Ann Toebbe.

“Until last week my studio was in the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago. I had been working in this little studio for 5 years. These photos were taken a few days before I moved to Hyde Park. The picture shows a bird’s eye view of my tabletop where I work on small paintings and drawings. In the photo I am working on a painting of my family room lit by a candle because of a summer power outage. I also used cut paper in this painting.

The long view shows the paper I paint to make cut paper pieces. It’s thrown all over the place because I was rushing to finish the little power outage painting before I packing up my studio.”
Ann Toebbe grew up in Cincinnati, OH and attended 12 years of Catholic school. She played basketball and volleyball, listened to Top 40 radio and had a perm. She arrived at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1992 wearing a hooded sweatshirt and Umbro athletic shorts, finished art school in 1997 and moved to NYC, wearing combat boots and a thrift store dress and carrying a stack of Fugazi and Sebadoh CDs.

Ann started Yale’s MFA painting program in 2002 and won a traveling scholarship and visited France, Germany and Austria. In 2004, she moved to Berlin for a year with a DAAD scholarship. After Berlin, Ann moved back to the Midwest with her future husband, a German philosophy professor who had decided to go to law school in Chicago. She’s lived in Chicago since 2005, teaching drawing and painting at the Art Institute and Northwestern. Their daughter Olive was born in May 2008.


FROM YOUR DESKS: I grew up in the Midwest. To what extent does your work portray the idealization of the Midwest; nice, flat, well-manicured lawns. Ward and June Cleaver style houses?

ANN TOEBBE: The Midwest is flat, Chicago is super flat, but I grew up in hilly Cincinnati, OH. As a kid I was always told the hills of Cincinnati are like the hills of Rome. I can’t say I see the similarity after visiting Rome but since I grew up with plenty of hills I’m not sure there’s a connection to the flatness of the Midwest to the flatness of my paintings. It really has to do with simplification and economy.

Ward and June Cleaver might lack edge but they were very patient and understanding parents, and I can’t see anything wrong with that. I am not idealizing or critiquing the Midwest’s values. I understand the Midwest because I grew up here.

I think family meals are really important but it can be difficult to pull off with the family schedule.

FYD: Many of your paintings depict the dining or kitchen table–usually set for a meal. Is this a happy meeting or a forced place where you sit down, eat dinner and go about your evening; what is your take on the meal ritual?

AT: Most of my paintings depict meals served on holidays. My parents aren’t interested in cooking so I grew up with some bland home cooking that usually included something from a can or a mix. My dad worked the night shift so I have spotty memories of family dinners at home. Before my grandmother died we went to her house on Sunday evenings for dinner. I really liked this ritual, it was a lot of fun to be with my dad’s family.

Maybe history is doomed to repeat itself because my husband has to work late a lot. We have very young children so we tend to eat late after they’re in bed. We usually watch TV. I think family meals are really important but it can be difficult to pull off with the family schedule.

I am not idealizing or critiquing the Midwest’s values. I understand the Midwest because I grew up here.

FYD: I love the church itself as a structure. It’s beautiful. As a Catholic, do you still go to church? What draws you to the church?

AT: I don’t go to church anymore but I spent a lot of Sundays in church as a kid. If you visit a church in off hours the bright stained glass illuminates the dark,murky interior. I used my memory of several Catholic churches and just simplified everything to make the paintings. I took a formal risk and it worked.

FYD: You are a teacher. Do you find your students curious or overly wired?

AT: I enjoy teaching a lot these days. The students overall are great. I think most college students enjoy studio art classes. They work hard and no one is on a computer. Even thought I play music some students choose to listen to their iPods. I make it clear I dislike having to engage a person who is wearing headphones, but I can understand wanting to listen to your own music while drawing or painting.

Check out the Ann’s remaining works at 20×200.

1 Comment For “Ann Toebbe.”

  1. Liz Edgarton says:

    Ann. I happened upon your work on 20×200. I am a conservative midwesterner and love it. 76, married 55 years this June, married to an attorney and together we have 4 children and 7 grandchildren. None of them live in the midwest!!. I love your work, I identify with it, naturally. I wish I could explain it, but your style now is just so me. I know that sounds corny. Tho I was brought up in Milwaukee and was a “deb”( my father made me do it), I am a simple person at heart. That’s it…

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