Theo Tobiasse

Theo Tobiasse

Theo Tobiasse (1927-2012) was born in Israel in 1927 of parents who had just arrived from Lithuania.  Confronted by insurmountable material difficulties, the family returned to Kovno when Theo Tobiasse was still young, then settled in Paris where his father, a typographer, hoped to find work.

Theo Tobiasse will never forget his first impression of the City of Lights. Just six years old, he saw it bathed in the greyish mist of a sad winter morning when they walked out of the "Gare de l'Est" after an exhausting journey that had lasted several days. From this very first contact, his Parisian landscapes would keep an aura of unreality and nostalgia which accounts for much of the charm of his paintings "Pairs que j'aime" ("The Paris of Love"); his work also owes the atmosphere of exile which envelops it entirely to that never-ending train journey experienced by a little boy forced to leave the familiar banks of the Nieman for those, initially unwelcoming, of the Seine.

At the elementary school in Montreuil-sous-Bois, where his Lithuanian clothes greatly amused his classmates and his Yiddish accent made them laugh, Theo Tobiasse soon got used to counting solely on himself. He suffered only slightly from the isolation in which he was obliged to spend two whole years on account of the Occupation of Paris by German troops. He spent his adolescence shut up with his parents in their tiny apartment in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, from July 1942 to August 1944, passing time was only punctuated by the thud of Nazi boots in the streets and on the stairs of the building where, on more than one occasion, they were very nearly discovered.

When Theo Tobiasse finally saw daylight again at the end of his adolescent years, he had amassed a large file of drawings, of all different kinds and all completed during his forced confinement. They soon enabled him to find employment with various advertising companies, in spite of his very brief time spent at an art school in Paris at the beginning of the German Occupation, before the laws of discrimination forced him into hiding.  He designed and created window displays of luxury goods on the Gaubourg St-Honore, and designed several tapestry patterns for the "Salon de l'Imagerie". For more than fifteen years, Theo Tobiasse created designs for advertising, first in Paris, then in Nice, where he moved in 1950.

As soon as he could, and often at night, he painted.  In 1960, his work was noticed at an exhibition of young artists at the Palais de la Mediterranee in Nice and he won first prize. From then on art galleries and collectors continued to show interest in his work and by 1962 Theo Tobiasse was finally able to devote himself entirely to painting and since then Tobiasse has enjoyed ever- increasing recognition and popularity across the globe, with one-man shows in New York, Paris, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Caracas to name a few.

In 1970, he moved into his studio on Quai Rauba-Capeu, overlooking the Port of Nice. In 1976 he moved again to St. Paul-de-Vence where he rediscovered both the sky of Jerusalem and that of Florence. It was in Nice, the city he had adopted when he left Paris, that his pictorial expression came into its own.

His subjects rapidly evolved towards reminiscences about his childhood: buses that he had caught sight of on his journey to France, boats with wheels on the Nieman in Lithuania, tea kettles, the warmth of the fireside, the trains when he arrived in Paris at dawn, the smokiness of railway stations, etc. All of these symbols were combined, quite extraordinarily, with Biblical or erotic fantasies and also with the theme of exile which had become his main interest over the previous few years.

Often visible in his more recent work, the theme of exile took on a more dramatic dimension when it began to encompass not only past and present exiles, but the fear of exiles still to come. This background subject, currently his main preoccupation, is woven out of women, children, crowds, but also candelabra, which represent the glow of hope.

Since 1980, Theo Tobiasse has travelled a great deal in the United States. On a detour, via Mexico, he discovered the impressive Aztec sites of the Yucatan, whose sculptures and engraved stones left their mark on him for a certain period. Fascinated by New York, he decided to find a place where he could work for several months every year. Thus, he now divides his time between St. Paul-de-Vence and New York.

Many exhibitions and one-man shows have been held throughout the world, providing milestones for his work that is to be found in the catalogues of many International museums. Theo Tobiasse has created monumental works such as the fountain entitled "L'Enfant fou" for the Arenas Business Centre at Nice Airport, and stained-glass windows for various institutions in Strasbourg and Nice. Theo Tobiasse also discovered a passion for ceramics, producing pottery and dishes, as well as a series of small bronze sculptures. He also designed costumes and stage-set models for Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion".  

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