Artwork of the Week, Aug. 31, 2009

streer car

Jon Tobin
Urban Winter King St. Toronto

I should start by clearing the air a bit with this one, because I am inclined to be prejudiced towards it’s excellence:
I now own this painting.

Now on to what makes it worthwhile.

Ethereal, mysterious, atmospheric, emotive, sublime — these are all adjectives that come to mind when face to face with one of Tobin’s landscapes. “Urban Winter, King St. Toronto” typifies Tobin’s style and unique vision of place. Many of his better-known series include a figure caught in motion, moving through the pictorial plane away from the viewer. More often than naught, this figures are faceless. The placement and the anonymity of the figure allows for the viewer to engage with the artwork — it as if the viewer has entered the scene mid-narrative. The viewer’s response to the work is entirely personal. They can either project their own mood or story on to the image, or they can allow their imagination to create an identity for Tobin’s protagonist.

Here, we see a handful of figures on King St., caught moving through a blizzard to and from one of Toronto’s street cars. Each one is treated individually, yet each lacks a definitive identity. Where are they going in this weather? What is so important that they’re wading out in the storm? Where is that street car taking them? One female figure seems to hang back. She seems a spectator rather than one of the people on move towards the car. She is the figure we as viewers most readily identity with.

The muted and simple palate is Tobin’s trademark approach to color. His painterly brushwork creates an eery glow but also gives it the familiar air of a recalled memory. When my mother, who was raised in Toronto, saw the painting, her first response was “this is exactly how I remember those street cars in winter.”

I can’t stop looking at or thinking about the painting — which is the only problem I really have with Tobin’s work.

(I also think this makes for an interesting comparison to “Street Dresdan” by Kirchner)

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