Tony Toscani: A world of melancholia
Melancholy is defined as a feeling of pensive sadness with no obvious cause. While many people actively avoid becoming stuck in this emotion, painter Tony Toscani embraces it. Melancholy is one of the words Toscani frequently uses to describe his work. The 37-year-old, New York-based artist says that he’s always been a melancholic person.
“I think I’ve always had one step in reality and one step in melancholy,” says Toscani. “It's just a way of expression that everyone knows, and it's something that’s also timeless.”
The universal expression of melancholy is what makes the emotion so compelling to Toscani. He has centered the reimagined world of his paintings around this sentiment. Most of his paintings feature surreal figures with dramatized limbs and proportions. Their subjects often reside in liminal spaces, holding wistful expressions and shying away from direct eye contact with the viewer. Giving a corporeal form to an abstract concept such as melancholy may seem a daunting task, but through the sidecast eyes of his subjects and the cool-toned color palette, Toscani captures the definition unsettlingly well.
Toscani believes this longing for a reimagined world stemmed from growing up mired in the drudgery of New Jersey suburbia. Being mostly surrounded by construction work, lakes, houses, and trees, Toscani feels his mind sought out more stimulating avenues expressed through his creativity. New Jersey did more than jumpstart his creative faculties; it has also served as a source of physical inspiration in his art. In the backgrounds of his paintings, monotonous trees, clear blue skies, and neat plots of green grass dominate. His paintings set indoors involve simple backgrounds, often featuring blank and drab walls and floors.
In Toscani's work, the deliberate portrayal of suburbia's uniformity is not just an artistic choice but a bridge to the viewer's understanding and emotional engagement. Through his depictions of the monotony and monoculture inherent in suburban landscapes, Toscani aims to evoke a sense of familiarity among viewers, regardless of their personal experiences with such environments. This approach exposes individuals unfamiliar with suburbia to its nuanced realities, drawing them into a shared experience. By rendering the commonalities of suburban life, Toscani invites viewers to delve deeper into the themes and emotions he explores, facilitating a more profound connection with the art. The portrayal of the mundane and the ubiquitous in suburbia lays bare the essence of this lifestyle, offering insights into its impact on the individual and collective psyche. In doing so, Toscani's art becomes a mirror reflecting the intricacies of suburban existence, making the subtleties of a life marked by uniformity and comfort visible to the unacquainted. This exposure heightens awareness and fosters a sense of communal understanding and empathy, bridging gaps between differing life experiences through the universal language of art.
When Toscani first began seriously studying art in college at St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, he had no intention of making the degree his career. Originally, Toscani was a musician by trade and viewed art school simply as a means to obtain a degree. But Toscani’s style began to develop while studying and creating, as did a deeper love for art. While he had always been a creatively minded person and had dabbled in art his whole life, it was in his third year in college that the obsession began to manifest.
When Toscani realized that he was spending more time painting than playing music, he knew it was time to shift his focus to developing a space within the art world. Like many artists, Toscani feels one of his major career goals is to create his “masterpiece.” As he is only 60 to 80 percent satisfied with his work so far, he still has a way to go. In the meantime, he’s kept plenty busy experimenting within the universe of his art.
While never explicitly stated in his work, Toscani imagines his various paintings to be scenes from a world of his own creation. The people in this universe represent various human emotions and struggles. Some illustrate the spiral of social media addiction, while others are shown contemplating or confronting death. Whenever Toscani treads into the surreal, he is transported to this world he has created.
“I call it the world of the broken pendulum because it's like a physical representation of when time stops,” explains Toscani. “If people are doing this everyday routine, this nine to five, like wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, there’s eventually a breaking point. And at that breaking point, the pendulum of the clock stops, and then the broken pendulum takes you to this other place.”
In his world, people can become the scenery, the everyday laws of physics no longer apply, and the anatomical shape of humans is drastically altered. One of the telltale signs of Toscani’s style is his uniquely shaped figures. Toscani’s work is instantly recognizable, characterized by elongated and enlarged limbs and characters on canvas that sport a smooth texture. To create these figures, Toscani does not rely on references or live models; instead, he takes a sketch-based approach.
Intuitively, he sketches out a stick figure as his initial guide. After playing around with the skeletal line work for a bit, a shape begins to form. Toscani keeps the vision of a melancholic pose in the back of his mind as he experiments with his figures’ proportions and actions. There is always an element of randomness to how Toscani crafts his people since they are all born from his imagination.
“I never tried to put too much realism in there, just realistic enough for what makes that painting feel like the world in it is real,” says Toscani.
Toscani’s uncanny ability to deconstruct and reimagine the human physique has been a skill he’s possessed throughout different moments of his life. In his youth, he recalls disassembling watches and clocks to figure out how they worked. He has always been interested in discovering new ways to view his world.
A deep source of inspiration for Toscani in his adult world is his wife and fellow artist, Adehla Lee. Toscani has captured the likeness of his wife multiple times in his work. Being married to an artist has its perks, such as always having someone to consult while working.
“[Adehla] is my biggest influence. She's always kind of like the angel and devil on my shoulder telling me how I can improve or what makes a good painting and stuff like that,” says Toscani. “She's definitely an artist I look up to.”
When asked about a favorite piece he’s painted, Toscani did not hesitate to show a painting featuring his wife standing before an oblong stone upon which a face had been carved. The piece titled Tomb Of My Mother represents his wife pondering with a metaphorical gravestone of a mother. It is a statement on how we conceptualize our thoughts of mortality. This is a piece close to Toscani’s heart, as he claimed that “this one will never leave the studio.”
Most of the narrative themes of his work are moments from life that have been stretched apart and reconstituted to present a fresh perspective on the concept. In viewers, Toscani desires the formation of an emotional attachment to the art, the recognition of the feelings he conveys, and the eliciting of those feelings out in others. He strives to create that intimate connection between art and the audience. Creativity is a vehicle Toscani uses as his own interpretation of consciousness.
“Art is our first language. We learned how to draw on the walls before we learned how to speak to each other,” says Toscani. “I feel like it's more relevant, and it's what makes us so human.”
For the foreseeable future, Toscani plans to continue creating paintings that explore his world and sense of emotion. To him, the drive to create is an innate human facet that we all share, a desire to produce something that can grow far beyond our individual lifetimes. He believes that our understanding of creation forges a strong bond between people and art that no other species can achieve.
“What is my footprint in this temporary world? What makes me so special is that I admire being the creature that understands the beauty of this world,” Toscani poses. “I think everybody is trying to make something outlive them and make something that ultimately brings us closer to understanding this world right here.”
©ArtRKL™️ LLC 2021-2024. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. ArtRKL™️ and its underscore design indicate trademarks of ArtRKL™️ LLC and its subsidiaries.