Sprout’s “Phone Booth”: Gateway From Commercial To Gallery

"Phone Booth," 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

“Phone Booth,” 1985, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

After contributing to some of the very earliest Guided By Voices albums and working with his own band fig. 4 (“At Bay” by fig. 4 – YouTube), Tobin Sprout moved from Dayton to Florida’s Siesta Key, just south of Tampa. For a handful of years Sprout worked creating visuals and illustrations for a local promotional publisher called See Magazine. (The publication carries on a tradition of great visuals to this day at www.see-florida.com). While in Florida, he began experimenting with painting realism and considers this “Phone Booth” self-portrait to be one of his earliest turns towards realism.

Sprout did not sell “Phone Booth” at his show in Florida, and ended up selling the painting in Michigan later. Sprout left Siesta Key to return to Dayton in 1991, officially joining Guided By Voices to record “Propeller” with Bob and Jimmy Pollard, Don Thrasher, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell and Dan Toohey.

Guided By Voices recording Propeller, 1991, Dayton, Ohio. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

Guided By Voices recording Propeller, 1991, Dayton, Ohio. Courtesy of Tobin Sprout.

CD album cover, Propeller, Guided By Voices, 1992

CD album cover, Propeller, Guided By Voices, 1992

The first Guided By Voices album with Sprout as an official member was also thought by the band to likely be their last, as they had failed to hit notoriety after years in the studio. Ironically, 1992’s “Propeller” turned out to be the band’s breakout album ‘propelling’ them into an up and coming indy rock phenomenon.

“Phone Booth” is an outstanding example of mood and nuance. Florida, the place, provides a stage and backdrop for Sprout’s eventual embrace of the stark reality of photorealism. There is nothing accidental about a composition like this. The power of making unusual choices and unapologetically pursuing them is demonstrated in a full-length portrait with the subject’s back to the audience. It’s almost like the artist is waiting to show himself to the public.

It’s these unusual choices of subject and compositional challenges in a highly technical medium that will characterize nearly every photorealistic painting in Sprout’s future.

Cover art, "A Flash of Green," by John MacDonald, 1962

Cover art, “A Flash of Green,” by John MacDonald, 1962

The look evokes the feeling of the classic noir genre – one of America’s greatest literary contributions to the English language. Florida is also where many of America’s great noir writers like John MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen set their novels, making this painting feel like a slice of their world.

Sprout’s commitment to a specific sensibility – almost what seems like a film still – is what makes this an extra-ordinary example of his art and technique. The natural gloom of the noir genre is probably why “Phone Booth” was not snapped up in the art market of sunny, shiny Florida – this is Northern mood in its fullest. Vermeer would be proud. So would Edward Hopper.

Tobin Sprout’s statement on Hurricane Irma: “My Brother and his wife live on Siesta Key, and I had lived there for a few years as well. I had witnessed a few storms in my time on the key, but nothing like hurricane Irma. Although thankfully my brother’s place had little damage, my hopes and prayers go out to all those who were devastated by the storm.”

The last four of Tobin Sprout’s photorealism paintings from the 1990s are available to collectors now. Visit “Photorealism Paintings – Available to Collectors” Photo Gallery One of my favorite painters also plays really amazing music to see them.

"Phone Booth," 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

“Phone Booth,” 1986, Tobin Sprout, oil on canvas

Article by TR Brogunier, Flood Content
Fine Art Representation for Tobin Sprout Paintings

Photos courtesy of Tobin Sprout and Flood Content