Fine art and fine writing are the grains of Toby Christian’s (b. 1983, Boston, Lincolnshire, UK) creative practice. Precise and objective, his artworks can be seen as post-modern dérives; close readings which position a viewer, a reader, in new emotive proximities with the ‘stuff’ of his subject matter—be this the arbitrary and mundane or the antiquated museological. His works are wide ranging, multifaceted, incorporating installation and sculpture, drawing as well as animation. Uniting these facets, is a practice of descriptive writing. More than documentary records, which find material forms through his episodic artworks, Toby’s writing leans into analogy and ekphrasis, embracing the potentialities of parataxis also, to create specific linguistic environments that house his visual workings. Here, slow looking foregrounds the delicacy of an encounter. Indeed, here slow looking foregrounds the delicacy of “sequential presents”, at once a reference to how different bodies see the world in different ways but also a nod to the myriad ways a body can see the world if curious-looking enough.
The expanded sculptural field of Toby’s writing does not aspire to be a place of romantic encounter; his writerly reflections are objective, present tense, to the point. Much like his visual work. Often palimpsest in form and with a directly analogous feel, Toby’s artworks are what they are—nothing is encoded, code is just presented differently. This is reflected in Toby’s belief – “there isn’t anything [in my artworks that] you can’t understand by just looking”.
An example of his singular poetics can be seen in Toby’s Stringer studies, 2022-date. First displayed as part of his solo exhibition, no odonata (Belmacz, 2023), the thread-like loops that compose these carbon copy drawings directly reproduce the visual output of an application Toby has been developing since 2020. Titled ‘Stringer’, this immersive programme literally makes the knotty connotations of language seen, in three-dimensional form. Encountering the Stringer programme, one speaks a word or sentence into the software’s interface which is retuned with a unique ‘string sculpture,’ a highly detailed render which softly floats towards the speaker. Not only an abstract translation of the spoken word, these digital sculptures are sensitive contortions, textured by the tone and timbre of a speaker’s voice. Reproduced as drawings on linen, Toby’s Stringer studies are unpredictable and ethereal. Patterned with the trace of his own hand, these drawings become moments for witnessing the very trends of communication, how language moves to and from and through the body—between bodies also.
Echoing his interest in the way words can shift and shimmer through modes of communication, the latency within acts of material translation and change are key resources for Toby. What is left, the stains of a process, is as interesting to Toby as that which is physically relayed. His ‘paintings’, such as Drives Often Understory, 2023, are figureless scenes; they depict the ghost or memory, the trace of a trace, of Toby’s artistic presence. Loose and gestural, like white horses erupting from a pitch-black sea, fizzing, the paintings in this series are produced using the dusty remainders of Toby’s previous artworks—be these performative or sculptural. Set out upon a new black background the chips of marble and clouds of chalk dust that layer to form the rippling skin of these paintings, personify something of Toby’s visceral approach to his artistic process. Here, the amassment of minute grains directly alludes to the latent aspects of his making—the remnants of his carving and drawing practice specifically. By repositioning the refuse of artistic life, these paintings render bare process newly emotive and proximate—we can almost hear them crackling.
a selection of Toby’s works is available to view online here
Toby’s artist page can be found here