Toby Zallman

My art transforms refuse into evocative objects of abstract seduction that bring a sense of beauty to environmentally devastating situations. Since 1992, I have worked primarily as a materials-based sculptor. In recent years my art practice has evolved to include drawing, utilizing processes that are both digital and analog, incorporating conventional drawing materials with computer-manipulated images. By using mundane materials, images of plastic products or computer detritus, I show viewers our complicity in contributing to climate change, while making visually intriguing works. I am attracted to the physical qualities embodied in this waste, which provide a rich range of possibilities for transformation into both 2-D and 3-D forms. A recent work, Plastic Bags In Water 5, combines my drawing and sculpture into a single work, and occupies a space somewhere between drawing, sculpture and installation. I drew on top of a digitally created and printed image with both conventional drawing mediums, such as pastel and charcoal, and unconventional ones like torn plastic bags. The bags flow off the wall and onto the floor. The piece also incorporates a sculptural form which both extends more aggressively into the viewers’ space. The piece is a conversation between the mediums.

My exploration will mainly be focused on a work that will ultimately become an installation that combines a drawing and sculpture of water bottles. I began this work as a manipulated image of photographs that I took of my sculpture, Water Bottles from 2007. I have already printed this twelve-foot wide image on four panels of muslin. During the residency, I will be drawing on top of these panels with pastel and pencil. The transformation of the printed piece into a drawing anticipates the sculpture that I will be combining with it. This large-scale sculpture/installation will be built in my Chicago studio from water bottles that I have collected and am upcycling. Water bottles are a compelling subject as they have both a positive and negative impact in the world. For those who do not have access to clean water, whether due to compromised water systems like Flint, Michigan or due to catastrophic weather events such as a hurricane, they serve a critical purpose to provide clean water for those who need it. However, once used and discarded, they become part of the massive amount of plastic waste that cannot be recycled and is polluting the earth.


Toby Zallman is a Chicago artist whose art practice focuses on sculpture and drawing. In 2005, after becoming aware of how damaging our plastic and e-waste is to the environment, she changed her materials to both incorporate recycled/re-purposed materials in her sculpture as well as a source of visual inspiration for both the sculptures and drawings. She has used computer detritus, plastic bags, plastic bottles and solid plastic trash to create unique art works that highlight the environmental devastation caused by our culture of consumerism. Recently her direction has evolved to include combining the physicality of the sculpture with the more abstract qualities of the drawings. Zallman shows both locally and nationally. She was the recipient of several Illinois Arts Council grants, an Individual Artist Program Grant, City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and has had artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and Ragdale.

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