"Phone Booth," 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

Sprout’s “Phone Booth”: Gateway From Commercial To Gallery

"Phone Booth," 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

“Phone Booth,” 1985, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

After contributing to some of the very earliest Guided By Voices albums and working with his own band fig. 4 (“At Bay” by fig. 4 – YouTube), Tobin Sprout moved from Dayton to Florida’s Siesta Key, just south of Tampa. For a handful of years Sprout worked creating visuals and illustrations for a local promotional publisher called See Magazine. (The publication carries on a tradition of great visuals to this day at www.see-florida.com). While in Florida, he began experimenting with painting realism and considers this “Phone Booth” self-portrait to be one of his earliest turns towards realism.

Sprout did not sell “Phone Booth” at his show in Florida, and ended up selling the painting in Michigan later. Sprout left Siesta Key to return to Dayton in 1991, officially joining Guided By Voices to record “Propeller” with Bob and Jimmy Pollard, Don Thrasher, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell and Dan Toohey.

Guided By Voices recording Propeller, 1991, Dayton, Ohio. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

Guided By Voices recording Propeller, 1991, Dayton, Ohio. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

CD album cover, Propeller, Guided By Voices, 1992

CD album cover, Propeller, Guided By Voices, 1992

The first Guided By Voices album with Sprout as an official member was also thought by the band to likely be their last, as they had failed to hit notoriety after years in the studio. Ironically, 1992’s “Propeller” turned out to be the band’s breakout album ‘propelling’ them into an up and coming indy rock phenomenon.

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“Phone Booth” is an outstanding example of mood and nuance. Florida, the place, provides a stage and backdrop for Sprout’s eventual embrace of the stark reality of photorealism. There is nothing accidental about a composition like this. The power of making unusual choices and unapologetically pursuing them is demonstrated in a full-length portrait with the subject’s back to the audience. It’s almost like the artist is waiting to show himself to the public.

It’s these unusual choices of subject and compositional challenges in a highly technical medium that will characterize nearly every photorealistic painting in Sprout’s future.

Cover art, "A Flash of Green," by John MacDonald, 1962

Cover art, “A Flash of Green,” by John MacDonald, 1962

The look evokes the feeling of the classic noir genre – one of America’s greatest literary contributions to the English language. Florida is also where many of America’s great noir writers like John MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen set their novels, making this painting feel like a slice of their world.

Sprout’s commitment to a specific sensibility – almost what seems like a film still – is what makes this an extra-ordinary example of his art and technique. The natural gloom of the noir genre is probably why “Phone Booth” was not snapped up in the art market of sunny, shiny Florida – this is Northern mood in its fullest. Vermeer would be proud. So would Edward Hopper.

Tobin Sprout’s statement on Hurricane Irma: “My Brother and his wife live on Siesta Key, and I had lived there for a few years as well. I had witnessed a few storms in my time on the key, but nothing like hurricane Irma. Although thankfully my brother’s place had little damage, my hopes and prayers go out to all those who were devastated by the storm.”

The last four of Tobin Sprout’s photorealism paintings from the 1990s are available to collectors now. Visit “Photorealism Paintings – Available to Collectors” Photo Gallery One of my favorite painters also plays really amazing music to see them.

"Phone Booth," 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

“Phone Booth,” 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

Article by TR Brogunier, Flood Content
Fine Art Representation for Tobin Sprout Paintings

Photos courtesy of Tobin Sprout and Flood Content

Lighthouse, 1986 by Tobin Sprout

Tobin Sprout’s “Lighthouse” On The Market After 30 Years

“Lighthouse” is a seminal Photorealism piece by Tobin Sprout that has recently come up for sale on One of my favorite painters also plays really amazing music.

Lighthouse, 1986 by Tobin Sprout

Lighthouse, 1986 by Tobin Sprout

Painted as a gift for Sprout’s mother at the beginning of his technical transformation to Photorealism, this work from her estate has just come on the market after 30 years. Fine art collectors of American landscape will see how this piece stylistically and thematically fits in the history of modern American landscape. Collectors of Sprout’s work can look at “Lighthouse” as an early, well-defined bridge between his work as a commercial illustrator in Florida to the painter’s subsequent vault into hyper-realistic paintings in Dayton, Ohio.

The paintings that follow the lead of this one range through the early 90’s, and they are the defining works of Sprout’s career – the fullest realization of talent, composition and choice of subject into oversized renderings of everyday objects. His high-definition paintings of Americana interiors will coincide with his work on breakout albums Propeller, Vampire on Titus, and Bee Thousand by band Guided By Voices. The recording studio for these albums shared residence with Sprout’s painting studio in his Dayton home. (From this boom period in oversized realism, two representative works are still available at One of my favorite painters plays really amazing music, “White Villa, 1992” and “Osterizer (Self Portrait), 1993.” Both paintings are massive efforts at 60”x40” – 2400 square inches of photorealistic canvas if you’re counting.)

Tobin Sprout's Dayton, Ohio home in the early 1990's. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

Tobin Sprout’s Dayton, Ohio home in the early 1990’s. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

“Lighthouse” is both beacon to the world and secure homestead, protected from wind and elements. There is a nostalgia for the sense of purpose America represented to its citizens and the world after World War II, a world that was still a lot closer to the United States of 1986 than it is today.

In “Lighthouse,” Sprout uses meticulous detail and symbolism drawn from the unique culture of American history, a culture that believed in an exceptional purpose in the world. Sprout shares this culture with other lighthouse chroniclers Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, two of the strongest landscape painters in modern American history. Sprout’s “Lighthouse” shows the same lighthouse depicted in one of Hopper’s most evocative lighthouse paintings, “Lighthouse at Two Lights.” Working by a reference photograph from a popular magazine at the time, Sprout approaches the subject from the reverse of Hopper’s chosen side. He shows the lighthouse more directly than Hopper, still respectfully, but less heroically; and wrapped in heavy shadows. The painting still gives a sense of awe, but suggests the national attitude towards our global role as world leader was becoming less reverent and more scrutinized.

The Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1927 by Edward Hopper

The Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1927 by Edward Hopper

There is something stark and pure about the lonely lighthouse which exists almost exclusively for the extroverted purpose of being a guide to the world around it, but represents an isolated human experience. (An experience, it’s worth noting, that reflects the inner life of a painter.) “Lighthouse” was painted during the same time as “Phonebooth” but relies even more heavily on the realism to come and less on painterly expressionism.

It’s as though daylight compels the artist to render exact light and detail while darkness in “Phonebooth” compels the artist to evoke light and mood first. The openness of the scene and warm tonalities of the land evoke the work of Andrew Wyeth whose dramatic depictions of American landscape are some of the most coveted paintings among collectors of modern American art.

Sleeping Bear Farm, 2017 by Tobin Sprout

Sleeping Bear Farm, 2017 by Tobin Sprout

“Sleeping Bear Farm,” painted 31 years later in a similar Wyeth influenced style, also exudes the kind of extreme stillness of “Lighthouse.” Both pieces are priced at a reasonable $3500, making “Lighthouse,” with its historical significance, an exceptionally good value.

“Lighthouse” is a key piece to the puzzle of Sprout’s embrace of Photorealism. It’s also an excellent piece of art history. Offered at the same price as contemporary work, this painting is a prize waiting to be claimed.

Story by T.R. Brogunier, Flood Content, Asheville, North Carolina
Originally published November 1, 2017