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Artelier Interview: Tobias Tovera on Meditation and Engaging Viewers with the Forces of Nature

As international art consultants, Artelier specialises in curating art and feature walls for luxury residential, hospitality, yacht and aviation projects. Artelier's feature wall collection – Artist Walls – presents a collection of artists whose originality of ideas and dedication to their materials makes them true contemporary masters. Through collaborating with Artelier, they have created large-scale custom art commissions that reinvent the concept of the mural for the modern age, pushing the possibilities for feature wall art.

For Tobias Tovera, the process of creating artworks is as much an act of meditation as a creative process. The subsequent artworks present a powerful hypnotic energy that draws the viewer in, and reawakens our innate connection to the forces of nature.

His paintings are divided into two bodies of work: Diffusion and Permutation. Diffusion sees Tovera pouring pigment onto the painting's surface, gradually accumulating complex layers of infused colour. In Permutation, Tovera burnishes poured materials by lighting them on fire, and finishes the painting with a variety of crystallised salts. While differing in materials, the two series of paintings share Tovera's fascination with the cross section between nature, art and consciousness.

Painting from the Diffusion series

Could you explain how Diffusion and Permutation are similar or different, as two distinct practices within your work?

In the Diffusion body of work, it is very much about accumulation of materials, and primordial formations. You see that in both the Diffusion and Permutation series. In the processes, the techniques are similar but the materials are different.

Behind both is the idea that we can find consciousness or spirit in art. My aim is to create a portal or conduit with my paintings, so that the physical and the spiritual are brought together. Meditation is a big part of my life, and it informs my art practice. I studied Kundalini and still practice Kundalini meditation and Nondualism. I seek to create works that also have a charge or movement to them. They're mandalas in that way; they are similar to Tibetan sand mandalas or Navajo sand paintings with the use of the square and the circle. Creating abstract forms within that format is interesting to me as there is a sacred geometry to them.

Selected Paintings from the Diffusion series

Is the process of creating art itself a kind of meditative process for you, alongside the other meditative practices you explore?

Very much so, I often meditate before I start a pour. I ground myself beforehand. I talk about the third space, which is an in-between state. I find that when I'm painting, I'm in this in-between place. I call it the glue that holds everything together, or the space in between the notes. It is your inner presence, or being in the moment. My art has always been a vehicle for that.

Especially in the first layers of pouring, the process of creating the painting is more intuitive, and more visceral. My mind has some input, but then the material is chaotic. So it is an interesting dance between the artist's hand and the material itself. I can plan in the sense of making a general idea that I'm exploring, perhaps a shape or a colour, but the outcome often changes from the initial input. That is what makes the journey interesting.

Paintings from the Diffusion series

You imagine that the effect of viewing your paintings is hypnotic – what kind of experience would you like the viewer to have?

I want the work to have a hypnotic effect. In terms of a field of vision, when working in large scale you're able to experience the work in a different way. I'm now moving into a larger scale format because it's more immersive. Although, smaller, more intimate works are still engaging, I feel there is something to say for the architecture of a large piece, and how that experience can transport you.

I recently finished a Diffusion series called 'Metanoia', which means 'spiritual conversion'; they are multidimensional in the way that if you stare at them long enough, you are able to see forms emerge. There's texture happening in the background of the painting as well as in the foreground – because I'm using multiple gradients of grey and organic formation, they induce a meditative state. Working large-scale in that kind of format can enhance this trance-like experience.

Three Artworks from 'Metanoia' , in the Diffusion series

With the Permutation series, the paintings are much like crystals or something you would see in a cave environment, perhaps a limestone cave, or a volcano. Seeing these forms takes us back to nature, back to a kind of genesis, the primordial formation of our planet. It has an energetic feel to it.

In that way, is the connection with the planet and nature fundamental to your inspiration?

Very much so – recently, I've been interested in the intersection between nature, art and consciousness, and looking at the five elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether, which is space.

I've been curious about the relationship between those elements. I think of water, for example, as a foundation or substrate, and it an important part of my process. I'm interested in the fluidity, the essence and the force of water. Working with the elements is essential to my work.

'Accretion', from the Permutation series

You have mentioned that elsewhere that you feel there is an imbalance between people and nature; do your artworks seek to address that imbalance, and begin a healing process?

I think there's definitely an imbalance that we're working through globally as a collective; I would love for my art to be an expression of balance, and a way to inspire others to feel and connect with our planet. There's a big movement of environmental art currently, and a focus on the geological age, the Anthropocene. There's a universal concern about humans' relationship with the Earth and how we have dominated it making poor decisions around nourishing the Earth and our processes of consumption.

Art can definitely be a vehicle that inspires us to reconnect, and make changes. It starts within ourselves. We forget that change comes from within. We get caught up with the exterior, the ego and the fear. It is vital and important to understand that we're all in a web of connection, and that we're a part of the earth. My practice allows me to connect with the Earth in so many ways, and that is beautiful. I want to share that beauty with the world.

'Winnow' , from the Permutation series

Because of the way that creating your art connects you to the earth, do you feel your work is a kind of environmental art? Which speaks to notions of living a more sustainable life, more in tune with the elements?

It does; there's such a mystery and beauty that happens when experiencing the creation of my artworks. That is why whenever I exhibit, I include a painting that is in process; that I create as a performative installation. I do that for people to experience the work outside of the studio, as well as people that visit the studio. That experience is part of the process, part of the artwork itself, and is important to the collector as well. A lot of collectors visit the studio, and I send them videos and images of the work in process, and invite them to exhibits so that they're able to see the works being created.

How do people react to seeing you create the works?

Generally there's a sense of awe, and there's a sense of experiencing beauty. For example, when we are looking at swirling tides, or when we go to nature and see beauty there, we are able to get out of our heads and be more in the moment. When we can be in the moment that's really what living is. It's a beautiful experience to share – a sense of peace, a sense of presence. A moment where we are connecting with spirit, connecting with nature.

Considering the importance of water to your work and the ideas of creating balance with nature, do you feel that your art is especially suited to a setting of rejuvenation – such as a spa?

Yes, they are very conducive to a place of healing; my work has been in spas, and retreat spaces as well. One of my commissions for a spa was for a hotel spa, which were paintings from the Diffusion series. They chose the element of water as a focus. As well as exhibiting them on the main entrance wall, the hotel commissioned a short run with the paintings on some of their spa products. They became a symbol for healing and fluidity and peace.

Details of Artworks from the Diffusion series

Recently, I have had a similar artwork commission in San Francisco and Oakland, for the offices of Delta Dental. That's along the medical field, and also a corporate space. They're these large-scale paintings in the Diffusion series that flow into each other, and together create an atmospheric piece. We live and work in artificial environments. If we can bring nature into our space, it can create balance, transform and energise the space.

In that way, using art for rejuvenation is appropriate. Especially in a corporate environment, it can function as a salve, a meditation, or even just a break in the midst of a busy day. I myself work in warehouses near coastal bodies of water. It's interesting to see that relationship between the artificial and the natural. There is connection there, we can't deny that. I think the two, at the end, need to be closer together in balance. I think that art can function that way.

Alongside your paintings, you've also developed sculptural installations. Can you discuss how these are interrelated?

I started creating installations and playing with different resins, and with collage materials on panels. I had an idea at the time to experiment with seeing shapes in colour, much like those of colour blindness tests which ask you to distinguish shapes.

I was dripping pigments and solvents, with no general format – just the idea that I was going to create these visions of pigment. That turned into this concept of accumulation, which became the Diffusion body of work. That was back in 2005, almost five years after my undergraduate studies.

I then worked with Diffusion for 6 years before developing Permutation. It's interesting how it comes full circle, because I started off making installations and sculptures, and now my sculptural sense is informing my paintings, and I'm interested in how my paintings are informing my sculptures. I love how life comes full circle.

'Freshet' from the Diffusion series

What are the key ways that the sculptures inform the paintings, and the paintings inform the sculpture?

When I have exhibits and I have paintings on view and in process, they become multidimensional in the way that you're seeing a performance, but you're also seeing the painting being created. So then the painting is not just a painting anymore, it's also a sculpture in a state of change.

The ice sculptures are informing the paintings. They are these cast forms of strata with different layers of pigment in them. As that sculpture is melting onto the painting, as it is dripping, it transmutes onto the surface of the painting. So the sculpture informs the composition of the painting. The ice sculptures are objects, but as those objects are changing and transmuting, they become paintings.

I think displaying how all of those parts become a whole and change form is beautiful. The paintings are not just two-dimensional, they become three-dimensional, and then they become a four-dimensional experience for the viewer.

The 'Vayus' Installation

In your current projects, what different forms or themes are you pursuing? Which materials or ideas are you using to bring the experience of nature to the viewer?

Currently in the Diffusion body of work, I'm working on a series of five installations based on the Vayus, which are the five vital forces in yoga. They're not specific to the colours of the chakras, but are inspired by the elements. In 2019, I finished the Vyana Vayus – a series of paintings exploring the element of water. This is the first series of five representing one of the five elements. I'm currently working on the element of earth, the Apana Vayus.

In the Permutation series, I'm working on circular format paintings, with Selenite and sulphate mineral. Selenite is a crystalline mineral common in spiritual practices, and is often described as being 'Of light', called liquid light. The Selenite mineral is reflective; I'll be using that along with sulphate minerals, which will evaporate and create new forms.

I'm creating sculptural installations, also. I'm working with found, fossilised tree roots. The idea is that I'm going to 'reanimate' the tree roots, the series is called Reanimation. When a tree dies, after many years all of the branches and appendages die off, leaving the root ball at the very base, the core or heart of the tree. I take the dead roots forms, clean them and submerge them. It's about the idea of taking something that is no longer alive, something that used to absorb water, and having water be the catalyst to reanimate the material with crystallisation. It begins a new cycle of life.

Tobias Tovera has collaborated with Artelier's art consultancy on numerous artwork commissions, and is included as part of our 'Artist Walls' collection – visit his dedicated page on our website here. Discover more about our feature wall collection Artist Walls.

Artelier's art consultancy plays a fundamental role in all artwork commissions, and as the appointed art consultant for projects we bring artists and clients together to achieve forward-thinking and intelligently curated art installations.


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