Below is the full text of Ed McCormack's review of David Tobey's paintings and sculpture exhibited in his November 7-25, 2006 one-man show at Pleiades Gallery in New York.
"A Symphonic Flow
Animates David Tobey's Abstractions"
"Although other visual artists have drawn analogies between abstract painting and music, David Tobey can speak with special authority on the relationship between the two art forms, being both a painter and a professional violinist who has been performing for over thirty years. In fact, recently when Tobey's painting "Exuberance" was reproduced on the program cover for the Music Conservatory of Westchester's 75th anniversary concert at Alice Tully Hall, as well as on a large poster displayed outside Lincoln Center, Tobey performed as guest conductor for part of the program.
"Growing up in Westchester, as the child of the well-known historical illustrator and muralist Alton Tobey and the renowned concert pianist Rosalyn Tobey, David Tobey got a firm grounding in both of his artistic disciplines from an early age. But while his father was his first art teacher, the fact that he eventually gravitated toward abstract painting (a genre closer to music, which by its very nature is the most abstract of all the arts) indicates that he may have been even more influenced subliminally by the sound of his mother's piano, presumably as it resonated from another part of the house as she practiced or rehearsed. In any case, the visual/musical synthesis at which Tobey arrived, after graduating from the Julliard School of music and studying at The Art Students League, seems a natural outgrowth of that formative experience.
"For those, like myself, however, who have been familiar with only Tobey's paintings since his first solo show in New York City in 2003, the sculptures also included in his latest exhibition will reveal a whole new facet of this artist. The show, a benefit for the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, can be seen at Pleiades Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from November 7 through 25, with a reception on Thursday November 9 from 5:30 to 8:30 PM.
"One should not be surprised that Tobey would endeavor to capture an equally musical sense of movement, rhythm, and spontaneity in his sculptures as in his paintings; yet one cannot help but be impressed nonetheless by how well he succeeds, given the unyielding nature of his medium, welded metal. Tobey exemplifies the approach that the Spanish sculptor Julio Gonzalez espoused when he pioneered this medium in the 1920s: "drawing in space". Tobey achieves a unique draughtsmanly fluidity in metal, surpassing even that of Gonzalez, as he duplicates the forms in his paintings in three dimensions, particularly through his use of gracefully curved rods to convey a similarly linear quality, or uses organic shapes in combination with more geometric forms to invest the contours of his pieces with a sense of flow and flux.
"Those who saw Tobey's first Manhattan exhibition may remember that he titled it "The Structure of Energy". That felicitous phrase still applies in terms of encapsulating what his work is really about: the syntheses of energy and form, of vitality and control. And while it was descriptive in the first instance of his paintings, the same dynamic applies to his welded steel sculptures like "Junk Yard Dog," in which various found metal objects, such as a large spring, screws, bolts, and other salvaged industrial debris are employed much in the same way that Tobey layers skeins of pigment in his acrylics on canvas.
"The main difference, of course, is that in Tobey's sculptures, form alone must do the work of form and color. This could seem a formidable handicap, since in his paintings, Tobey is a sumptuous colorist, combining brilliant hues in both painting and music.
"However, Tobey more than makes up for the absence of color in his sculptures by virtue of the fluidity of his forms, in pieces such as "Conductor," where the metal rod at the top of the piece, supported by a welded welter of more baroque, anthropomorphic shapes, wittily suggests a baton. Other metal sculptures such as "Quixote," "El Toro" and "Moon Archer" also emulate the hide-and-seek element of figuration that animates Tobey's abstractions, where one is initially seduced by formal elements only to encounter allusions to the visible world on prolonged viewing. Although it is a delight to suddenly discover the mounted knight within the freewheeling abstraction of Tobey's "Quixote," or discern the contours of the horned bovine in "El Toro," this sense of delayed recognition is especially appealing in "Moon Archer." For here, the circular shape at the top of the piece seems to function both as the simplified head of an abstract figure aiming an arrow and a lunar orb, making concrete metaphor for the poetic title.
"As for Tobey's paintings, they continue to evolve at a pace with his native talent, as seen in the brilliantly colorful and richly configured large canvas called "Bishop Takes Rook," which according to the artist emulates how chess masters strategize to formulate a dynamic approach to the game while creating concealed patterns and relationships within, with linear images of chess pieces hidden within the composition's intricate configurations of swirls, set against a brilliant red ground. While the artist's use of gracefully sweeping loops of black and yellow poured paint as the dominant forms in this work might recall Jackson Pollock, the more deliberate calligraphic dance of the underlying linear networks is more akin to the work of Mark Tobey, a namesake to whom, as far as one knows, David Tobey is not related.
"Among several other strong paintings and sculptures, perhaps the centerpiece of David Tobey's new exhibition is "Fallen Angels 9/11," a large acrylic on canvas, painted in 2002, that alludes to the video images of the terrorist victims who were forced to leap to their death from the burning Twin Towers, which have been burned indelibly into our communal memory by the news media. Through the merciful auspices of abstraction, the artist transforms the horrific into the symbolic, creating an image as mythical as the Fall of Icarus. In this powerful, vertiginous composition in a palette dominated by red, white, and blue, David Tobey demonstrates that his visual music can be somber as well as uplifting."
Gallery & Studio Magazine