“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.
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.)
“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.
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,” 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