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‘Man Crush’: Kiwi artist celebrates male icons with dissolved portraits

Bob Dylan, Mel Gibson, and Elvis Presley are people whose faces you can easily recognise. Unless, of course, you’re looking at their portraits done by artist Toby Raine.

In his ongoing series, entitled Man Crush, the Auckland-based painter celebrates iconic male figures, such as the ones mentioned, through a unique approach to portraiture.

Using a photograph as a starting point, Raine mixes and moves thick impasto paint across the canvas, creating rough yet expressive strokes that threaten to dissolve each figure.

“Raine’s paintings celebrate the male icon, not as a patriarchal form of oppression or chauvinism, but a tongue-in-cheek tribute to maleness, a subject seemingly unfavourable today,” wrote Page Blackie Gallery.

“This series relates to the father, the magician, the rock god, the messiah, the prophet and the pride of facial hair that is part of the primary composition of the male sex.

“Raine also investigates identity considering the primordial or the predecessor, investigating how men fashion their masculinity on historic examples. He reflects on infamous artists and musicians, and how their image and ego influence his own identity.”

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We are very excited about opening Toby Raine's first solo exhibition @pageblackie Gallery on 4 May.⠀ Image: Toby Raine, 'Cezanne Beard 2 (After Cezanne), 2015, oil on linen, 615mm x 510mm

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Thanks to Page Blackie Gallery, we were able to have a quick chat with Raine. In the interview below, the up-and-coming artist talks more about himself and his work. Take a look:

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming an artist, and to doing what you’re doing today?

“Sitting down alone and drawing pictures was one thing I did from a very young age that I always felt completely in my element doing. It came to me naturally in other words.

“I flirted with other ideas up till the age of 22. I was interested in acting, broadcasting, I wanted to be a comedian briefly and also made the terrible mistake of trying to be a male model. Finally, after completing a certificate in fitness and training at AUT in 2005 and finding it uninspiring I realized I was meant to go to art school.

“I started at Elam the following year and knew I wanted to be a painter within my first two weeks of study.”

How would you describe your work? And how did you discover this unique style of yours?

“I prefer leaving it for other people to do that. But I suppose it could be described as an ongoing attempt to reinvent or reinvigorate iconic images through an intensely process-based exploration of painting, one that relies on uncertainty, working through issues, and whose success is dependent on a certain amount of feeling surprised.

“The things I am producing right now are discovered by actually attempting to avoid too much of a style because if a thing becomes too stylized the surprise I wish to conclude with tends to be absent.”

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Mondays are best spent hanging out with celebrities … From his Man Crush series, here’s @tobyrainepainting’s ‘(Baron Yeti Lives!) Matthew McConaughey with Beard’, 2016, oil on linen, 500mm x 450mm #mancrushmonday #matthewmcconaughey #tobyraine #painting #newzealandart #pageblackiegallery

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Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?

“Unfortunately for me, as previously hinted, it often involves uncertainty and frustration. I usually do not win until I have experienced a fair bit of that on any significant day in the studio.

“I work from small photographic images. I spend about an hour preparing, mixing up large amounts of paint on big pallets. I will then normally choose some music to listen to that feels appropriate (occasionally I’ll listen to podcasts but this can frustrate me if I get too involved in the narratives so music is better). Then I will basically just pick up some knives and brushes, start getting paint on the canvas and working through processes.

“I am trying to get back into working on several at once presently, the way I used to. Often, I need to walk away from something that is bothering me and having another problem to focus on may help me find a solution.”

How long does it usually take for you to complete a painting?

“I could nail one in an hour if I am very lucky but I can just as easily spend two weeks and several litres of paint trying to get the same thing to work over and over again. Also, not every part of the painting necessarily happens in one sitting alone. I might come back and rework a background or some detail once an area has dried.”

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A great shot of @tobyrainepainting discussing his painting practice on Sunday at @aucklandartfair 2018 📷 @myahflynn • #tobyraine #painting #emergingartist #contemporaryart #pageblackiegallery #wellington #auckland #aucklandartfair2018 #newzealand

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Is there a theme or message that your works are trying to communicate to their audience?

“I hope that there is an honesty in the work that gives it freshness and a sense of humour.

“I increasingly suspect my practice is a reaction against the type of art trends or norms that surrounded me when I was going through my studies at art school. Most things being pushed seemed bleached out, strongly concept focused, work so minimal and ambiguous that it was near impossible to appreciate if and what the ‘work’ actually was.

“I wasn’t interested in that. So in a way I focused on making arguably the most unfashionable work I could. Sometimes the thing that seems like the worst idea turns out to be a really good idea.”

What have been your one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?

“I have painted a group of works depicting male icons smoking cigarettes recently. I think it was a strong body of work. One in particular, Michael Corleone with Cigarette just after Realising Fredo has betrayed him. I was really pleased when I saw it out of my studio and hanging at PageBlackie because I realized then that it was the best work in the show. It was high time I made a Godfather painting.”

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“I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart.” We’re debating the best quotes from Michael Corleone aka Al Pacino in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather film trilogy in the gallery today . . Toby Raine’s exhibition ‘smoke ‘em if you got ‘em’ opens next week and features ‘Michael Corleone with Cigarette Just After Realising Fredo Has Betrayed Him’, 2018, oil on canvas, 70 x 60cm . @tobyrainepainting . #tobyraine #thegodfather #alpacino #alpacinoquotes #mancrush #pageblackiegallery #painting #impasto #newzealandart

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And finally, Page Blackie Gallery mentioned to us that you’ve become immensely popular in the last two years. What’s your ‘secret’ to success? And what’s your best advice for other up-and-coming artists?

“There’s no real secret. A lot of artists are lazy so they won’t like this answer. It’s about working hard, perseverance and growing a thick skin.

“My advice would be don’t compromise your integrity and don’t let those teaching you push you into a direction you are not interested in following because this will kill your practice. Also, don’t assume everyone is going to love you. With recognition you will inevitably get some haters.”

You can see more of Toby Raine’s work by heading over to the Page Blackie Gallery website.

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