Abraham Joel Tobias: Sculptural Paintings of the 1930s

Abraham Joel Tobias, Direct Action, 1935
Sep 01, 2006 - Dec 31, 2006
American Art Gallery

In the modern era, artists have sometimes used irregularly shaped surfaces to explore compositional possibilities beyond those offered by the traditional rectangle. The shaping of easel paintings by artists for independent, formalist purposes essentially began in the twentieth century, when the first significant art historical attention paid to shaped canvases occurred in the 1960s.

However, in 1934-35, Abraham Joel Tobias created and exhibited an extraordinary group of works he called “sculptural paintings” that integrated shaped canvases and complex framing devices, both conditioned by the imagery they contained. With their complex yet coherent interplay of imagery, construction, and composition, the sculptural paintings are uniquely innovative works within the history of American art.

Recently, the artist’s widow Carolyn enhanced her previous donation of Tobias’s City Landscape with a gift of three additional works, as well as two long-term loans; all are sculptural paintings (except for one circular painting). The Zimmerli is pleased to display these works in gratitude for a generous donation and in honor of the achievements of a highly original American artist.

Abraham Joel Tobias

Direct Action, 1935

Oil on canvas over plywood, aluminum frame

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Gift of Carolyn Tobias