Toby Zallman – Chicago, Illinois

Clearing, 2013, Laser print and graphite, 75" x 110"

Clearing, 2013, Laser print and graphite, 75″ x 110″

Briefly describe the work you do. 

I combine unrelated materials to represent dialectical oppositions such as hard/soft, ephemeral/enduring, open/closed and natural/fabricated. Since 2004 I have been using some form of recycled material as the basis for my pieces. The various series juxtapose different combinations of manufactured and/or organic materials. 

Each series has a different focus. The Communications series is a comment on the disconnect between contemporary communications technology and our ability to actually communicate with one another. The Keyboard series utilizes the computer keys to create language which expresses personal content. These “messages from my keyboards” relate to current and past relationships with myself and others. The Computer series reference our technological culture and its impact on our bodies, minds, relationships, and the environment. 

The ubiquitous presence of plastic bags in our lives inspired the most recent work. Their usefulness belies the damage that they wreak on the environment. The bags have a skin-like feel to them and I am intrigued by the way the bags can be transformed and have layers of content added. 

Strata, 2011, Tar paper, pigment, computers, 72” x 120” x 53” (dimensions variable based on installation

Strata, 2011, Tar paper, pigment, computers, 72” x 120” x 53” (dimensions variable based on installation

Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.

I was a painter for many years. The paintings were always constructed and they were coming out further and further from the wall. I decided to stop making paintings and make sculpture. I posed a limitation on myself to create color by the materials I used. My sculptures were always mixed media and I drew from natural, manufactured and found materials. I have always enjoyed combining materials that are at odds with one another.

The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

For me, being in the studio has always been what my practice is. I love being there. It is the place that I can think, ponder, create, get my hands dirty and generally have activities that are set apart from my everyday life.

What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

Since I generally use non-traditional materials, I find that my work requires more and more investigation into the nature and behaviors of some of my materials. 

When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?

Because I earn my living as a graphic designer, I work whenever my business work flow allows me to break away and get into my studio. I am fortunate that as a freelancer, my office and studio are in the same space, so it allows a degree of fluidity. I also work on weekends and holidays. Generally once a year I set aside time for a retreat, either in my studio or at a residency.

How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?

I had been working on 3 series using computer detritus for about 7 years. A few years ago I decided that I did not want to continue on that path until it became a shtick. I started investigating new materials to use. It has been a period of trial and may failures. I have recently been using plastic bags which has led me to do both sculptures and “paintings,” using the plastic bags as color and painting on top. Additionally, I started doing “drawings” which are a combination laser print and drawing.

Unitled PB 3, 2014, Plastic Bags, 27” x 36” x 9”

Unitled PB 3, 2014, Plastic Bags, 27” x 36” x 9”

How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?

I draw my inspiration from many sources. Other artists have inspired me. The inspiration comes from both their artworks and their dedication to the discipline. Occasionally I will read or see something and a word or an idea will generate visual ideas for me.

Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests? 

I have never really wanted to do anything as my vocation but being an artist. The necessity to have an income has been a major distraction from that pursuit. Recently I have begun taking accordion lessons in order to play klezmer and tango music. It is relaxing and I find having a hobby does not require the focus that being in the studio does.


All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 


About 365Artists/365Days

The purpose of this project is to introduce its readership to a diverse collection of art that is being produced at the national and international level. Our goal is to engage the public with information regarding a wide array of creative processes, and present the successes and failures that artists face from day to day. The collaborators hope that this project will become a source for exploring and experiencing contemporary art in all its forms.
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