Critique by L.C. Russell

Being an artist is successfully playing at being God.

Toby Malek freezes time and space with his watercolor series “Everyday life”. He captures light and motion with almost photographic realism then sweetens it with deft touches of the surreal.

An artist friend once said something that stuck with me. “Being an artist is successfully playing at being God”. I laughed at him. For a moment I thought that had to be one of the most pompous statements I’d ever heard then after a bit of reflection I had to concede that he was absolutely right.

Artists create and creation is an act of God. They also capture and freeze moments of time that they observe and preserve them to share with the others. Doesn’t that sound godlike? So pompous sounding or not artists are a reflection of God.

Children Playin In Part, Realistic watercolor painting by artist Toby Malek

Toby Malek’s “Everyday Life” series firmly cements his status as at least a minor deity by capturing homey moments of every day life. He freezes moments of ordinary actions (reading, chatting, playing) and renders them extraordinary with deft use of color and light.

With “Summer Chat” Toby captures a quiet conversation between two young women on a warm summer’s day. Even without the name the viewer would be aware of precisely what’s happening in the very intimate portrait. The painting has an almost voyeuristic quality to it. The women aren’t aware that they’re being observed . You’re viewing them from a distance, sharing but not intruding on the moment. Their postures are relaxed. They seem intent on their discussion. Toby breathes life into the scene with subtle touches of color and light.

Every Day Life - Realistic watercolor painting by artist Toby Malek.

You can almost feel the warmth of the evening sun as it streams down on the women illuminating one and casting her friend ever so slightly into shadow. The closeness and relaxed posture of the talkers bring a warmth to the scene. The woman in the red chemise is the focal of the piece Everything is drawn to her, the light, the other person., even the bag is leaning towards her. It’s the sort of painting that tells a story but allows the viewer to write his own pages.

Children’s play has a lovely surrealistic photo-realism to it. How can a painting be surreal and still be photo-realistic? Look closely at the children. They and their surroundings are rendered in loving exact detail. The little boys in red are actually just a single child caught at varying stages of motion. The lad in the blue and yellow shorts has been frozen in time as well. This is almost stop motion painting. Light and motion captured and frozen in slow motion frames for the eye to behold at leisure the frantic motion of children at play.

One thing that I truly enjoy about Toby Malek’s art is that he takes the ordinary and makes it remarkable. He uses the impressionist’s tricks of painting light to make simple daily life a thing of beauty.

Girls in front of museum. Realistic watercolor painting by Toby Malek