“The idea chooses the material,” says Steve Tobin, who has worked in glass, metal, wood, clay, and other mediums during an inquisitive career spanning more than two decades. “Each material has its own strong voice, and each form evokes different impressions.”
Tobin’s work includes a series he calls Steelroots. The pieces make good on the title’s promise: huge, twisted-metal shapes that jut from the earth, bend and weave, and sink back down. Informed by nature but not content merely to mimic, the structures are as tall as fully grown trees, and they provoke a range of reactions. With shapes that appear both ancient and familiar, rendered in modern material and sometimes painted in a range of electrifying colors, they are peaceful and, at the same time, disquieting.
Tobin describes the project as one of the most daunting of his artistic life. Steelroots grew out of earlier series, in which he bronzed natural objects themselves: a forest floor, African termite hills, and tree roots. “Going from naturalist to modernist” with Steelroots, he says, “is the biggest move I’ve made in my career.”
Tobin says that the series explores “the concept of unseen power through connectivity,” and indeed, the structures evoke and celebrate various unions: of soil and sky, flexibility and strength, lightness and weight. The most essential connection, though, may be the one that their creator has spent a lifetime illustrating – between artist and whatever material or inspiration he comes across.