In large-format woodcuts on canvas, the artists construct a fairy tale universe, as looming, mythical creatures seem to cast a spell over their observers. These avian beings – big, bizarre birds with gaping mouths and piercing gazes – defy easy identification. There is something disturbing, almost irritating, about these hybrid creatures. Many of them seem startled, somehow frightened and almost human.
Gert and Uwe Tobias open up a surreal pictorial world in a way that recalls the art historical project of late medieval iconography. Hieronymus Bosch, who used mythical creatures to represent religious virtues, for instance, comes to mind. Much of the meaning behind the figures in his fifteenth century works remains opaque today.
The Tobias brothers’ woodcut technique evokes a number of historical associations. The woodcut is the oldest graphic printing technique and has been used by artists in Europe and East Asia since ancient times. Peaking in popularity in Europe in the 15th century as the printing press was developed, it is also a technique associated with book printing. Furthermore, Albrecht Dürer for example, used the woodcut to reproduce his own artworks. Impressionists and expressionists also made use of the form: Max Pechstein, Paul Gauguin, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner made the most famous woodcuts of classical modernism. After the Second World War, the Informel painters, as well as artists like Georg Baselitz and Franz Gertsch, also used woodcut techniques.
As Gert and Uwe Tobias’s woodcut technique evolves, they draw upon European tradition, but also refer to East Asian art history. In 18th century Japan, for instance, a unique visual language in colored woodcuts emerged. This technique is distinguished by the absence of shadow and light, as disregard for rules of perspective renders the focus point of an image unclear. Gert and Uwe Tobias return to such stylistic features.
The iconography of the Japanese colored woodcut, like that of Hieronymus Bosch, possesses a certain otherworldliness. They consider limbo or hell and the evil demons that might inhabit them, the mythical spirits that lurk there.
“There‘s a black wind blowing in the cotton field, honey…
There‘s a long black cloud hanging in the sky, honey Weather‘s gonna break and hells gonna fly Baby, sweet thing, darling…
Cotton‘s pretty thin yonder on the hill Won‘t clear a greenback dollar bill Baby, sweet thing, darling…
Work shade and back to the buzzard wing Clouds are gonna bust and cry down rain…”
The artists offer little by way of interpretative suggestion, offering instead the exhibition title borrowed from Wilco’s song “Black Wind Blowing,” which may set us in the right direction.