The way that Romanian twin brothers Gert and Uwe Tobias make their art is akin to a ‘ballet’ explains the curator of their show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. This dance of making means that each brother’s individual mark becomes indistinguishable in the twists and turns of process that go towards their combined output, which includes print, sculpture and collage.
The gallery is painted in a nostalgic Farrow and Ball style teal, which gives a tasteful 50s edge to the folksy atmosphere of the work. Blocks of dense wood-blocked ink in midnight blue, mustard and the aforementioned teal are the ground for figurative motifs – thistles, owls, strange duck-footed creatures – characters from the grimmest of fairy tales. Other works collage cut-outs against techno grids or are formed from misshapen hunks of clay balanced with sprigs of brittle foliage. The spiky dried-out bones of nature also appear as motifs on large prints where the balance between figuration/abstraction and nature/culture is played out in a way that brings to mind the mid-century British painter Graham Sutherland.
The Tobias' fairy tale aesthetic resonates with layer on layer references – Brueghel, colour field abstraction, Chinoiserie – but ultimately it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the whole thing is retrogressive, wistfully looking back to a time when artists created beautiful things for a bohemian elite. The work averts its eyes from political turmoil and financial meltdown and would much rather be costumes and backdrops for Diagaliev’s Ballet Russes. Of course the Tobias brothers do investigate the oppositions between old and new and nature and culture, but ultimately this is a classic case of (Eastern European cabin in the woods) style over (meaningful concept driven) content.
Gert and Uwe Tobias
Whitechapel Gallery, London E1
16 April – 14 June 2013
Untitled, 2012, mixed media, collage on paper, 38.5 x 64 cm, © photo Alistair Overbruck, Cologne/Gert & Uwe Tobias/VG. Bildkunst, Bonn
Untitled, 2012, coloured woodcut on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, © photo Alistair Overbruck, Cologne/Gert & Uwe Tobias/VG. Bildkunst, Bonn
Untitled, 2012, coloured woodcut on paper, 204.5 x 162 cm, © photo Alistair Overbruck, Cologne/Gert & Uwe Tobias/VG. Bildkunst, Bonn