Toby Ziegler

Selected Works

The Art of Sinking

oil on linen
320 x 430 cm

Since 2006, Ziegler has been incorporating clouds into his landscape pictures, and since 2007, he has been doing so with the aid of this collage technique which combines two pictorial systems: a calculated, geometric system and an organic one — the elusiveness or organic cloud formations making them hard to capture precisely within geometric parameters. Interestingly, Ziegler’s new pictures bring him into contact with a pictorial tradition which already knew how to combine rigorous geometry, perspective and organic forms: the wooden inlays of the Renaissance.

H.L., Toby Ziegler in Art Now 3, Volume 3, Taschen, Cologne 2008, p. 536

Resistance Equipment (3rd version)

treated cardboard (sealed to prevent corruption), gesso, oil paint, glue, steel
approx. 310 x 290 x 240 cm

Although Ziegler starts sculpting in the disembodied digital realm, where visual perfection can be achieved in a few clicks, his pieces are intensely physical. And they really come to life only at the fabrication stage, not as pure mathematical graphics, but as crusty entities, undermined by the flaws a handmade process necessarily entails. "When you make things by hand in the real world, as opposed to the Euclidean space of the computer, they can never be perfect", he says with undisguised glee. "They become completely fallible."

Coline Milliard, Underground Man Toby Ziegler Takes Over the Park in Blouin Modern Painters, October 2012

Blind Mouth

oil paint on aluminium
160 x 203 x 0,42 cm

A painting is an analogue for the retina, but it is also a compound of histories, of moods, of feelings, of actions. Toby Ziegler’s paintings vacillate between the retina and the brain, not switching between these poles, but rather interpolating each pole with the other, constituting each other evenly. Diffused spots of sprayed paint float on the surface, like correlatives for scotomas. These resonate too close to the eye, behind the eye, arresting seeing on its threshold. They vaguely conform to a grid, in places interrupted by a masked line, hinting at a geometrical order. Their effect is nullifying and narcotic; they hover formlessly, feeling too close to interpret. Behind these there is an image, prior not only in the sense that it comes from an earlier stage in the painting, but also in that it is a reconstitution from the history of painting, now withdrawn from its context, inverted, desaturated and alien. This image details fissures, cracks – the accidents of a painting’s surface that accrue over time and create a membrane that denies the allure of illusionistic depth. In relation to these rendered points of degeneration, the sprayed spots come to signify corruption, but this is corruption that has been enacted, the images intentionally destabilised.

Eoin Donnelly, On Anxiety and Eyesight in Toby Ziegler – From the Assumption of the Virgin to Widow/Orphan Control, Koenig Books/Simon Lee Gallery, 2012

Photo: courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery London/Hong Kong

Clumsy Punctum

oxidised aluminium and oil paint
125 x 170 x 84 cm

"Sometimes you work with an image, and it feels like it succeeded on some level or sometimes it feels like it didn’t, but either way it feels finished. Whereas some images just feel like they’re never exhausted and you keep coming back to them over and over. That’s why you can find some recurring motifs in the work. Like the foot, which was also in the previous exhibition [Borderline Something]. There is actually a postcard on the Study for the Feet of an Apostle by Albrecht Dürer in my parents’ house. I always thought feet were one of the most interesting parts of the body. There’s this great essay by Georges Bataille, ‘The Big Toe,’ about the idea that there’s a strange hierarchy in the human body, because we consider the foot to be literally base, because it’s closest to the ground and it’s in the mud so as a result there’s a kind of taboo around feet and they’re wrongly considered ugly. And there’s also something interesting in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, when he writes about the fact that it’s impossible to perceive your own body as an object, because your body is also the means of perception, but you can almost objectify your feet, because they’re further away from your eyes."

Toby Ziegler in conversation with Jean-Marie Gallais in Remember Everything. 40 Years Galerie Max Hetzler, Galerie Max Hetzler / Holzwarth Publications / Ridinghouse, Berlin / London 2014


oil on aluminium
180 x 221,5 cm

Ziegler paints on aluminium, a surface that endows oil paint with qualities of transparency and luminosity. Moreover, the metal ensures a very specific form of paint adhesion and drying; it retains the trace of every brushstroke, whose nuances stand out at each transition. This requires a particular technique: little touches laid on side-by-side resemble now enlarged pixels, now the very brushstrokes by which they were made. Here is Ziegler’s central gambit. The image is liquid and unstable; the viewer must move around it to eliminate reflections. One cannot even be sure that the painting is completely dry.
Yet these operations would mean nothing without a further process, one that comes into effect after the first layer of paint has been painstakingly laid down. Of course, it is thought through from the start with the aid of a computer used to elaborate the composition. This second stage can be perceived as a kind of sabotage – though without it the painting would not be complete. Ziegler now sprays the painting, authoritatively superimposing a pattern over the motif.

Jean-Marie Gallais, Toby Ziegler, Silent Lives in Toby Ziegler, Borderline Something, Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin, Berlin 2013


oxidised aluminium and timber
220 x 100 x 100 cm

„I didn't want the sculptures to be that figurative,“ Ziegler says. „I wanted them to be quite lumpy and ambiguous.“ Art history is for him a pool of images to tap into, a springboard he says – never an end in itself. „It's dangerous talking about their origin sometimes,“ he says, as if to warn me.
„People get stuck with that, they think that's a key or an explanation, which it really isn't. I want people to have an experience with a thing, and hopefully it has all sorts of resonance, some of which is there because of the 'mother object', some of which is there because of the way I've dealt with it, and a lot of it probably has to do with whatever experiences they've had.“

Coline Milliard, Underground Man Toby Ziegler Takes Over the Park in Blouin Modern Painters, October 2012

Photo: courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery London/Hong Kong


oil on aluminium
180 x 258,5 cm

Like many contemporary artists who rely on existing images, Ziegler is as fascinated by the original painting as by the circulation and transformation undergone through its reproduction. Put 'Hans Memling flowers' into Google Images and the Madrid painting inhabits the first fifteen results, not one of them identical with any other in framing, format, colour or texture. But for Ziegler, unlike for many of his peers, this technical consideration is less important than it might at first seem. Certainly it is less important than the choice of image fragment and its subsequent digital and manual treatment. As a process, the enlargement of pixelated, discoloured images seems almost automatic in Ziegler – as if no new voice could be imparted to an image before it had passed through a singular neutralising filter. A grey palette with pastel green, off-blue or pink overtones predominates in his oeuvre.

Jean-Marie Gallais, Toby Ziegler, Silent Lives in Toby Ziegler, Borderline Something, Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin, Berlin 2013


concrete canvas and timber/timber plinth
Four parts, overall: 179 x 374 x 120 cm
Vase ( left ): 131 x 85 x 85 cm
Vase ( middle ): 125 x 80 x 80 cm
Vase ( right ): 115 x 120 x 120 cm
timber plinth: 48 x 374 x 70 cm

In the past, Ziegler has used a timber structure and facets of oxidised aluminium. For most of the sculptures here [Borderline Something], he uses a material called concrete canvas, whose behaviour is quite distinct from that of metal; it is supple and light during the process of manipulation but once set in place and exposed to water, it begins to harden and ultimately becomes completely rigid. The sculptures are therefore inhabited by a new kind of animation, since the petrified fabric never remains as perfectly flat and rectilinear as aluminium facets. The surfaces and ridges vibrate in a way utterly discontinuous with Ziegler’s previous experiments, becoming more congruent with the paintings in their voluntary imperfection.

Jean-Marie Gallais, Toby Ziegler, Silent Lives in Toby Ziegler, Borderline Something, Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin, Berlin 2013

Our Carnivorous Ancestors

oil on aluminium
170 x 230 cm

In Toby Ziegler's landscape paintings there are no trees, no mountains, no sunsets, no cottages, no figures. We do not see 'the light that has settled on things'. Yet we have some sort of experience when looking at the paintings, of landscapes and the objects they once held. This is not surprising because we have seen these landscapes before. Ziegler has chosen a group of Gainsborough canvases. From each he has conjured up three pictures painted not on canvas but on aluminium. […] The aluminium is a central issue for it works as the hinge between the painting, pictorial space and what is external to the painting, what is extruded from the picture, what is a condition of the picture. The highly reflective aluminium surface changes constantly and can yield spectacular effects. It appears now brilliant white, now a blinding silver — gleaming shards of light. Viewed from certain positions this light smashes the picture into pieces. The aluminium base as a material bursts through the picture, through pictorial space. The scrambled surface had gently shifted one's gaze but now the body is discomfited and seeks both to escape and to investigate the picture. The paintings create a 'little business' not only for the eye but also for the body which it puts in motion. Behind the beauty of Toby's paintings is the violence of forms of light.

Parveen Adamas, Making Light Shine in Toby Ziegler. anticlimax, Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong 2014

Photo: courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery London/Hong Kong