Gert, ‘the potential for the viewer to identify with the figure is much stronger in a larger work.  The scale is preserved…’

Despite this, some of the most intriguing works in the show are smaller, for example, Collaged Books, 2013, a collection of vitrine-based works, that, despite the title, are not books with any sense of completeness.  Their status as ‘book’ is more of a hint – a testing out of ideas in relation to a final formulation.  They represent an exploration of colour, graphics and type, with jauntily cut serrated edges, paper inserts protruding, and other surfaces rendered by hand, set in relation to something much more mechanically orientated.  They are books in the embryonic stage of development, books becoming books, process suspended.

With these, as with many other works in the exhibition, it took a while to take in the work, to process it, before my reaction was articulated through the sound of gentle laughter from the other side of the gallery, another visitor, almost in surprise; ‘I quite like these…’

 – Sophy Rickett