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Jerrod Tobias: Fireworks Inside

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Rarely do solo exhibition's appear as seamless and composed as Jerrod Tobias' recent "Fireworks Inside" at Lotus Gallery, which attempts to tell the story of "Willie Hoagland" and other characters through a large collection of images in a variety of media.

Tobias' always impressive work seems to stand out further through this exhibition, as he explores narrative arcs within his imagery, nuancing his characters from frame to frame, and media to media. New characters like Willie Hoagland, a bearded man, who seems to be a fan of woodland creatures, leads a band named the Imagination Orchestra, and may be based on a real William Hoagland who passed away earlier this year. This character also takes on strong political connotations with the overall style of Tobias' representation of him, as a silhouette, easily stenciled onto any public surface or object similar to street incarnations of Che Guevara and other people's politicians within recent street art history. Further, a simple youtube search of Willie Hoagland brings up Occupy Fort Wayne rallies and NDAA protests. Seemingly, Willie Hoagland is not happy with our current political or economic reality.

Especially in taking this political side to Tobias' work, there are very strong connections with contemporary artists like Raymond Pettibon, whose comic musings simultaneously render a quick vernacular grasp paired with a haunting political or philosophical correlation. In works like "Everything is Willie" and "Fireworks Inside", Willie Hoagland takes on an almost deistic or universal reference, encompassing all of the world and all of the cosmos. In "Everything is Willie", the quickly familiar Willie silhouette is, at further inspection, actually a cropped view of an idyllic scene where a woman, turtle, bear, and eagle inhabit a woodland area. Willie is simultaneously the negative and positive space in this overall image, and each of these characters are a part of him, taking on some aspects of Eastern philosophy-religions, as well as harkening back to the concepts of the Transcendentalists of the 19th century. Overall, "Willie Hoagland" is an impressive conceptual and visual construct which survived the exhibition without becoming stale or repetitive, despite the dozens of instances in which he appears, while very little detail was fleshed out. Like any good cliffhanger, Tobias leaves more than enough to the imagination to force the viewer to want more.

Others characters begin to bubble out of Tobias' work, like the bear which appears quite often and in a number of roles and visual styles. In pieces like "Designated Rider", we see Willie Hoagland somberly towing a rather overweight and nearly inebriated bear in a front basket on a bike. In "Bear Cruiser" we see a sluggish bear riding the bike, and in a number of untitled works on paper, the bear character is standing on bike pegs getting a ride from a human, a bear playing the upright base, and a bear sort of hiding behind a stop sign. Other than the bear character, "Fireworks Inside" includes raccoons, tortoises, and a large assortment of other humans which reappear less frequently.

Tobias' ability to characterize his subjects is both impressive and honorable. Our society's subscribed act of viewing photographic images and video have made many artists rather lazy in their ability to capture likeness, abstract the florid articulation of a figures gait or stature. Tobias' work is on par with local masters like Arthur Cislo, whose ability to put pen to paper is nothing to take lightly. This can be seen most accurately in Tobias' inclusion of a large wall of small drawings, done on what seems to be notebook pages and smaller scraps of fine drawing paper. In this collection of images, the viewer is able to see Tobias' figure studies, faces, jokes, and media tests. Be they images of dudes on bikes, women with afros, somber head studies, or umbrella wielding women with skeleton faces, Tobias' work is incredibly engaging.

Many of the images include the use of a white marker or oil pencil which, applied to non-white paper, creates an excellent highlighted structure to the figure and its action, giving many of his faces an internal process. This psychological inclusion of detail to these small images gives them a great deal of mileage. The intimacy of these images are moving, and their inclusion in the show is very telling of the warmth and familial quality of Tobias' work in general. Even when being political, Tobias tends to includes humor, and gives the viewer very human faces to relate to, and eyes looking back at.

In addition to these small works on paper, Tobias also includes a number of larger paintings and larger works on paper wheat-pasted onto panels to "Fireworks Inside". Highlights of these individual pieces include "Dizzying Discovery", an image of a man and bear finding a honeycomb in the woods, "Devil Woman" a beautiful study in cross-hatching marker and tendrils of gouache creating a very sympathetic, but also coolly detached face.

In all, Jerrod Tobias' "Fireworks Inside" exhibition, and its main arc of "The Legend of Willie Hoagland" is an excellent example of the kind of individual artistic talent we have locally, and the kind of successful exhibition that can be produced when an artist defines their work, not making it try to fill all aspects of what a viewer could want, and winding them down the road that the artist creates. The folkloric nature of Tobias' work gives it the perfect foundation to continue to build upon, and find new ways to further engage captive audiences.

"Fireworks Inside"
Lotus Gallery
June 2-June 30
1301 Lafayette Street
*June 30th will overlap with the Cultural District's Last Saturdays, and will include a pop up event in the gallery as the last opportunity to see the exhibition.

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