Critique by L.C. Russell
The phrase “draw what you know” is one of the most important phrases that an art student will hear over the course of their studies. The general theory behind it is if you master the drawing of humble day to day items perfectly, that mastery will serve as a springboard for all other types of art that you will do. Toby Malek seems to have taken those words of advice to heart with his charcoal on paper drawings of paint tubes. After all, what should an artist know better than the tools of his trade? They are something that , in theory, he sees every day as he works in the studio.
Charcoal is a difficult medium to master. It’s one of the oldest art mediums on record. However, until the Middle Ages it was used mainly in preparation for paintings. Charcoal on paper can be easily erased or brushed away. It wasn’t until the 15th century that suitable means for fixing charcoal and making charcoal drawing permanent led to charcoal drawings being considered art in their own right. Albrecht Durer was the first true master of charcoal drawing. Charcoal can be capricious, messy and difficult to work with. It’s easy to smudge hours worth of careful work into a blur with one incautious movement of your hand or the brush of a sleeve.
Toby’s drawings are well ordered in their composition. The seemingly random scattering of the paint tubes is actually quite deliberate. The artist uses the placement of the paint tubes to draw the viewers eyes across the surface of the paper. This makes the work much more dynamic than you’d think such humble subject matter could be. Malek’s strokes are solid, strong and masterful. There’s excellent tonal value range and superb use of shadow. The drawings are an interesting combination of realism and impressionism. Each tube is rendered beautifully but the viewer is allowed to fill in the detail with his imagination. Labels are strongly hinted at but not painstakingly filled in letter by letter. Highlights here and there give the tubes a nice metallic sheen.
You can generally tell a lot about an artist by his tools. Toby’s paint tubes have no caps. That gives one the feeling that there’s constantly work in progress. He also squeezes his tubes wherever he happens to grab them. There’s no methodical bending and folding which is interesting given the painstaking care of his strokes and shadowing. As I looked at these drawings I found myself wondering two things – What was he working on that took so many colors and where were all of the tops to the paint tubes.