Ohio Bell, 1995, Tobin Sprout, 34"x44", oil on canvas

The Impermanence of Everything: “Ohio Bell” Is History

Forever Reinvention
The buyer of Ohio Bell acquires one of the few remaining Sprout paintings among the exceptional company of Sprout’s oversize photorealism. Works like “Osterizer,” “Fifth Street,” “Mixmaster,” “Motel Dairy Bar,” “Car Dashboard,” “Doors of the Victoria,” “Wympee Burger,” and the very early (noir/expressionist) “Telephone Booth,” are shining examples of photorealism that together define this period of Sprout’s painting in the tradition of Richard Estes, America’s undisputed contemporary master of the genre.

Sprout’s preservationist spirit perfectly foreshadowed the shocking impermanence of this particular modern fixture built to last decades: The telephone booth console and handset.

In less than ten years, the ubiquitous pay phone has nearly disappeared from our landscape. Sprout’s painting is a tremendous monument to this very recent, and very distant, past.

The Bell System Logo 1969

The Bell System Logo, 1969

Sprout’s passion to render and record these artifacts of our shared cultural history in their time, for future generations to ponder and contemplate, could not be more in evidence with “Ohio Bell.” Nearly everything about this painting is literally history: The various state-identified Bell Telephone System entities; a permanent, steel-encased box to safeguard the critical activity of phone communication from the random physical eruptions of modern street life; the use of coins in exchange for any service; a modern communications technology that uses only copper wires; and, along with the telephone booth, a giant space allocated for the all-important personal and professional exchanges on a telephone call.

How prescient that already, just over 20 years after “Ohio Bell” was painted, we can look at this painting and wonder at all the labor intensive steps; all the design, construction, and in today’s smartphones, deconstruction, that has brought us to this point in human history.

The radical, lightning-fast transformation from this object to the one in your pocket makes anyone wonder what is coming next; and how we’ve come so far, so fast.

Investment Outlook
In the crowded field of photorealism, few painters stand out to the degree Sprout does in terms of approach, execution, and subject choice. Sprout is among the best in the history of the genre. It is our conservative assessment that Sprout’s “Superchrome” works are listed well below near-future market value.

Ohio Bell presents an excellent prospect for long-term investors as both Sprout’s painting reputation is becoming widespread right now and the notoriety/following of the band Guided by Voices and Tobin Sprout’s solo career continue to gain cultural relevance in a way few bands or fine art painters ever do. Sprout’s long-term cultural relevance and appeal come through in the June 2018 interview with long-time Sprout fine art collector actor Tim Allen.

Additionally, the scarcity of supply of Sprout’s Superchromes makes the purchase of these paintings a rare opportunity in itself. This is literally one of 4 of these paintings remaining on the market. The balance of approximately 50 works have long since made homes in numerous permanent collections.  This is a top rated fine art investment.

For the Collector
Collection of the artist, framed. Transaction and safe passage handled directly by the studio of the artist. To discuss the work or place an order, please call the painter’s studio at (231) 534-4139.

Full documentation including Letter of Provenance provided by Flood Content & Fine Art independently. Claim your beautiful and unique take on US cultural history, along with a signature work from an outstanding series of Tobin Sprout paintings with Ohio Bell.

Ohio Bell, 1995, Tobin Sprout, 44"x34", oil on canvas, $10,500

Ohio Bell, 1995, Tobin Sprout, 34 x 44 inches, oil on canvas, $10,500

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Original analysis by T.R. Brogunier, posted June 19, 2018. 

The Tobin Sprout Blog and Flood Content & Fine Art website are written and produced by Flood Content, a digital marketing agency based in Asheville, North Carolina. Flood makes exceptional fine art accessible to individuals and families who believe original artwork has the unique capacity to transform how we see the world.

Watch our new artist interview series Dialogue Box on YouTube.

 

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Actor Tim Allen On His Tobin Sprout Painting Collection

I was surprised to find out actor Tim Allen was one of Tobin Sprout’s biggest painting collectors. So I asked Tobin awhile ago if he could put me in touch with Tim for a comment on his paintings.

Better than a comment, Tim agrees to do an entire phone interview about Tobin’s paintings 😀

I added some visuals sent from Tim’s collection and added more from Tobin’s currently available work, along with works from other collections, and made a YouTube video out of all it. What you see here is 17 informative and entertaining minutes with the one and only Tim Allen!

Thanks for watching, and I fully hope you enjoy this original interview that brings two totally different worlds together.

All my best,
TR (or as Tim says, “T2”)

Originally posted to One of my favorite painters plays really amazing music on Facebook on June 14, 2018

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Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas, $9,800

Carefully Described Terrain, Part 3 of 3: Now Leaving Modernism

Off-Screen Drama
Now that the scene has been set and the lighting tweaked to perfection, we can see there are actually two players in this drama. We see a feminine shadow cast from the window above the fire hydrant and a masculine shadow cast from the elevated street light.

Continued from “Carefully Described Terrain, Sprout’s Fifth Street – Part 1 of 3: The Billboard,” and “Part 2 of 3: Shifting Light.” 

The masculine figure appears to be headed in the direction of the woman, and the implication in the painting is the woman is standing in line with the window (making her shadow casts all the way to the street), which means she is likely looking straight out toward the approaching figure.

The lighting in the scene has a mysterious, somewhat threatening feel. Given that the scene fits snuggly into the classic noir aesthetic from the 1930s – 1960s, an implied night meeting can mean a hundred things. The genre itself is crafted on the inhuman capabilities of desperate people, so most of them are alarming. If the male/female interaction is a romantic tryst, it’s happening in atmosphere of adversity.

The painting is a place for the human characters to hide in. And the fact these characters are off-screen, so to speak, leaves the interpretation of what is happening open to the viewer.

Given some time with this painting, viewers would likely come up with a diversity about what they think is going on between the characters. Again, much like the genre Fifth Street is playing off of, psychological projection is a key element, allowing the viewer to bring their own unconscious associations to the work.

The Cultural Transition To Postmodernism
When this painting was made in Dayton, Ohio in 1993, traditional academic curricula at college institutions was in upheaval. Modernist texts by canonized white males were being supplanted by new voices from a diversity of backgrounds previously marginalized or shut out of the Western world’s cultural conversation.

This was the beginning of a major shift for American culture as a whole. The iconic notion of Western progress key to the modern era’s identity began being questioned in a widespread way in the 1960s.

By the 1980s and 1990s, government and academic institutions began acting on the idea that the unquestioned linear march of modern culture might have some flaws. From the inherent good of time-saving convenience in processed and fast food to changing academic voices to questioning smoking as a sign of sophistication, the post-Reagan 1990s were a time of deep contextualization of major cultural assumptions held true for most of the 20th Century. 

Fifth Street captures this subtle, but abrupt transition. The noir look is a ‘high modern’ style, with a garish billboard fitting any major urban landscape of the 20th Century. However, this billboard has one telling distinction: While itself being a large, brash Modern City advertisement, the billboard also features an equally prominent, stark “anti-ad” subverting it’s own message and contextualizing the product it is selling. 

The anti-ad on the billboard in Sprout's "Fifth Street" hints at a new era of contextualization for the previously infallible good of the Modern era.

The prominent anti-ad on the billboard in Sprout’s 1993 “Fifth Street” hints at a new era of contextualization for the previously infallible good of the Modern era.

 

The WARNING in Sprout's "Fifth Street" occupies about the same relative spaces in the painting as the sign advertising "5¢ Phillies No. 1 American" in Hopper's "Nighthawks," which is confident, subtle and even classy, lacking any self-doubt. (Image enhanced for legibility.)

“Only 5¢ Phillies American No.1” roof mounted sign in Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” occupies about the same relative image area as Sprout’s “Warning,” but is confident, subtle and even classy, lacking any self-doubt. (Detail of “Nighthawks” enhanced for legibility.)

Fifth Street is a perfect painting of that fracture. Sprout’s dedication to realism gives us a historically accurate bookmark in time. Ironically, the most common negative feedback I’ve gotten about Fifth Street from potential buyers is that they, “Don’t like the cigarette ad.” People don’t want to live with it on their wall. I get that.

But on another level, this particular cigarette ad shows society finding a path beyond an entrenched fixture of modernism that is indeed harmful. The WARNING shows we live in a society interested in evolving past harmful cultural norms, which is quite the opposite of the Hopper painting’s confident, unselfconsicous, even classy plug for Phillies Cigars, fixed to the roof of the diner. The confidence in the Cambridge ad is a lot more contrived: Flag stripes and fetishized cigarettes.

The Cambridge billboard is the perfect capture of the American transition from a Modern to Postmodern culture. Fifth Street is like a gate we pass through on the historical path Western society has taken in the relatively short timeline of industrial society, still less than 200 years. This is the moment in American history when the questioning of Modernity’s inherent good becomes institutionalized. It shows our culture beginning to ingest and deal with the flaws of long held assumptions related to a Modern orthodoxy that ‘what is good for manufacturing and economic expansion is good for people.’

Questions Are Good, But They Aren’t Answers
Postmodernism, as the name implies – and as I understand it – doesn’t really have answers. It’s founded on the importance of having ‘anti-answers’ to bad ideas. Postmodernism is the teenager of historical time-periods, defined by a rejection of that which spawned it. But anti-answers lack unification and sovereignty. It’s more about taking stuff apart. Postmodernism exposes the flaws in Modernism, deconstructs it, and replaces it with nothing iconic.

The Postmodern context is the unresolved cultural purgatory we live in to this day. The fracturing of American identity has turned a ‘God, Country and Prosperity’ society of post-WW II American cultural preeminence, exuberance, and seeming inconquerability into a multitude of tribes and subcultures. Grand, unifying ideas have crumbled under the cultural mandate that all things are equivalent.

Even the notion of merit, value or quality in art or thinking has become a matter of nearly pathological relativity. Nothing, it seems, can be assessed, evaluated or judged, because no agreed upon standard of merit, value or meaning exists.

When I was in college, my peers illustrated this radical shift, first anticipated by French philosophers,  by earnestly reading cereal box ingredients as poetry and challenging anyone to explain why John Milton’s Paradise Lost had any more value. Postmodernism is the total embrace of  the subjective perspective.

In fact, it seems Postmodernism’s only absolute is the idea that “everything is subjective.” In the strictest interpretation of Postmodernism, ideas like “Western cultural heritage” don’t have inherent, or even provable, value. Postmodern cultural value is constructed ad hoc as it emerges from the stories of the cultures previously locked out of the discussion.

As the giant of our big American ideas have given in to the new law of social equivalence, so has our social cohesion. Everyone has equally retreated into their subcultures that perfectly mirror their values and ideas, tastes and beliefs. Postmodernism puts us all in our chosen cultural encampments, our ‘bubbles,’ our algorithm realities.

As our culture goes further into this anti-world, we may discover that the idea that the only social and cultural absolute is that ‘nothing is better or worse than anything else’ has itself created a cultural tyranny, tearing away the tools we use for discernment of value and meaning of any experience or institution we share as a people.

We live in an era defined by the fact a central unifying cultural theme has yet to coalesce into a cultural movement. That is ‘postmodernism.’ That is the reality of living in a culture that spends millions to sell cigarettes and mandates they be negated in the same breath. Where all this is headed, I don’t know, but Fifth Street is literally the sign along the road, telling us the true nature of the direction we are going, and it’s not an easy path.

 

Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas

Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas, $9,800

 

Original analysis by T.R. Brogunier, posted April 8, 2018. Parts I and II published in March.

The Flood Content & Fine Art website is written and produced by Flood Content, a digital marketing agency based in Asheville, North Carolina. Flood makes exceptional fine art accessible to individuals and families who believe original artwork has the unique capacity to transform how we see the world. 

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Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas

Carefully Described Terrain, Part 2 of 3: Shifting Light

The second indication that Sprout isn’t making ‘a pretty picture,’ comes from the dominant light in Fifth Street. The majority of the lighting in this painting comes from the reflected ‘remnant’ light bounced off the billboard and spilling onto the sidewalk.

Continued from “Carefully Described Terrain, Sprout’s Fifth Street – Part 1 of 3,” published March 17, 2018

NATURAL LIGHT DOMINATES PAINTING
A painter uses vision to see the scene, so everything a painter puts into a scene is also the result of light. Light is the most basic element used to construct an image, and Fifth Street meticulously details the character of the scene’s light.

Throughout the history of modern art, from the Renaissance on, light has been used as primary tool to describe depth and space. Most often, even to this day in photography, the light of choice – what is considered ‘the best’ light – are the many varieties of daylight.

Vermeer’s portraits use the diffusion of reflected Dutch ‘Northern Light,’ with all its refinement and detail to fill shadows full of detail. 

Vermeer, "The Milkmaid," ~1658 is a perfect example of diffused Northern light typical of Dutch renaissance painting.

Vermeer, “The Milkmaid,” ~1658 is a perfect example of diffused Northern light typical of Dutch renaissance painting.

Sprout also masterfully paints his landmark still life “Osterizer, 1993” in what looks like a scene bathed in similar, if brighter, indirect light. 

Osterizer, 1993 by Tobin Sprout, 60x40 inches, oil on canvas

Osterizer, 1993 by Tobin Sprout, 60×40 inches, oil on canvas

Further south in Italy during the Renaissance, scenes and portraits were painted with stronger sunlight. In so many ways, from the Renaissance to contemporary photography, sunlight, in its various incarnations, has been the singular standard of quality for serious makers of images in the Western world. It is considered the highest quality light.

In Virgin and Child by Italian painter Cima da Congegliano below, the modeling of the sunlight on the subjects looks nearly identical to a Profoto photography portrait with light diffusion modifications in 2018.

Natural light is king is Western art. 

Cima da Congegliano, Virgin and Child, oil on board, about 1500. Museum of Wales, England

Virgin and Child, Cima da Congegliano, oil on board, about 1500. Museum of Wales, England

 

PRETTY? NAH.
But in Fifth Street, Sprout is painting a scene devoid of sunlight, the well-spring of dimensionality and quality. Instead, he chooses a scene full of what is considered ‘ugly’ light, the leftover light of a 20th Century American city.

Obviously Sprout is adept at rendering with various types of sunlight – particularly indirect sunlight, but he’s also got a serious knack for doing light in general. He’s just choosing something different.

Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas

Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout, American b. 1955, 42 x 32 inches, oil on canvas

What makes the light in Fifth Street great isn’t just that it’s impressively rendered, but how precisely “true” the light is to the night time urban experience.

 

“TOTO, I’VE A FEELING WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE.”
A major part of the story of the 20th Century is a that millions of people moving to cities shifted from a ‘default natural light’ country setting to a ‘default artificial light’ city setting. One of the 20th Century’s best painters of light and chroniclers of this cultural shift is Edward Hopper. If Sprout’s Fifth Street references any painter, aside from his own work on paintings like Phone Booth, it’s Edward Hopper.

And if Sprout’s referencing any one Hopper painting, it’s The Art Institute of Chicago’s Nighthawks.

Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper, Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago

Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper, Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago

Nighthawks is a painting famous not only on its own merits, but also for the send ups this scene has inspired, most famously featuring Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe with Elvis serving behind the diner counter.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 1985, Gottfried Helnwein

Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 1985, Gottfried Helnwein, Collection of “20 Somethings Everywhere”

The nature of how fluorescent lighting describes its surroundings is a significant part of Nighthawks, a portrait of a different unremarkable city corner in New York City. Fluorescence have a kind of aggressively non-descript light that wraps around subjects in a way that makes them look flat and deflated. Both Nighthawks and Fifth Street attack this unique characteristic of fluorescent light head on, to great effect.

The fluorescent light in Hopper’s Nighthawks shows overlapping shadows just outside the windows, (fig. 1) as it is cast on the street. To show variety and contrasting types of light, Hopper paints the much sharper, more defined lines of light and shadow coming from a bright streetlight casting illumination from outside the frame from the left of the image (fig. 2).

Detail of Fluorescent Shadows, Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

Fig 1. Detail of Fluorescent Shadows, Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

Detail of Streetlight Shadows, Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

Fig. 2. Detail of Streetlight Shadows, Nighthawks, 1942, Edward Hopper

Sprout defines the character of fluorescent light in his Fifth Street with a sharp, almost fake looking, shadow slicing the fire hydrant completely in half (fig. 3a) while casting a blunt shadow characteristic of a light source coming from a broad, rather than singular, area. The light also has a kind of uneasy feeling smoothing over of the uneven concrete abutting the choppy wall where the billboard is mounted (fig. 3b).

Fluorescent Light Detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fig. 3a. Fluorescent Light Detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fluorescent Light Detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fig. 3b, Fluorescent Light Detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Even the uneveness of the concrete is a near perfect description of the location as this present-day photograph provided by Dayton resident and Tobin Sprout painting fan Sean Merkle shows. The strange upheaval of the concrete creating a kind of wavy line where it abutts the wall of the building is still a match, 25 years later.

Current photo of corner portrayed in Fifth Street. Courtesy of Sean Merkle, 2018.

Detail, current photo of corner portrayed in Fifth Street. Courtesy of Sean Merkle, 2018. Notice how accurately the uneven concrete is portrayed.

Sprout also mixes a variety of light into his ambient night lighting painting. Two windows show the incandescent bulb lighting we associate with home interiors. The primary interior lighting is directly above the billboard where we see a clock, wallpaper and and a thin curtain blowing (fig. 4).

Detail of illuminated window, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fig. 4, Detail of illuminated window, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

The second interior light shows a lone window across Fifth Street illuminating a refrigerator (fig. 5).

Detail of illuminated window, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fig. 5, Detail of illuminated window, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

The final mix comes from the left of the painting where Sprout has included his own streetlight illumination and shadows into the mix of exterior, night, urban lighting. We see the clearly defined shadow of the streetlight poll running up the parapet on the far side of the street (fig. 6), very much like the well-defined shadows in the background of Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Fig. 6, Streetlight shadow detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

Fig. 6, Streetlight shadow detail, Fifth Street, 1993, Tobin Sprout

The purposeful rendering of all these types of light makes Fifth Street ‘true to life.’ It is by this truth achieved through diligent rendering that we ‘believe’ the scene. Fifth Street is accurate according to what we understand subconsciously from our personal experience and cultural understanding of this scene.

Sprout’s attention to detail allows what is common to become universal. We are not forced to suspend disbelief as we are in a work of fiction with too many plot holes.

The stage is portrayed accurately to allow everything else the painting has to offer: The art historical references. The cultural shifts. The latent human drama.

 

Original analysis by T.R. Brogunier, posted March 25, 2018. Originally scheduled for posting March 23, this essay was delayed from publishing for two days.

The Flood Content & Fine Art website is written and produced by Flood Content, a digital marketing agency based in Asheville, North Carolina. Flood makes exceptional fine art accessible to individuals and families who believe original artwork has the unique capacity to transform how we see the world. 

CAREFULLY DESCRIBED TERRAIN, PART III
Join Flood here next Thursday, March 29, for the third and final installment of this three part essay on yet another remarkable Tobin Sprout painting from 1993.

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Flood Content & Fine Art is a network of channels showcasing our artists’ work and connecting fans to deep culture and analysis of their favorite artists online and on social media. Channels run by Flood Content & Fine Art include:

See how our channels work together at floodcontent.com/benchmarks

 

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