This week’s Weekly has my review of Blaise Tobia’s show “Open Studio” at Silicon Gallery. Below is the copy with some adds, changes and photos.
Like those “separated at birth” photos, Blaise Tobia‘s photographic pairings turn the world into a series of unnatural twins. But the artist’s twosomes, as well as his other more single-focused works, are not comic — they’re observations that deliver poetic thoughts about the world.
In his show of large and small digital photographs at Silicon Gallery the artist and Drexel prof’s Plain and Fancy series compares textures from the insides and outsides of Amish horse-drawn buggies. The large works, clipped to the wall unframed, present the austere grey buggy exteriors in extreme closeup turning straight-edged seams and rivets into lines and dots in an abstract composition.
The interiors, too, are close-cropped abstractions where pattern-stitched upholstery in hot house colors become plush almost psychedelic wave patterns. I don’t know what’s more shocking — that the Amish have opulently appointed interiors in their carriages or that Tobia got access from the reclusive people to take these intimate shots.
In either case, the photos raise questions about stereotypes and the old saw about not judging a book by its cover. While it’s true that any people distilled down to this ant’s eye view will reveal surprises, here, Tobia’s choice of the religious separatists at this time in history reverberates in a world far wider than Lancaster County.
Tobia’s strength is in his quirky eye which is drawn to odd bits of infrastructure, random juxtapositions and man-made textures. In his series of twenty street photos, also unframed and pinned to the wall, he finds concordance in circles, lines, mirrors and signs that speak a universal urban language. While formal in nature, these photos are also portraits of Everycity in old age, where crumbling stucco, peeling paint, bricked up windows and grafitti become wrinkles on the face of one you love. While each image stands alone, the strength here is in reading the images side by side as a narrative without words, a tale of a city.
Tobia does not insert a human figure into these works but the human is everywhere implied. And the artist in fact is a great people photographer, as he shows in his recent book, The Castle of Euphemio, and in new photos based on a trip to China. It would be great to see the people photos and these depopulated pieces together at some point.
Scanned objects floating on fields of velvety black make up a third body of work in the show. These large iconic images of everyday objects – a grid of animal crackers, a saw blade, a slide rule, a circuit board, a crushed soda can – are both personal to the artist and universal symbols of work, consumption, childhood and technology.
Like Fanfare for the Common Man they are both elegaic and triumphant. Their praise of human achievement points to the future.
The show in Silicon’s large, wood-floored workroom, where huge digital printers, paper cutters and flat files vie for attention below the prints, lends the show an immediacy that a pristine gallery space would not. While not quite a studio visit, a trip to this show conveys an artist at work sharing his new efforts.