We humans have created infinite ways to meter and divide the space we perceive between when the sun rises and falls, the force we refer to as time. This force is constant, though the way we experience it changes just as much, accelerating and slowing as we pass through the various, devastatingly cliche moments that punctuate the space between life and death: childhood, schooling, relationships, parenthood, middle age. If we are lucky, we are told, we make it to retirement, the glorious trophy at the end of the slog. But what about that slog?
As we pass through these thresholds, it is common, dare I say natural, to take inventory of where one falls on the path we have imagined for ourselves. This impulse stands out in Swing State, an exhibition that considers the space of middle age, not as a bridge to another time but as a destination in itself.
When time’s unwavering current starts to feel like an overwhelming tide, I often return to John-Paul Satre’s confoundingly simple adage, “existence precedes essence.” Otherwise put, our purpose and impact on the world is defined only by the sum of our living hours. Our actions determine our character, and not the other way round.
In Satre’s brief yet compelling play, No Exit, three characters force each other to re-evaluate their lives from the settees of Hell. Conspicuously absent is any type of glass, or reflection. The characters can only “see” themselves through the impressions of the others in the room. Similarly, in Swing State we never directly see the exhibition’s subject as one might in a portrait.
At first read, the works may seem autonomous and unconnected, but you should not be fooled by the plain, descriptive titles. The distinct compositions present a composite portrait of our absent subject, the artist, Ann Toebbe. Though the interior spaces do not all necessarily belong to Toebbe, the exhibition guides us through a personalized tour, with her hand pointing out specific details.
We follow Toebbe as she ricochets in a non-linear universe of flat interiors. The paintings traverse the kitsch comfort of overstuffed pillows and rounded edges of Ohio and Kentucky, where Toebbe spent her formative years, to the jumble of unfamiliar homes she encounters in her present day life as a mother and artist. Toebbe operates as an investigative journalist, archiving her in-law’s in Seattle and the homes of acquaintances like her daughter’s piano teacher. The slog is all around her.
In her recollections of these spaces, we see the possessions of others but we also see Toebbe’s complete mastery of materials: house plants, armoires, family photos, ornate pillows and children’s toys all receive her signature multi-layer, multi-perspective treatment. The details feel lovingly over-the-top, and only a little bit cynical. Duly, Toebbe applies the same wry humor and critical eye to her own interior. Amongst the heavily knick-nacked homes and gingham curtains, Toebbe’s decidedly restrained, midwestern sensibility permeates these homes. Or perhaps this sensibility permeates Ann Toebbe.
It’s hard to tell. Time is funny like that. Sort of like when you return to spaces and objects that you knew as a child and discover that everything feels different because you have changed. In this way, Swing State is not just a clever reference to the artist’s Ohio origins and the political baggage that comes with it, but also a reference to the complexity inherent in the supposedly static space of middle age. It is not, as so many assume, a fixed spot, but actually a fulcrum. A central point from which to review where you have been and, for once, decide where you are going.
Antique Dealers | 2019 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 28 x 30 in.
Connoisseurs | 2019 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 28 x 22 in.
Piano Teacher | 2018 | gouache and paper collage on panel | 28 x 22 in.
Seamstress | 2017 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 28 x 22 in.
Family Room (Artist) | 2017 | gouache and paper collage on panel | 28 x 22 in.
Family Room (Sister) | 2017 | gouache and pencil on panel | 28 x 22 in.
Friend: Becky | 2018 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 24 x 30 in.
Friend: Jana | 2018 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 24 x 30 in.
Pictures and Pillows | 2016 | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 20 x 24 in.
Play Date | 2016 | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 20 x 24 in.
Ex-Wife | 2016 | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 18 x 24 in.
The Girl’s Room | 2016 | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 24 x 30 in.
Area Rugs and Placemats | 2015 | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel | 24 x 30 in.
Margie’s Hummels | 2017 - 2019 | glass sculpture of varying sizes (each approx 9 x 6 x 1/2 in.) | wood cabinet 2’3” x 1’11” x 4” | wood plinths 9 x 5 3/4 x 4 in.
Republican Donor | 2019 | gouache and paper collage on panel | 16 x 12 in.
Friends and Rentals
Tibor de Nagy Gallery, NY
June 6 - July 16, 2019
The exhibition features Toebbe’s intricate works made with gouache, pencil and paper collage on wood panels. The images depict domestic interior settings pulled from the social media posts of the artist's friends and family in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as her own photos with her husband and children. Toebbe archived these social media posts from her large extended family, including 42 cousins, amassing a trove of images of family gatherings, birthday parties, baby showers, and displays of Christmas decorations. She uses the background details revealed in these postings to construct portraits of the homes themselves. One work, Friend: Sandie, is a widow’s home in Kentucky that is all frill draperies, doilies and Christmas ornaments; another, Friend: Becky (pictured above) shows a cousin’s sprawling house in southern Ohio, furnished with large furniture and even larger TV screens tuned to sports channels, like a specimen of American suburban life preserved in amber.
Toebbe’s process is labor intensive. She employs freehand painting, flat geometry, geometric abstraction and intricate patterning; her paintings require numerous preparatory drawings and extensive planning. An important part of her work is the play with flatness and multiple points of view. Each work freely combines interior and outside viewpoints, views from above and cross-sections. Objects and figures appear unexpectedly at eye-level, like isolated artifacts. Toebbe’s working method draws inspiration from American folk art and Indian miniature painting. Folk art often embraces stylization and eschews perspective. Mughal painters utilized compartmentalization as a compositional device, as its origin was to inventory the king's court. As Ryan Steadman notes in the catalogue essay, "In this way, Toebbe exerts the control she has — control over her picture plane — in order to better organize the lives of her family and friends via images of their homes and belongings."
Friend: Susan | 48 x 60 inches, 5 panels| gouache, paper collage, flocking, pencil on panel (click for detail)
Friends: Lisa and Tim | 30 x 40 inches | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel (click for detail)
Friend: Janet | 18 x 20 inches | gouache, paper collage, pencil on panel (click for detail)
November 4 – December 23, 2017
Home Work brings together the work of two artists who are separated by a generation, yet share common interests in subject matter and certain stylistic impulses. Both Toebbe and McEneaney cull from intimate lived experience when it comes to the subjects they choose to address. And both, in some sense, favor a pictorial language that can be loosely defined as “faux-naïve.” That is to say that they both actively draw from the traditions of self-taught and outsider art, even though they each undertook academic training. Their way of making images is a conscious choice and a conceptual gambit.
‘Home’ and ‘Work’ are, for most people, the two most important and familiar zones in their lives. Toebbe and McEneaney confront these spaces with a familiarity that can emerge only after years of acquaintance. Their paintings invite the viewer into typically private locations that are presented without any sense of inherent hierarchy. Both artists offer us spaces that are flattened, overflowing with visual information and superficially candid. The situations encapsulated in their paintings are carefully selected, edited, and rendered. In one sense, Toebbe and McEneaney make observational paintings, yet they are less about reportage than they are about the psychic effect that Home and Work both exert. Sarah McEneaney’s paintings are autobiographical narratives that arrive from drawings, memory, observation, imagination, and photographs. As she has stated: “Though very direct, even factual, the paintings read less as memoir and more like creative non-fiction.” McEneaney most often addresses the spaces where she lives and paints, and conjures an intuitive pictorial space where her scenes can seemingly be comprehended at a glance. In her paintings, walls and furniture take on their own dimensionality, melding into one another, and the viewer is provided with an extraordinary amount of detail. All of the paintings presented in Home Work include the artist, who can be spotted within the frame, tucked into a corner or walking through a door, with her animals serving as constant companions.
Ann Toebbe’s paintings present aerial views of places from her personal history. The homes she depicts, or in one case an entire neighborhood, are visually deconstructed, unfolded and flattened. Once thus processed, they are capable of being studied, flipped upside down, and studied again. Miniscule clues to daily life provoke further investigation. Toebbe’s paintings are narrative. Relationships are explored - parents versus in-laws; sister versus self – although figures are absent. The sparse rectitude of one family’s home is contrasted with an abundance of knick-knacks in another; colorful walls cluttered with artwork are measured against scenes of carefully staged family photos. When seen as a group, it quickly becomes apparent that Toebbe’s primary interest is in how space and memory form identity.
Family Room (Artist) | gouache and paper on panel | 28 x 22 inches
Downhill (Delhi) | 12 x 16 inches | gouache and pencil on panel
ROOM AIR CONDITIONER
Monya Rowe Gallery, St. Augustine, FL
January 14 – March 18, 2017
In her third solo exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery, Ann Toebbe continues her engagement with the room as a subject in a new suite of drawings.
Each of the rooms depicted are formally arranged and absent of figures. Toebbe’s focus is on what we don’t see. And yet, we are given a lot to see. The viewer’s eyes voyeuristically meander around the rooms’ contents looking for clues about who might live there. Insignificant objects become signifiers. We begin to project our own subconscious memory. As human beings, we have a desire to want meaning. Meaning in the choices we make in life and meaning in the things around us, but objects don’t possess meaning until we invest them with it.
Like Florine Stettheiemer (1871- 1944), Toebbe has a penchant for documenting the immediate interior surroundings of herself and those close to her. Room Air Conditioner (2016) depicts the artist's childhood family room in the late 1970’s. Playdate (2016), a contemporary home, is centered around children’s drawings and a pile of Legos scattered on the floor. Without using photographs, each room is recreated solely from memory or recollection. Toebbe reconstructs the past, extracting details, thus questioning how we remember. The ordinary- a pillow collection, tchotchkes, family photographs- is transformed into the poetic allowing for the viewer to deduce new meaning. The past becomes our future.
Room Air Conditioner | 30 x 24 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
The Girl's Room | 24 x 30 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
Pictures and Pillows | 20 x 24 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
Ex-Wife | 18 x 24 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
First Apartment | 22 x 26 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
Play Date | 20 x 24 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper | 2016
Monya Rowe Gallery, New York, NY January 11 – February 22, 2015
Memory exercises a lot of poetic license; some details are deliberately omitted, or exaggerated, while others are remembered, perhaps, more fondly than the reality. Time can alter our perception of memory. Reality is constantly vacillating; desire, competition, anger, contentment, even old age, can play a role in how we visualize a past experience.
In Remarried, Ann Toebbe brings together eight new gouache and cut paper paintings depicting the domestic interiors of first and second marriages of people close to her. Delicately and elegantly constructed, Toebbe’s paintings of living rooms and in some cases, whole apartment layouts, frequently employ unusual visual horizontal and vertical formats. The flattened architectural space makes it difficult to discern where one room begins and another ends. Mundane objects, such as an isolated Coca Cola bottle, become psychologically fraught. With little evidence of day-to-day living, the formal arrangements rely on the viewer‘s expectation of memory to fill in the emotive energy.
Without using photographs, and mostly relying on recollected details told decades later or second-hand, each painting attempts to reconstruct the past: what happened versus what we remember, or what we want to remember.
Second Marriage, Madison Park | 30 x 40 | gouache, paper, flocking, collage on panel (click for detail)
Second Marriage, East View Park | 38 x 45 | gouache, paper, flocking, on panel (click for detail)
Remarried | 16 x 20 | gouache and paper on panel
Steven Zevitas Gallery, Boston, MA
July 5, 2014.
In Shared, Toebbe presents six new paintings on panel and two large works on paper. In the work, she continues the exploration of interior spaces that has defined her practice over the past decade. The subject of Toebbe’s work is memories of childhood homes of her friends and family. Shared takes on the ways in which time and memory shape, clarify and blur our personal histories.
The exhibition has three subjects. The first five paintings focus on the childhood home that Toebbe’s friend and former nanny, Hortencia, shared with her family. The work originated in a collaboration, with Hortencia making sketches of the home and discussing the paintings with Toebbe as they took shape. Of the work, Toebbe has stated:
The idea for the paintings in Shared started with Hortencia's stories of growing up in a large family in a small house. Once I stumbled on this theme, I thought of my family and many friends who, due to lack of space, had to share a room and sometimes a bed with their siblings. Presently my two daughters share a bedroom in our small condo in Chicago.
In two other paintings, Toebbe draws on recollections of the room she shared with her sister and the bedroom of childhood friends who lived down the street. Finally, Toebbe presents two large works on paper that represent the bedroom two of her aunts shared as children.
Angela and Gary's Room | 20 x 22 in. | gouache and paper on panel
Hortencia's House | 30 x 40 in. | gouache and paper on panel
Parent's Bedroom | 25.5 x 20 in. | gouache and paper on panel
The Kitchen | 20.5 x 25 in. | gouache, paper, fabric on panel
Four Sisters | 18 x 20 in. | gouache, paper and pencil on panel
Five Brothers | 25.5 x 25 in. | gouache, paper and pencil on panel
Six Sisters (JoAnn) | 50 x 60 in. | paper, paint, colored pencil on paper
Six Sisters (Judy) | 50 x 60 in. | paper, paint, fabric, colored pencil on paper
Carolyn and Ann's Room | 20 x 22 in. | gouache and paper on panel
July 24 - September 8, 2015
Dining Room Margie's Clutter | 30 x 40 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper
Finished Basement | 26 x 40 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper
Margie and Neal's Room | 17 x 20 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper
Jenny, 922-1152 | 20.5 x 22.5 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper
Margie's Room | 18 x 22 in. | pencil and colored pencil on paper
Ebersmoore Gallery, Chicago, IL
TheInheritance is a series of portraits about a botched inheritance. The story is from Toebbe’s parents: when her mother Margie was in her 20s in Cincinnati, she met two sisters, Dorothy and Jessie. Dorothy and Jessie, who lived together and never married, became lifelong friends of the Toebbe family. Dorothy and Jessie also owned a small fortune in shares of Proctor & Gamble stock, a portion of which they promised to Toebbe’s parents as an inheritance. Dorothy and Jessie lived into their nineties, and passed away in 2007.
Dorothy and Jessie also left shares of their P&G stock to their handyman and caretaker, Ron; to their church pastor, and to a man from their church named Loreaux. But when Dorothy and Jessie died, Loreaux claimed a greater share and sued the estate. While the lawsuit was pending the stock market crashed; by the time it was all over, the fortune was all but wiped out. Toebbe’s parents had counted on the inheritance for their retirement, but because of Loreaux’s greed, all they inherited was frustration, disappointment, and anger.
For the portraits, Toebbe drew from her mother’s stories and family photographs, as well as her own childhood memories and photographs from a vintage dollhouse museum in Joplin, Missouri. Toebbe composes the portraits as paintings, but she also utilizes cut paper collage along with bits of fabric, yarn, flocking, and other manufactured materials, including recycled painted paper and tracings from previous projects.
Together, the portraits and drawings of TheInheritance explore intersections of expectation and abstraction, memory and materiality – and an unfulfilled desire for vengeance.
The Caretaker | 16 x 20 in. | mixed media on panel
Company | 20 x 26 in. | mixed media on panel
Loreaux and His Wife | 24 x 30 in. | mixed media on panel
Margie and Neal | 24 x 30 in. | mixed media on panel
The Pastor Visits | 16 x 20 in. | mixed media on panel
Death Beds | 60 x 46 in. | mixed media on panel
THE DOCTOR'S WIFE
MCA CHICAGO UBS 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work Ann Toebbe
October 7-30, 2011
Toebbe's meticulously detailed paintings, collages, and drawings comprise a fascinating world of domestic interiors reconstructed from memory and depicted from multiple viewpoints. Her three new large-scale works made of painted paper - The Doctor's Wife, The Grocer's Wife, and The Photo Engraver's Wife - are based on conversations with her mother, mother-in-law, and step-mother-in-law that centered on fond memories of their childhood kitchens and the difficulties of being a wife and mother in the 1940's and 50's. with these works, the artist considers the role of women as homemakers and the ongoing centrality of the kitchen within domestic life. - Julie Rodrigues-Widholm
The Doctor’s Wife | 75 x 127 in. | painted paper, acetate, gouache on paper | 2011 (click for detail)
The Grocer’s Wife | 75 x 100 in. | painted paper, cellophane, acetate, gouache on paper | 2011 (click for detail)
The Photo Engraver's Wife | 75 x 100 in. | painted paper, colored pencil, acetate on paper | 2011 (click for detail)
MCA Chicago 12 x 12
MCA Chicago 12 x 12
Steven Zevitas Gallery, Boston, MA
Aug 16, 2010
Housekeeping features a new body fo work that continues Toebbe's personal and formal exploration of space. As the mother of two young children, Toebbe has found herself spending an increasing amount of time engaging in the activity of housecleaning. In the exhibited paintings, she conceptually relates the act of cleaning to that of creating a painting; with both activities her ultimage goal is to establish order. Two large cut paper pieces relate to Toebbe's grappling with her husband's ex-wife; in this way, they represent a sort of emotional housecleaning.
There is a significant tension in Toebbe's work that dreives from the collision of her faux-naive pictorial style and the formal sophistication of her compositions. Each painting comes together from myriad adjustments in the application of paint and tonality, and the artist's cut paper pieces are constructed from hundreds of indivudually cut and colored shards of paper. Toebbe labors over her work intensely, just as she does in her role as a mother.
"I am relating painting to cleaning a house," Toebbe says of her work. "I straighten up a painting like my house to get it in order and playing with using different types of paint to represent clean and dirty, dull versus bright color. For these ideas I used my parents dining room, which I spent cleaning as a kid - I have such vivid memories of the goofy colors."
The Ex-Wife’s Pies and Things | 30 x 40 in. | paper, paint, acetate, pencil on paper | 2010
The Ex-Wife’s Plants and Things | 30 x 40 in. | painted paper, gouache, acetate on paper | 2010
Beating the Rug | 24 x 30 in. | oil and gouache on panel | 2010
Washing the Windows | 24 x 30 in. | oil and gouache on panel | 2010
Dining Room | 33 x 40 in. | gouache on panel | 2009
Polishing the Furniture | 33 x 40 in. | oil and gouache on panel | 2010
Vacuuming the Carpet | 33 x 40 in. | oil on panel | 2009
Dining Room | 33 x 40 in. | oil and gouache on panel | 2009
ThreeWalls, Chicago, IL
SOLO artist Ann Toebbe paints portraits of interior spaces that she reconstructs from memory. Combining multiple viewpoints, pictorial abstraction and symbolic reference, Toebbe's technique demotes nostalgia and focuses instead on the rooms and the objects that contain mundane memories of banal activities, turning them into jewel-like objects whose detailed splendor evokes Russian icon and medieval painting, Cubism and folk art.
For her SOLO exhibiton, Toebbe has painted Catholic church interiors she remembers from childhood, and her parents' living room at Christmas, hoping to translate her experience as an adult atheist artist into pictures that explore the mysticism of painting and the pop culture undertones of contemporary religion.