Joshua Tobey | Kindred Spirits

The Thinker, Bronze, 15 x 11 x 15
The Thinker, Bronze, 15 x 11 x 15

by Wolf Schneider

He calls from his cell phone as Josephine, his girlfriend, drives their 29-foot RV through Oklahoma City, hauling a 25-foot trailer loaded with sculptures. They are headed north from their home in south Texas to the Loveland Sculpture Invitational Show & Sale in Colorado. After Loveland, they’ll drive south to a show in Santa Fe, NM, and the next month they’ll head to Wyoming and Oregon. October means a show in Sedona, AZ. In November it’s back to Santa Fe. If that sounds like the schedule of an emerging rock star, that’s not entirely incorrect. In the art world, Joshua Tobey is a rising star. And his dad famously preceded him in the same realm.

Tobey, who just turned 30, creates impressionistic animal sculptures that are inspired by, though different from, the works of his late father, sculptor Gene Tobey. Gene and his wife and partner, Rebecca Tobey, collaborated as artists, creating stylized animal sculptures, jewelry, and paintings. “The influence of their art is tremendous, having worked in their studio, and I still do a lot of the enlarging for their monuments,” says Tobey. But whereas his parents’ animal sculptures tend to be archetypal, Tobey strives to bring individualism to his pieces. “I try to show a little bit of the human aspect, some personality or emotion that the viewer can identify with,” he notes. “It’s not just a buffalo. Hopefully it’s a buffalo that has a feeling you and I can recognize.”
Loving animals as much he does—he and Josephine have two dogs and three cats—Tobey maintains that animals have senses of humor, which he manages to convey in his sculptures. “A lot of people like my work because it’s whimsical,” he says. He imbues his animal figures with feelings and thoughts and their own individual characters. “My parents had nine horses while I was growing up, and each one was unique,” he says. “I notice the same thing in the wild—that individual animals have distinctive traits and characteristics.” Take his own dogs, for instance. “Kalahari, our Rhodesian Ridgeback, is very timid and submissive, but Guinness, our chocolate Lab, is more of a carefree fellow.”
Tobey mainly sculpts Rocky Mountain animals—bears, elk, deer, eagles, owls, horses, buffalo, and moose. “There’s a higher form of intelligence there,” he notes. “Especially with moose. If you study moose in the wild, they’re often solitary and quiet and very rarely in a hurry to do anything. I think of the moose as silent wisdom—they know something we don’t, they are the wise old men of the woods. Not the most outspoken guys,” he muses.
His sculptures range from the miniature (1-inch-by-1-inch) to life-size (a bull elk that’s 8 1/2 feet tall), in editions from 9 to 100, with more numerous editions for the smaller artworks. Tobey sculpts in clay, runs ceramic molds, then has the pieces cast in bronze at a foundry where he creates his own patinas, which often results in unusually colorful pieces.
His piece polar blue, a polar bear that almost looks as if it was carved from white marble or pale, milky turquoise, is actually a bronze. “It’s a process called hot patina. We’re applying patina to bronze under heat and our palette is made of metal-based chemicals in a liquid foam, which evaporates on the surface,” explains Tobey, who casts his pieces at Heart of the Art Foundry in Bastrop, TX. “I spend a lot of time working on patina development at the foundry. We’re trying to make the bronze look like a different material.” To that end, he’s applied a patina to charger, a horse sculpture, in a reddish color with black hoofs and legs and black lines that look like marbling.
Animals are more than subjects to Tobey; he considers them kindred spirits. “As a conservationist, I feel like I can’t live without wildlife and animals. Animals and people have to co-exist. How often have you walked out into your back yard and found some furry critter running around making his home there? These guys live here too,” he says. “I often prefer animals to a lot of people as company.”

Tobey has been sculpting animals since he was barely old enough to walk. Born in 1977 in Corvallis, OR, where his dad was a college professor teaching ceramics, Tobey remembers sculpting as a toddler. “My dad would take me to his classes and give me clay to make pots or something, and I would make little elk and horses and dogs and cats, and he would fire them for me,” he recalls…

Featured in October 2007

Find the rest of this exciting article and more
by subscribing to Southwest Art magazine.