Toby Raine's beautiful new work is quite different - and powerfully emotive.
Being a fan of Christopher Hitchens, and a somewhat suspicious atheist, I often surprise myself with my obsession for the power and majesty of religious subject matter. Coming from a European art tradition, you can't really escape it growing up. That stuff is everywhere. From the Giotto frescos in Padua and the majesty of the great Baroque cathedrals, to the grim and austere Calvinist churches of Scotland with their utilitarian collegiate paintings, religion is an inescapable part of art history.
It’s hardly a contemporary subject matter either. So, when you spot works like these parked at the back of an artist’s studio, you stop and ponder. These religious works by Toby Raine are personal explorations of a wavering faith and, I believe, a search for meaning in a world that can be fractured, cruel, malevolent, and unforgiving.
In many ways, these are strong, typical ‘Toby Raine’ works. In addition to three oil on linen works, there are also three delightful watercolours. All are painted in his signature vigorous, dynamic, and uncompromising style – an artist desperately trying to make his mark while his ego and intellect collide with (or perhaps resign to?) the tortuous solitude of lockdown life. Yet there’s a purity in their resolution; a surrender to greater, more powerful forces and a reverence for the comfort of tradition and the connection to human spiritual experience literally millennia in the making.
In our always-on, high-stress, next-new-thing culture, these stand out. They are works that boldly push boundaries – the gestural paint strokes barely being able to be contained within the edges – while simultaneously offering us peaceful respite and quiet strength.
With the world around us the way it is, surely we can all say ‘amen’ to that.