Sculpture, first and foremost, is about shape and form. This mantra was Joshua Tobey’s first lesson in art education. He learned it at a very young age from his father and mentor, renowned western sculptor Gene Tobey, who instilled in Josh an innate desire to pursue a career as an artist. Even though he eventually went on to earn a fine art degree at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, many of Josh’s most valuable lessons came from watching his father’s determination and success in the western art world. “One of the greatest assets I’ve had in my career is growing up in an artist’s studio and knowing that you can be an artist – that it’s a reality,” says Josh, whose stepmother Rebecca Tobey artistically collaborated with Josh’s father.
Josh began molding his first sculptures at five or six years old while sitting in the back of his father’s classrooms in Corvallis, Oregon, where Tobey worked as a college art professor before he began his full-time art career in Santa Fe. The small horses or deer that took shape from Josh’s five-year-old fingers were simply products of play and curious exploration, an approach that Josh’s father strongly supported. Tobey never pushed his son to begin sculpting or try to teach him techniques in the studio; instead he would subtly encourage Josh’s interest by casting his experiments which, before the age of fourteen, resulted in Josh’s first bronze sculptures. By this time Josh was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and was growing up around some of today’s most established western artists. Whether playing in the studio after school, attending gallery shows or visiting foundries, Josh’s early exposure to the life of an artist was a uniquely valuable experience.
Outside of these artistic explorations, Josh spent most of his time in the outdoors fishing, hiking and observing wildlife, which led him to initially pursue a business and recreation degree at Western State. However after a few prerequisites in drawing and ceramics he shifted his direction to focus on what he enjoyed most, the familiar hands-on experimentation of sculpting, while still utilizing his passion for nature and animals as personal inspiration. After graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, he returned home to apprentice his father in the studio and quickly began producing his own body of work.
Beginning with forms that were naturally inspired by his father’s style what made the work distinctly Joshua Tobey’s were the personalities and anthropomorphic traits that unexpectedly came through in the faces and figures of his wildlife sculptures. Sculpting from memory and past experiences, Josh’s own personality and joy for what he was making emerged and began to mold the style he’s known for today. His current sculptures, whether a sleeping bear, howling coyote or prancing deer, embody their own spirit and intelligence, evolving from their original shapes to occupy a disposition that is at once mischievous, whimsical and humorous. Each piece represents a concept that is more describable in human terms but is expressed through animalistic traits, evoking a visceral emotional response from the viewer. While some pieces instinctively make you laugh, others make you pause to contemplate the interconnection between wildlife and humanity.
Another distinct feature of Josh’s art is his original and contemporary patina work, which he has continued to develop over time to incorporate a visual texture onto the surface of each bronze. The artist views the patina as its own artistic composition, a notion that sets him apart in the world of sculpture, as it brings the piece into a lively existence and contributes to the tangibility and interactive quality of the work. “My patinas have developed to the point where every new piece is the cutting edge in my studio,” says Josh.
The notion of play that brought about some of Josh’s very first artworks is still alive and well in his Colorado studio with his development of one-of-a-kind bronze reliefs. What began as a sculpting exercise and playful experimentation with patina, subject matter and composition has now evolved into a full body of work. These one-of-a-kind bronzes are like pages from the sculptor’s sketchbook; their rarity not only provides tremendous value to the collector as Josh produces only a few per year, but also acts as another personal connection between artist and collector.
Josh currently lives in Loveland, Colorado with his wife Josephine who oversees production and management of Joshua Tobey Studios. Josh and Josephine have developed a worldwide collector base for JTS, which is Josh’s biggest motivation as an artist. “The collector is very important to me,” he says. “The greatest award I could receive as an artist is when somebody appreciates my work. I’ve got people who bet on me, who have supported me, and in doing so have enabled me to work harder to come up with new concepts for bronzes. Further developing the work is the artist’s responsibility to the collector and to the spirit of the art.”
Josh has received significant recognition for his artwork in the western art world from national sculptor society awards to museum awards, but his most honored achievement to date is being recognized as the featured artist at the 2014 Fall Arts Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Josh is the first sculptor to ever receive this award.
As a sculptor, I consistently return to the original education I received from my father who said that sculpture is first and foremost about shape and form. All shapes in nature are beautiful by themselves without personality or story line, so when you look at my work I want you to be inspired to explore these forms by touching the smooth surfaces and curved lines of the bronze. It’s from these interactive shapes that expressive personalities, anthropomorphic traits and wider concepts begin to emerge. While bronze is often translated into static objects, I want my work to express more than a single form. After I sculpt a piece I step back from that object and see a spirit or intelligence existing within the work, one that my collectors can relate to as an emotion we feel as human beings, from playful curiosity to quiet contemplation. The greatest award I’ve received as an artist is the personal connection I’ve established with my collector base and the opportunity to witness their emotional responses to my sculptures. I thrive on curious play and exploration in the studio and my collectors enable me to continuously make new developments, concepts and ideas for my work as I continue to grow as an artist.