01>Women, muses and pleasures

02A secret song of exile and light

03The Bible and its treasures

 

>Women, muses and pleasures

Wonderful temptresses, queens and prostitutes, mothers or paramours, the women in Tobiasse’s work have participated in every period of his painting and creation.

In simple yet luxurious beauty, naked; clothed; from the tip of a pencil or a brush; from the potter’s kiln or out of molten bronze; they emerged, so laden with outrageousness they often spilt out over the edges of the canvases and frames.

We discover them to be majestic and sensual through the materials and techniques taken up by the artist throughout his creative life: ceramics, lead pencil drawings, paint, pastels, dripped paint, sculptures, castings and cut-outs. This “playing with things”, that lead him to fiddle around with clay, plaster and tow, resin, and deconstructed and reconstructed cut-out carboard, that exorcised the curses buried in the deepest part of his imagination.

They are thus transformed with the acrobats into half equerry, half Amazon creatures that symbolize the merging of freedom and celebrations, that of life in all its excentricity and fantasy. The same goes for Ménine in a tribute to Goya and then again Leda, who is in love with a mythological swan …

With his theme Woman, Tobiasse tells the story of life with fragments of pictures and snatches of words etched into his paintings. A veritable common thread expressed as a sensual song, placed against the themes of exile and wandering, and reminiscences of his native Lithuania. The frosty snow, the roads lined with wooden houses, the snow-covered sleighs, and the illuminated paddleboats on the Niemen are mingled in a poetic and sometimes erotic jumble. It is also found in his many sketch books and in particular his Saint-Paul de Vence Sketchbooks, which are a mass of creative intimacy. This mixture of drawings and writing was often done in the heart of the night, in New York or in Saint-Paul de Vence, but also in planes or quite simply when, travelling, time for him was suspended.

Symbols of family warmth and maternal tenderness, they are also found as Biblical mothers, as a hymn to the glory of femininity… Full of life, swollen with it, they invade the space. Protective and seductive, Babylonians or angels of gentleness, each one represents all the others like Russian dolls.

“There they spread out their dark hollows and their great silent valleys” wrote Tobiasse …

Maybe this is Bathsheba, the symbol of all those people whose memories have been broken between a life that was dreamt of and a life lived.

In any case, it was in Venice, and beneath the skies of Paris, Jerusalem and New York, the artist’s preferred places and those that inspired him the most, that these suppliers of desires, outrageousness and impulses materialized …Particularly from 1982 onwards, when he established his studio in the very centre of Manhattan. The energy and the vibrations in the atmosphere led him to create ever bigger formats as well as monumental sculptures whose theme was an increasingly bigger woman, as in his canvasses « Femme assise sur un quilt » , « La femme qui marche » and in his emblematic bronze sculpture Myriam.

But it was in the almost musical lines of his drawings, which express the pure and raw state of his art, that Tobiasse his whole life long unceasingly offered a variety of women’s bodies. These works were often extended with pictural words and phantasmagorical writing, all the better to celebrate her …

 

A secret song of exile and light

The artist’s work and soul is undeniably steeped more than any other in the theme of Exile.

From the moment when he fled Lithuania, the country of his birth, until his arrival in 1931, at the gare de l’Est train station in Paris on a foggy winter’s morning. “The sky was a grey canvas stretched out above the anxieties I, a child, had”. All these memories captivated him and plunged him into a mystery spun with invisible, worrying and yet marvellous threads. Aged five, he was accompanied by his mother Brocha and his sister Anna. His father Chaïm came to meet them at the station. The child with the knot in his stomach never ceased to allow this feeling of nostalgia to show through the whole of his work.

Exile was also the Exodus in 1939 when the war broke out and his family attempted to flee the Nazi occupation by leaving for the United States. Unfortunately they were stopped at the porte d’Orléans …

Exile was also synonymous with the Shoah and its symbolism of wheels, trains and stations moving towards the East, to the extermination camps, the houses that had to be left in a hurry …

We see in his paintings the wandering and the reminiscences of his childhood, Lithuania, the country of his birth. Kovno, with its frosty snow and its roads lined with wooden houses, its snow-covered sleighs and the illuminated boats on the river Niemen. In his uncle Abraham’s datcha in the Kaulatowa countryside, all the family gathered around the samovar, a hot pot-bellied teapot, symbol of family warmth and the memory of his childhood.

The routes of the different exiles: Babylonia, Rome and the diaspora, are unwound like a diary. He carries us to worlds where tragedy, love and dreams are all mixed up together.

 

The Bible

Tobiasse discovered the Bible in 1977 and developped a passion for the beauty of the history of the Hebrews. He discovered in it a marvellous treasure, an inexhaustible source of inspirational subjects. These universal stories of love, war and treason he imagined as a comic; it was thanks to them he tirelessly told the Memory of his people. He transcribed it into a personal, unique and almost non-religious Bible.

His characters also experienced situations we know today with Biblical names from the past, like, for example, the marvellous love story in the Song of Songs written by King Solomon for the Queen of Sheba. From Bathsheba to Rachel, from Deborah to Jacob, these modern icons of a very ancient tradition tell in his works the story of humanity.

Tobiasse thus developed in and through his tormented work a search for his roots. He belonged to the great spiritual family of Judaism, and experienced in his pictoral expression day by day the events taken from the history of his ancestors.

This doesn’t make Tobiasse a Biblical painter, he is not the illustrator “I tell an ancient story, which, in the case of the Bible, concerns me. The Memory is so important for me that I almost don’t show it in my paintings.”

Jerusalem was for him more a sensation than a geographical location or a landscape. It was the place which lived with him in which he had also found an immense sense of inspiration, a sacred light loaded with history, moreover it was rather similar to that of Saint-Paul de Vence with its olive trees lit golden in the setting sun.

Théo TOBIASSE