We’ve become preeeettty familiar with our home this past year, but longtime 20x200 artist Ann Toebbe’s new limited-edition print plays with our perspective—literally and figuratively. Michigan VRBO mixes up the points of view to arrive at something that distorts reality just enough to evoke familiarity while putting the mind at attention. With our attentive eyes on, what we find is richly detailed and delightfully indirect, a residence with distinctly human reverberations.
For her Friends and Rentals series from which we plucked today’s release, Toebbe built blueprint-like, compartmentalized compositions with stylized figures and objects. Forms are flattened and shadowless. For the gamers out there, the effect might be reminiscent of Minecraft or The Sims. Several perspectives are collapsed into a single frame. Take Michigan VRBO: There are bird’s-eye views, straight-on views, and a view off into the distance. There are interior views and exterior scenery, separated by fine lines representing the walls of the central structure. There’s even interior views into the exterior, through windows and screen doors. The disorienting simultaneity of seeing all those views at once is charismatically chaotic, a riff on reality. Michigan VRBO’s really a fantasy world, a mosaic of geometric shapes and faintly misaligned domestic vignettes.
To create these complex scenes, Toebbe combines “freehand painting, flat geometry, geometric abstraction and intricate patterning that require numerous preparatory drawings and extensive planning,” she tells us. All that elbow grease results in more than perspectival layering. Michigan VRBO is packed with visual Easter eggs—a chicken in the bottom right hand corner, a fruit basket in the kitchen, model ships anchored on a bureau—that (hot tip!) are even more enjoyable in larger sizes, should you be seeking a statement piece. Those elements also have a lot of personality, a sense that this is not just a place but someone’s place. There’s some distance in this image, the viewer hovering far enough away to take it all in, but there’s also intimacy. The unfixed point of view has a further humanizing effect. The homes in Toebbe’s Friends and Rentals series are complicated, enigmatic, and perfectly imperfect. They’re portraits of places, but they’re also portraits of people by proxy.
Toebbe’s 2019 solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy brought together a number of these elaborate paintings. To find fodder for the pieces, she mined photos posted on social media by her friends and extended family, as well as her own family photos, for glimpses of the homes in the background. Michigan VRBO, for instance, gets its title from a rental property Toebbe stayed in with her husband and children. With a reservoir of these images at her disposal, she collaged together various details to reconfigure the residences, architected by her imagination. The transparent structures are a little voyeuristic, pulled from platforms that have normalized over-sharing and exposure, that make it easier to eavesdrop on someone else’s life. There’s perhaps a subtle commentary on the invasiveness of technology, but these paintings are also inviting, warmer than they are unnerving.
Maybe it’s the socially-distanced year we’ve been having, but it seems like Michigan VRBO and its companions are a way for Toebbe to connect with friends and family, to invite herself in. And all that painterly compartmentalizing is a kind of processing, a language for making sense of things. Connection and clarity—a 2021 mantra in the making.
With art for everyone,