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Studio Reflections with Toby zur Loye

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Like so many other artists who are trying to save a few bucks, my apartment is my studio.  I live in a small one-bedroom apartment in north Lakeview that I share with my girlfriend, and I paint in my living room.  I build my panels and frames in the woodshop, and then I lug them back to my place where the magic happens.  It is true that this arrangement is almost wholly owed to economic practicality, but there are some benefits that marginally balance the complications.

I have always preferred to surround myself with my art, working on multiple pieces at the same time, so that I am able to harness a moment’s inspiration.  Sometimes a flash of lucidity can take me after I have been staring at a painting for twenty minutes while drinking a cup of tea before I hop on the train to head to work.  I can make a quick addition right then and there without needing to preserve that fragile creative spark as I take the train to a downtown studio, hoping that I can maintain my conviction.  Of course, I could still have revelatory moments in a downtown studio.  For me though, there is a difference between the brainstorming that happens in a studio during a preordained period of art time and the unbidden inspiration that comes calling while I am enjoying the comfort of my living room’s brown suede couch.

By combining acrylics, gel medium, and ink, I make colorful, organic pour-paintings that resemble underwater explosions and the musculature of plants.  I pour liquid paint onto wooden panels, and the leveling gel medium dries like a sheet of glossy, reflective, flat glass.  The effect is thrilling, but the high level of maintenance that is required to create and care for these paintings can take a toll on both my wallet and patience.  Due to the finicky materials I use, the paintings cannot be stacked, nor can they lean against one another.  So, they line the walls of my apartment – hanging on the walls, leaning up against walls and doorways, lying flat on shelves, and resting under the bed.  Almost all available space where the floor meets the walls has been devoted to the Tetris puzzle-piecing storage of my work.

Toby zur Loye, Untitled. Mixed media on wooden panel, 14.5 x 11 inches

It is in this sense that I truly live with my paintings.  I see them when I sit down to watch TV, and I navigate around them when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  I spend more time looking at my work than I do actually creating it.  A careful, contemplative approach to art making can be very positive, but the convenience of my studio location, which allows me to donate considerable time to contemplating formal problems in my paintings, can also foster larger home-studio troubles. Namely, the danger of overworking a piece.

I once heard someone simply describe the process of abstract painting as the creation of formal problems that the artist sets for himself and then is forced to fix.  In an interview with Philip Guston, I watched the man purposefully slop paint over a seemingly finished portion of a painting because he felt that it had materialized too easily; perhaps he felt he somehow hadn’t earned it.  The perfectionist’s creed holds true for painters – if a painting isn’t working then there must be something one can do to fix it.  Something else to add to the piece that could either offer a sense of completion for something that was missing, or an addition that could encourage the piece to go in a different direction.  Knowing when a painting is finished is probably the most difficult part of the process because you are, in some way, saying that there is nothing you would change.

Sometimes it is really important to get away from a painting. Put it away, come back, and get a fresh perspective.  Of course, I can and do leave my apartment everyday, but I spend so much time living with my paintings that my brain is constantly trying to set new problems for me to fix in paintings that I have already “finished.”  It is necessary to occasionally let yourself make an irreversible decision that will alter the trajectory of a piece.  I can say from experience that it is equally necessary to exercise restraint, as my graveyard of overworked paintings can attest.  And while it is true that I have ruined many paintings by refusing to let them breathe, I occasionally stumble into wonderful mistakes and discoveries.  The problem of my inability to stop creating problems for myself is, maybe, a problem that I cannot and should not attempt to fix.

To see more of my work, please visit my website.

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